Frontline for cats: what you should know

Frontline for cats illustration
Image courtesy of

I once spent a week in a small North Carolina town visiting with a good friend of mine. We had become friends online because I had read some very enlightening posts she had written. She had interesting thoughts on religion, world events and politics. The Greyhound ride down there wasn’t fun: fourteen hours of being packed into a giant sardine can with a bunch of strangers, some of whom smelled badly. My friend picked me up from the bus station. It was around 11 pm when I got there. The conversation on the way to her house was not disappointing. This was someone I could learn from.

Earlier in the day she had enlisted the help of a local friend of hers to bathe the cat and two dogs my friend had. Part of the process was a post-bath flea treatment. Then get the house in order. Then go to pick me up.

We got to her place around quarter after 11. I got to meet one of her dogs, a very friendly collie/shepherd mix, and her cat, a gray tabby who ran from me as soon as he saw me. The cat’s name was Chairman Mao, aka Kiki, and I had looked forward to meeting him. We went into the kitchen and she fixed me some supper. More great conversation. Then I needed to use the bathroom.

The house was frickin’ huge–everything in North Carolina is huge–a moderately-wealthy person’s home built during the era of slavery. The main bathroom was through my friend’s bedroom. On the way through I stepped in something. Cat poo. I saw a tail wagging under the bed. I called for my friend. She came in, saw the mess, and pulled Kiki from under the bed. He was having convulsions.

My friend had purchased Frontline flea and tick treatments; two for the dogs and one for the cat. She had not personally supervised the application for Kiki. Immediately, my friend thought the worst: her helper had used a dog’s Frontline on the cat. She made a phone call to the nearest animal hospital. It was half hour away. On the road we went.

It was an awful experience. I had Kiki in a box on my lap, talking to him and petting him as he convulsed like crazy, meowing like crazy until he knocked himself out. The convulsions would then wake him up, and the suffering resumed. We arrived at the animal hospital; the staff there were waiting for him.

After some lab work, it looked really bad for Kiki. The convulsions had driven his body temperature way up and there was nervous system damage. There was only one solution. Euthanasia. My friend had to have her cat put to sleep. My friend was there with Kiki as the drugs entered his IV. I stood by her side, a huge lump in my throat. Then Kiki, aka Chairman Mao, was quiet.

Image courtesy of
Image courtesy of

I use Frontline for my cat every summer, as he has allergic dermatitis and fleas are especially bad for him. I had tried other treatments on him, up till the time I had to rush him to a 24-hour veterinary hospital for severe flea anemia.  After a blood transfusion and a $1000 vet bill, I was going to use something more effective. I knew the Frontline was effective, but whenever I saw it in the store, I thought back to Chairman Mao. If I were to make the same mistake with my Sebastian, I couldn’t live with myself. So when I go out and buy Frontline, I check, check, and check again to make sure the product I have is for cats.

Do not EVER use dog Frontline on a cat.

Frontline for dogs uses permethrin, a neurotoxin. It works by getting into the animal’s bloodstream and essentially poisoning the blood that fleas and ticks try to consume. The neurotoxin then shuts down the nervous systems of the fleas and ticks. It is toxic to aquatic life and cats, and in sufficient amounts even to humans. In cats, it causes  seizures. You really don’t want that to happen.

Frontline for cats uses fipronil, another neurotoxin which is safe for cats–and it works.

Have you accidentally used the wrong product on your cat? Call ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435 for instructions–you’ll need to see a vet as well, as soon as possible. One of the first things the Poison Control Center will probably tell you to do is bathe the cat to wash away as much of the treatment as possible. Whatever you do, you need to act quickly, and step one is calling the number I just gave you. Another important tidbit is that if you treat your dogs with Frontline, keep your cats away from them for at least an hour for the treatment to dry. Otherwise, you run the risk of your cat either getting it on its skin or ingesting some of it.

I think most of you regard your pets as small people–as do I. And since you do that, you want the best for them. When getting them the best, just be vigilant; never give them something you aren’t completely sure they should have. When purchasing Frontline, make sure it has a cat on the box, and as always, read the directions!

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