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What Happens If a Cat Licks Flea Medicine? Our Vet Answers

Dr. Sharon Butzke, DVM (Vet)

By Dr. Sharon Butzke, DVM (Vet)

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Written by

Dr. Sharon Butzke

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Flea control is an important part of preventive healthcare for cats, particularly if they spend time outdoors. Many of the products available are applied topically to the skin and are not intended for ingestion. However, cats are fastidious groomers and accidental ingestion is not uncommon.

Cats may:
  • Lick the area of application if it is within their reach
  • Scratch the site and then lick their foot
  • Lick the product off another cat or dog in the home
  • Contact the product on another pet’s fur and then lick themselves

Is Licking Flea Medicine an Emergency?

Licking flea medicine does not always result in toxicity, but it should be considered an urgent situation. If any of the ingredients in the product are potentially harmful to cats, treatment should be initiated as soon as possible.

It is important to quickly determine exactly what your cat has ingested. The active ingredient(s) should be listed clearly on the package label.

As a general guideline, all flea products intended for dogs should be considered potentially toxic to cats until proven otherwise.

For urgent assistance:
  • Contact your veterinarian or the closest veterinary emergency hospital
  • Call the emergency phone number on the package label
  • Pet Poison Helpline: Phone 855-764-7661

Experts are available 24 hours a day, 365 days per year, but there is usually a fee for this service.

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How Do Cats React After Licking Flea Medicine?

If a cat licks any type of flea medicine, the first thing you will likely notice is drooling and possibly white foam around the cat’s mouth. This doesn’t necessarily mean they have been poisoned; it’s just how cats react to things that taste bad!

In some cases, cats may vomit, appear agitated or even run around the house. Again, these aren’t always signs of toxicity.

Symptoms that should prompt immediate concern include:

  • Muscle tremors or twitching
  • Seizures
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Ataxia (incoordination)
  • Lethargy (tiredness) or weakness
  • Feeling warm to the touch
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
sleeping cat drool slobber
Image Credit: kwanza, Shutterstock

Which Flea Medicines Are Toxic?

In general, a veterinary flea medication that has been prescribed specifically for your cat is very unlikely to cause toxicity. Adverse reactions are always possible, but serious ones are rare.

Over-the-counter products (for both cats and dogs) are more likely to be a problem, particularly those containing:

It is important to note that even “safe” flea medications can cause toxicity if:

  • Given at a higher dose than needed for your cat’s weight
  • Applied to a cat in poor general health
  • Used in a kitten below the minimum body weight or younger than the approved age
  • Multiple products are used together without consulting a veterinarian

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What Is the Treatment For Licking Flea Medicine?

If your cat is not showing any symptoms, a veterinarian may advise you to bathe them at home to remove the product. The Pet Poison Helpline recommends using liquid dish soap (e.g., Dawn) and lukewarm water to wash and rinse your cat three consecutive times. Make sure to dry them thoroughly afterward so they don’t become chilled.

If your cat is showing any concerning symptoms, you should transport them to a veterinarian immediately. They will likely require a hospital stay for:

  • Intravenous (IV) fluid therapy
  • Temperature regulation
  • Muscle relaxants to stop the tremors
  • Anti-seizure medication (if indicated)
  • General supportive care
  • Monitoring (e.g., blood sugar)

Seeking veterinary treatment quickly gives your cat the best chance of making a full recovery.

wet cat in a bath soaped with shampoo
Image Credit: Vera Larina, Shutterstock

Home Care For Ingestion Of Non-Toxic Flea Products

If you have been advised that the medication your cat ingested is not harmful, you may try offering them a favorite food or treats to help with the bitter taste. Canned cat food, tuna, or salmon may be enticing.

Once the product has fully dried, licking should no longer cause a reaction. If your cat still seems bothered or if you are concerned, bathing should remove the product.

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How Can I Prevent My Cat From Licking Flea Medicine?

  • Step One: Apply near the base of the skull, so it is not easily reached
  • Step Two: If treating more than one pet, keep them separate until the products have fully dried
  • Step Three: Consider using chewable flea medication for any dogs in the home, or consult your veterinarian to find a product that is safe for cats if accidentally ingested

When used properly, flea medication can be extremely safe and effective, and prevent unnecessary discomfort. Ask your veterinarian to recommend a product that’s right for your cat.

See also:

Featured  Image Credit: one photo, Shutterstock

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