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What is the APVMA doing about permethrin toxicity in cats?

21 February 2011

Cats can get very ill and even die when inadvertently or inappropriately treated with permethrin spot-on flea and tick treatments developed for dogs.

While these dog treatments specifically warn against use on cats, these warnings are sometimes overlooked or ignored by many users. The results can often be fatal causing anguish and heartache to cat owners.

The problem is widespread throughout the world. A 2008 Australian survey revealed more than 500 cases of cats being poisoned with dog tick and flea treatments resulting in 130 deaths.

The APVMA has been aware of this issue for some time having received many adverse experience reports from cat owners and veterinarians.

The APVMA’s ability to address the issue by itself, however, has been limited given that the problem is not with the dog treatment itself but with the way people mistakenly apply it to cats. Formal responses have been to support community education programs and to ensure there are clear warning statements on the labels of permethrin dog treatments.

Recently much more has been able to be achieved thanks to a unique partnership between the APVMA, the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA), and product registrants (the companies that market permethrin dog spot-on treatments).

Vets themselves got the ball rolling. Wanting to prevent the problem rather than simply treat it, they began talking with the AVA and permethrin spot-on registrants. These discussions led to a meeting convened by the APVMA in December 2008 attended by registrants, the AVA, veterinarians, major retailers and the pet industry. One of the key outcomes of the meeting was a willingness by registrants to change their product labels to better communicate warnings against using their products on cats.

A project team comprising representatives of the AVA, the APVMA and five registrants (Bayer Australia, Nestlé Purina, Mars Petcare, Virbac Animal Health and Troy Laboratories) was formed. Market research was commissioned to better understand consumer attitudes to permethrin spot-on products and to test more effective warning messages for inclusion on all permethrin spot-on products.

The research, funded by the registrants, has led to the development of a graphical image that will appear prominently on the front of packages to clearly indicate that while the product is safe to use for dogs, it is toxic to cats. The image plus a secondary warning statement will also appear on the back of packaging.

Permethrin warning symbol
Keep cats separated from recently treated dogs.

There are reports of toxic effects in cats which groom or contact dogs treated 48 hours earlier.

Toxic effects include behaviour changes, drooling, tremors and death.

Seek veterinary advice immediately if you suspect toxicity in a cat.

These new warnings are expected to appear on products in the market place in the first half of 2011.

The project team now plans to focus on the development of a consumer awareness and educational campaign designed to draw attention to the new warning labels as they become available.

These initiatives, an excellent demonstration of cooperation between veterinarians, the companies and the APVMA, will hopefully lead to reduced rates of accidental poisoning of cats.

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Last updated on 21 February, 2011