This time of year is a particularly risky one for cats. Not only is there the threat of tick paralysis which is potentially life threatening, but preventing tick paralysis in cats also has its own serious risks.
There are a multitude of products available for dogs for tick prevention – collars, spot-ons, tablets, and rinses. However, cats are not afforded the same luxury of choice. Due to a peculiarity in the liver metabolism of cats, they are very sensitive to one of the insecticides that are present in most of the tick products currently available. Pyrethrins, derived from chrysanthemum flowers, are present in the majority of tick preventatives, as well as many of our common household insecticides. Despite being derived from nature, this chemical is very toxic to cats, as is the related synthetic compound, permethrin.
Exposure to even a small amount of either of these chemicals causes twitching and salivation, which can progress to full body seizures. This can occur within minutes to hours of application, and if left untreated, can be life threatening.
At Animal Emergency Service we are often presented with cats showing signs of permethrin toxicity during tick season, as a result of owners trying to do the best for their furry family; usually the result of accidentally applying a flea/tick product meant for dogs. Fortunately, we are able to effectively treat most of these patients, and the outcome for those identified early is good.
However, prevention is always better than cure, and the most effective way to prevent this poisoning is to carefully read the label of any product you administer to a cat – those not suitable for cats are labelled to this effect.
If you accidentally treat your cat with a potentially toxic medication, the best thing to do is wash the area (for topical applications) with detergent, and then have your cat checked by your vet.
Tick prevention in cats is something we all want to get right. For advice on the most appropriate tick products for your cat, please contact your veterinarian.