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by Dr Kevin Cruickshank,

Emergencies never happen when you expect them! It was just after 5pm on a Friday evening when Sydney the 10 month old kitten arrived at our clinic. His nervous, vacant stare and uncontrolled twitching immediately told me something was seriously wrong. Sue, his distraught owner was beside herself, and between sobs of tears she explained that a few hours before she had applied a spot on flea product intended for dogs. Fortunately she had brought a tube of it with her and I immediately identified it as a Permethrin based product, purchased at a supermarket. Unfortunately, whilst Permethrin is very safe to dogs, it is toxic to cats.

As we admitted Sydney for emergency treatment Sue dropped another bombshell – she had another kitten that was poisoned too but in it’s terror it had run away. While Sue went to find Squirt, the second cat, we started emergency treatment for Sydney. We placed him on an intravenous drip and gave him a potent sedative to stop the convulsions. It took effect immediately, and whilst he slept we went to work bathing him to wash off any of the remaining chemical. Only problem being that the control of the seizures was short lived and frequent repeat injections were required. At this point Squirt arrived, in a considerably worse state than Sydney – I was not sure he would survive, he was such a young, small cat to endure such a serious poisoning.
To put an intravenous catheter in a seizuring cat is no mean feat but we succeeded, and soon had Squirt’s convulsions under control too. But this was only the start of their ordeal. We had to upgrade them to get a longer acting general anaesthetic instead
of just a sedative.
Once they were stable Sydney and Squirt were transferred to a specialist emergency clinic for 24hr intensive care. At great expense to their owners, they were kept under anaesthetic all weekend long whilst they eliminated the toxin from their bodies.

Gradually by Sunday the bigger and older Sydney was able to wake up without tremors and go home. Poor Squirt though took a further 2 days to finally wake up and start on the road to recovery. Fortunately in this case both cats survived but sadly this is not always the case. Clearly the moral of this story is to always read and follow the instructions. Never use any product on an animal that it is not intended for. Always see your vet for any health matters, including flea and tick control. This ensures that you not only get the most effective product for the job, but also all the correct advice and guidance on how to use the products.

Fleas are a major problem at this time of year, although throughout Australia it really is a year round problem. Unfortunately fleas are not an easy problem to solve and an integrated approach is necessary. At any one time 95% of the fleas are actually off your pet, in the environment – be that indoors or out. Carpeted areas are worst – thorough vacuuming is essential and flea bombs or professional fumigation helps to kill all those eggs, larvae and adult fleas in the environment. Outside, avoid pets having access to shady, sandy areas – block off access under elevated houses, or under decking etc. DIY yard sprays are also available.

On your pets use a highly effective flea product such as Frontline, Advantage, Revolution, Advocate or Advantix (Dogs only). Consider using one of these monthly spot on’s every 2 weeks until the problem is under control, or use a spray form, especially if you pet has long hair. Additionally there is a fantastic tablet called Capstar that kills all fleas on your pet within 24hrs, quickly reducing the problem to a more manageable level. For long term control, flea contraception can help - a 6 month injection is available for cats and for dogs it is combined with brand of monthly Heartworm Tablets.

All in all, unfortunately it will take at least up to 3 months to completely control fleas. So if you’re concerned about fleas, see your vet today. There are many good products available that can be recommended according to your circumstances, and hopefully you’ll avoid a costly, and life threatening mistake such as what happened to Sydney and Squirt. And please - spread the word that Permethrin based products are very poisonous to cats.

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Posted by Dr Kevin Cruickshank,
19 Dec 2008

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