Pyrethroids are man-made chemicals that are frequently used to kill and repel external parasites on dogs, horses and some other species of animals. Although products containing pyrethroids are safe to use on dogs, cats are extremely sensitive to their adverse effects. In fact, cats can be exposed to toxic levels of these chemicals not only if they are applied directly to them, but also if they are in close contact with a dog or other animal that has been treated. Permethrin is a common type of pyrethroid that is responsible for many of the toxic reactions that are reported in cats.
Cats that have been exposed to a pyrethroid typically develop neurologic abnormalities. Muscle twitches, tremors, and seizures are common. If a cat gets the chemical in its mouth it can drool profusely and vomit. Death is possible if a cat has been exposed to sufficient amounts of the pesticide and is not treated quickly.
The first goal of treatment is to prevent additional absorption of the pyrethroid into the cat's body. A bath using hand dishwashing soap will remove the chemical from the animal's coat. Cats must be kept warm after being bathed as low body temperatures can cause an animal's condition to decline. Medications are used to eliminate or reduce the severity of tremors and seizures until the pesticide is eliminated from the body, which may take several days. Supportive care, which often includes fluid therapy, is very important as cats recover. To avoid pyrethroid poisoning in your own animals, carefully read the instructions and warning labels printed on flea and tick products to make sure that they are safe for use around cats.
Written by: Jennifer Coates, DVM
Last reviewed: October 2, 2008