Vet charity PDSA has revealed around 20 cases of accidental poisoning are being seen by its vets every month due to flea treatments intended for dogs accidentally being applied to cats.

Flea products intended for dogs, which contain the insecticide permethrin, can be fatal if given to cats. The charity said some owners are also mistakenly failing to follow the packaging guidance relating to dosage and it fears this could be “just the tip of the iceberg” as many cases are going unreported.

The PDSA is backing a campaign by feline welfare charity International Cat Care (ICC), which is calling for a change in licensing of permethrin-containing products by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD).

ICC hopes to change the rules so the products legally require verbal advice at the point of sale from a suitably qualified person. This would help to prevent unsuspecting pet owners from purchasing unsafe products from pet shops and online sites, it said.

ICC chief executive Claire Bessant said: “These cat deaths are totally preventable. This is simply down to mistakes at point of purchase, with pet owners mixing up cat and dog products, or just being unaware you cannot use a dog treatment on a cat.

“ICC strongly feels these treatments should be reclassified by the VMD so they may only be purchased if advice is given about their correct use. As well as checking its intended use, pet owners should be asked if there are cats in the home that may come into contact with a recently treated dog, so they can be warned to keep the dog and cat apart, or advised to use a different product.

“The saddest thing of all is cats are dying because owners are trying to do the right thing and treat their cats for fleas. They could be forgiven for not knowing even a few drops of such a product for dogs could kill their cat.”

PDSA senior vet Sean Wensley said packs containing warnings are not preventing poisonings.

“This is due to lack of awareness of the dangers. This oversight is having devastating consequences, with many much-loved cats suffering terrible reactions, including respiratory and neurological problems, convulsions and tremors,” he said.

“Tragically, the poisoning even results in death in many cases. Whatever the outcome, it also causes great distress to their devoted owners.

“PDSA vets are only too aware of the terrible consequences of this type of poisoning, the most common we see in cats, and we fully support ICC’s campaign.

“All vets want to see an end to these preventable cases of animal suffering and the deaths of adored family pets.”

The news comes after yesterday’s announcement by pet health care brand Bob Martin that it is to withdraw its on-animal products containing permethrin from supermarkets. It reformulated its dog spot-on treatments to contain a different ingredient, fipronil, a few years ago.

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