Some pet situations are obvious emergencies, like a dog who’s eaten chocolate or a cat who fell out of a third-story window. But accidentally putting your dog’s flea and tick medication on your cat? Is that really an emergency?
Yes, and a serious one.
The wrong insecticide can be lethal for a cat. Not only are the flea and tick insecticides used in preventatives for dogs potent, they’re so potent your dog and cat should be kept separated after correct application. Cats should never, ever come in contact with dogs’ flea medications. Topical insecticides are one of the top feline toxins reported to the Pet Poison Helpline, and for good reason. Here’s what to do in the first two hours after you accidentally put your dog’s flea or tick medication on your cat.
0-30 Minutes In: Bathe Your Cat
Almost all cat emergencies start with one piece of advice: Rush your cat to an emergency vet as soon as possible. Accidentally applying canine flea and tick medication to a cat is not one of them! In fact, the outcome of few other situations is as dependent upon immediate action as this one. The first thing to do the second you realize you’ve applied the wrong topical medication to your cat is to bathe her immediately with dish soap and water.
You want to bathe your cat as thoroughly as possible; doing so in the kitchen sink is sometimes easiest for containing a cat who may never have been bathed before. A mild dish soap will do the best job of stripping all toxins from your cat’s skin, although hand soap can be used in a pinch (but not pet shampoo! The medication is too oily to be removed this way!) What’s most important is thoroughness, a dense lather, and a complete and total rinse with clean water.
30 Minutes – 1 Hour In: Rush to the Vet
The second your cat has been rinsed, take her to the car in a towel and head to the closest emergency vet. Don’t stop to dry her off or feel her skin. It’s best if someone else can call the vet’s office to let them know you’re on your way so they can have a decontamination station set up for you as soon as you arrive. The vet will perform a thorough cleansing of your cat’s skin using specialized decontaminates and begin to examine for signs of toxicity.
There is one exception to this timeline. If you don’t notice your cat has been exposed to flea meds until she has already begun to show symptoms such as tremors, foaming at the mouth, or vomiting, skip the bath and rush to the vet as soon as possible. A cat in the later stages of toxic exposure could seize in the tub or sink; your vet will probably choose to sedate your cat before cleaning her thoroughly in-office.
1 -2 Hours In: Observation and Treatment
Canine flea and tick medications are so dangerous to cats because cats don’t have the metabolic pathways that allow their bodies to quickly filter out these specific chemicals. Concentrated pyrethroid or pyrethrin-based insecticides cause neurological stimulation which can be avoided if the contaminants are completely removed from your cat’s skin. If she has absorbed some of the toxins, your vet can give her readily-available medications that stop her body from processing them.
Even if you think you caught your mistake in plenty of time and bathed your cat thoroughly, it’s still safest to head to the vet. If your vet suggests you monitor your cat at home before bringing her in, do so diligently. Check her every 15 minutes for signs of toxicity, the most important of which to watch for being muscle twitches. If you have any doubt, bring her in.
Always apply pet medications only to the pet they’re prescribed for, and ask your vet if you have any questions. Keep your dog’s flea medications and any other commercial insecticides stored securely away from your cat and after applying these medicines to your dog, keep the animals separate for at least four hours.