As any cat will humbly point out to you there is a big difference between cats and dogs. OK, maybe not humbly. What is a safe product or topical therapy for dogs may have dire consequences for cats. That’s due to two reasons.
The first is cats have an altered glucuronidation pathway in their livers. It means they lack many of the enzymes dogs have for metabolic processes. Cats cannot metabolize certain ingredients found in dog-safe products. These ingredients build up rather than break down and over time can lead to medical problems, poisoning, and even death.
The second is that cats are fastidious groomers. Cats can’t help themselves. They have to lick their fur, so something that may be a normally safe topical product may become poisonous if ingested.
You could rely on the cat safe labeling claim on products. But as there is no regulating agency on certain products, any testing done by the company may not have undergone stringent testing. So, what is safe and what’s not in a grooming environment. Good question as many products fall into both categories.
Let’s start with what not good for the kitties.
- ALCOHOL stings wounds and, depending on the concentration, can be toxic if absorbed on the skin or ingested.
- HYDROGEN PEROXIDE, especially when used chronically on wounds, slows wound healing as it damages surrounding tissue. It can be toxic if ingested. Small amounts used to clean blood off of fur are OK if rinsed well. Never use hydrogen peroxide to induce vomiting in cats, as it can result in severe bloody vomiting. A suggested Pet Poison First Aid Kit can be found here.
- TAP, BOTTLED. OR STERILE WATER to flush wounds. By a process called osmolarity, water will disrupt the normal salt balance of living cells, resulting in more severe cell damage. Always check with a veterinarian before applying anything to wounds.
- TRIPLE ANTIBIOTIC OINTMENT, while rare, can cause a fatal allergic reaction in cats. While safe in dogs, it can result in an anaphylactic reaction in cats.
What you can use:
- STERILE SALINE SOLUTION OR EYE WASH to flush wounds. Do Not use contact solution as it may contain soaps or other chemicals.
- PRE-PACKAGED CHLOROHEXIDINE RINSE to flush wounds. The percentage is important so go with the already made. The first aid supply aisle of stores will usually have a good selection.
- Cleaners ending in OL (alcohol), SOL (Pine-SolÔ or LysolÔ), bleach or ammonia based should not be used with cats present. Be sure to rinse according to packaging before allowing cats on such surfaces.
- Cleaning, disinfecting, and aromatherapy products containing botanicals and essential oils are safe to use in the environment, provided they are not used directly on pets. Cats with underlying respiratory problems (e.g. asthma) along with birds – however are very sensitive to fragrances and chemical smells and should ideally not be exposed to them.
Make sure all products are applied and rinsed according to manufacturer’s recommendations.
SKIN AND COAT CARE
The skin is the largest organ in the body. If there is an underlying medical problem, resources are taken away from the skin to address the more serious concern. That’s why the first indication of a health issue may show up as skin problems. Before you treat a skin condition, make sure it’s not an underlying medical reason that needs attention (e.g. hypothyroidism, immunosuppression, etc.).
- Most botanicals and essential oils can be used in topical products providing the percentage is low. Every botanical and essential oil safe percentage will vary. Here is where you hope the company putting the cat safe label on it has done the proper testing. Products made with hydrosols of essential oils are safer as they are strongly diluted with water. According to veterinary specialist Dr. Justine Lee, concentrated essential oils should “never be used on pets, as it can result in acute temporary paralysis, weakness, walking drunk, and even organ failure.”
- Many ear cleaners contain alcohol. Witch hazel based ear cleaners are better. Read the label, as tea tree is a common ingredient in ear cleaners. According to Dr. Lee, as little as seven drops of tea tree oil have been reported to kill a cat. Avoid any product with concentrated tea tree. Tea Tree is also known as Melaluca.
- Use vinegar rinses only on veterinarian recommendation as it disrupts the healthy normal bacteria and yeast found on skin.
There aren’t many safe dyes to use on cats mostly due to their grooming habits. The only three I am aware of is food grade coloring, unsweetened powder drink mixes, and children’s chalk. I cover this topic in more detail in a previous article found at http://groomwise.typepad.com/pet_first_aid_care/2011/10/grooming-to-dye-for.html.
Even a normally safe product or ingredient can be poisonous or cause an allergic reaction for a particular cat. Familiarizing yourself with the signs and what to do can save the life of the cat. Signs include vomiting, diarrhea, excessive drooling, breathing difficulties, excitability, seizures, and unconsciousness.
Pre-program your cell phone with your veterinarian’s phone, your emergency after-hours vet, and Pet Poison Helpline’s phone number, (1-800-213-6680) an animal poison control based out of Minneapolis. Minutes matter in a poisoning and you need instructions based on the suspected substance. What helps in one situation, can cause harm in another. Do not take it upon yourself to induce vomiting in a cat without explicit instructions from a vet – there are no safe at home vomiting agendas you should be using in cats; they will also need a heads up to prepare for your arrival.
Pet Poison Helpline has $0.99 app you can download to an Iphone called Pet Poison Help that will dial their number as well as has a poison list and emergency instruction. It includes advice on over 200 different poisons. Pet owners should be aware than an emergency call to Pet Poison Helpline is $39: it is the most cost-effective animal poison control in North America. As animal poison control centers are not state or federally funded, there are no tax dollars allocated, and that’s why there is a fee.
While we may have our limitations when it comes to products and cats, we really do not need hundreds of choices. Just good ones.
I would like to thank Dr. Justine Lee for her assistance in making sure that this article is medically correct.
Dr. Lee is a board-certified emergency critical care veterinary specialist, one of 500 worldwide. She is the Associate Director of Veterinary Services at Pet Poison Helpline as well as a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care (DACVECC). Dr. Lee has been published in numerous veterinary journals and received the North American Veterinary Conference 2011 “Small Animal Speaker of the Year.” She is also the author of “It’s a Dog’s Life...but it’s Your Carpet” and “It’s a Cat’s Life...You Just Live In It”