The Difference Between Dog and Cat Flea and Tick Products

Flea and tick products are very popular among pet owners. They are quick acting, easy to apply and a needed tool in keeping our animals pest free, that is as long as they are applied properly. There’s a very important difference between flea and tick products made for cats versus ones for dogs. It’s very important to never apply a dog product on a cat. Seizures and even death can occur if it is applied to a cat.

Whats so different between the products? They look the same and protect the pets from the same pests, right?

Pyrethrins vs. Permethrins. Those names sound similar but getting them mixed up can prove fatal for cats.

Pyrethrins are derived from the flower of the pyrethrum plant, Chrysanthemum cinerariaefolium. They kill fleas, ticks, mites, and other insects and are popular among pet owners who prefer to use all-natural products. Permethrins are synthetic pyrethroids that are more stable and last longer. The permethrins are commonly used for collars, dips, sprays, shampoos, and spot treatment. Both the natural and the synthetic compounds work by interfering with nerve impulses, thus paralyzing and killing the parasite.

These toxins cause interference with the pet’s nervous system if overdosed. DO NOT use permethrins on cats and DO NOT use any product on a cat unless it is specifically made for cats. Caution should even be used when treating dogs with a permethrin product when cats live in the same household. Small dogs are also more susceptible to pyrethrin/permethrin toxicity than larger dogs since their surface area to weight ratio is higher. Symptoms may be seen within a couple of hours, especially in cats.

The most common signs are tremors, drooling, lack of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, incoordination, hyperactivity, disorientation, vocalization, depression, difficulty breathing, and seizures. Death is possible. Additionally in cats, may see ear flicking, paw shaking, or contractions/twitching of the skin.

If you accidentally applied dog flea and tick medication to your cat, contact your veterinarian or an animal poison control center immediately. The sooner you treat it, the more likely you are to save your pet.

Treatment of Flea and Tick product poisoning in cats includes the following:

Bathing your cat

Keep in mind that cats are very hard to bathe at home, and when in doubt, you should never put yourself (or your cat) at risk of harm. If you can’t bathe your cat, seek immediate veterinary attention so they can bathe your cat to remove the topical spot-on medication. Your cat should be bathed with a mild liquid dish soap, such as Dawn.


If your cat has clinical signs, hospitalization is a must to stop the tremors with muscle relaxants (methocarbamol) or anti-seizure medication (phenobarbital, valium). These medications should only be administered by a veterinarian, unless otherwise directed by your veterinarian. In addition, further treatment from your veterinarian may include intravenous fluids, blood sugar monitoring, temperature support and monitoring.


Prevention is key!

When in doubt, never apply a product to your pet without carefully reading the product label. If you’re not sure, check with your veterinarian first. Also, make sure you know the accurate weight of your pet before you apply any medication; pet owners often “guess” their pet’s weight, resulting in under-dosing or more commonly, overdosing with medications.

Talk to your veterinarian about the safest type of flea and tick medications to use on your cats and dogs. If you own both species, you should separate your dog from his buddy cat until the spot-on product is completely dried so you can prevent chemical exposure to your cat.

Here are a few more articles and useful links regarding flea and tick product safety for your pets:

Pet MD article on Flea product safety for cats

Pet Poison Help Line- dog and cat product safety

ASPCA Animal Poison Control