Pyrethrin & Pyrethroid Poisoning in Cats

Pyrethrin poisoning in cats

What are pyrethrin and pyrethroid  what are they used for?

Pyrethrin is a natural extract of the African chrysanthemum flower. There are six individual chemicals pyrethrin I and II, cinevin I and II, and jasmolin I and II, collectively known as pyrethrins.

Pyrethrins break down quickly in the environment, especially when exposed to natural sunlight.  They are approved for use on both dogs and cats and can be found in many shampoos, sprays, dust, dips, spot-on flea and tick products and household insecticides.

Pyrethroids are manufactured chemicals which are similar to pyrethrins but are more toxic to insects and mammals. They also last longer in the environment. While pyrethrins are safe to use in cats, in the correct dosage, pyrethroids are not safe due to the low tolerance cats have towards them. The active ingredient of pyrethroids is permethrin.

Both pyrethrins and pyrethroids kill insects by severely disrupting nerve function.

How do cats become poisoned?

Poisoning is usually the result of the application of a  spot-on product containing pyrethrin or pyrethroid being used.

Pyrethrin poisoning usually occurs when the cat is given a dose greater than the recommended amount.

Pyrethroid poisoning happens when the cat is inappropriately treated with a product labelled for dogs. The problem is even worse if the cat licks the product off, ingesting it along the way.

Another possible risk is if a flea/tick product containing pyrethroid is applied to a dog, who then comes into close contact with a cat.

What are the effects of pyrethrin and pyrethroid poisoning in cats?

  • Excessive salivation
  • Ear flicking
  • Ataxia (loss of coordination)
  • Depression
  • Lethargy
  • Muscle tremors
  • Seizures (can cause brain damage if prolonged)
  • Hyperthermia
  • Death

How is pyrethrin/pyrethroid poisoning diagnosed?

Diagnosis is made on a physical examination of the cat and a history of recent exposure to insecticides.

How is pyrethrin/pyrethroid poisoning treated?

Treatment will depend on the severity of signs and is aimed at controlling seizures and tremors and supportive care.

  • Diazepam (valium) and Methocarbamol to control seizures or tremors.
  • Gas anaesthesia may be necessary for refractory seizures.
  • Once the cat has been stabilised it can be bathed it in lukewarm water, with detergent to wash off the residual insecticide.
  • Intravenous fluids to maintain hydration.

How can pyrethrin/pyrethroid poisoning be avoided?

  • Avoiding products containing pyrethrins or pyrethroids.
  • Reading labels on packaging thoroughly.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to the letter. Never give more than the dosage stated on the packet.
  • NEVER use a flea or tick product for dogs on a cat.
  • Avoid using over the counter flea or tick products. The veterinarian prescribed flea treatments are generally more effective and safer to use on pets.
  • Speak to your veterinarian and follow his/her recommendations for flea and tick medications.
  • Carefully monitor your cat after giving any flea/tick medications.
  • Do not use any flea/tick products on young, pregnant, lactating, old or sick cats without veterinary advice.
  • If your cat displays any symptoms of poisoning, seek veterinary attention immediately.