7 min read

Tiny Kitten Almost Died Because Of Her Flea Collar

When a newborn kitten was admitted to an animal hospital in Connecticut, she was covered in fleas and suffering from extreme seizures.

But it wasn't the fleas that were causing her distress.

Lona Harrelle, owner of All Friends Animal Hospital in Norwich, says the blame fell squarely on the kitten's flea collar.

All Friends Animal Hospital

She says many cheap collars designed to control fleas do so by producing a toxin that gets into the animal's bloodstream.

"That's obviously an extreme reaction," she tells The Dodo. "But that's an example of what can happen. Obviously, every pet is different. We usually see it with the really little ones who can't tolerate it really well."

Let's face it. We freak out when our best furry friends get fleas. We can't stand to see them suffer.

But in our concern, we might over-scratch that itch.

"This time of year fleas and ticks are an issue," Harrelle explains. "People are reaching for what they think is a less expensive option."

The kitten, just weeks old, was admitted back in 2013. Her owner told medical staff she had used a Sergeant's brand collar, intended to kill both fleas and ticks.

All Friends Animal Hospital

It's unclear what chemical in particular caused the kitten's reaction, but propoxur, a chemical used in brands like Sergeant's, has been known to cause such symptoms. Sergeant's didn't immediately reply to The Dodo's request for comment.

But, as it turns out, propoxur - whether or not it was the offending chemical - may be be on its way out. The company has reportedly agreed to discontinue products that contain the pesticide. But that phaseout wasn't complete until April 1, meaning the products may still be hanging around people's homes and even on some store shelves.

Even so, Harrelle says, any flea collar that uses a toxin to kill fleas does so by entering the bloodstream. And the results can be unpredictable.

"It's the equivalent of putting a toxin on the back of them and it's absorbed in the skin and gets into the bloodstream," she says. "The toxin can affect any animal at any age. We just see it more frequently in the really young ones because they're more susceptible because of their weight and age."

The kitten in this case survived - and grew up to be the fine cat she was supposed to be.

But we've also seen the tragic side of similar products before.

A woman in Georgia told The Dodo earlier this year that her cat didn't survive his experience with a Sergeant's Dual Action Collar - although, again, it's unclear if it was the type of collar that contained propoxur. Shortly after Teresa Crandall strapped the collar around the neck of her cat Onyx, he underwent a terrifying transformation: blindness, seizures, paralysis and finally death.

Teresa Crandall

"I think, in general, the way they work is there are chemicals associated with the collar, embedded in the collar, that are toxic to fleas," Erica Loftin, a critical care specialist with DoveLewis Emergency Animal Hospital, told The Dodo at the time. "Fleas are more sensitive to that than mammals because they have differences in their nervous systems.

"But I think there is always a chance that you'll have a particularly sensitive animal or perhaps a collar that was intended for one type of animal put onto another type of animal."

Whether or not a flea collar contains pesticides that may be harmful to your pet, it's simply not worth the risk when there are other safer methods on the market.

Harrelle recommends asking your veterinarian about products that work through an animal's sebaceous glands - basically the glands that run through the skin, but remain on the surface without entering the bloodstream.

There are so many products out there that are safe that you can generally get through your veterinarian. Some are even sold over the counter.

All Friends Animal Hospital

While extreme reactions may not be the norm, there's no reason why pet owners should be taking that chance at all.

Looking for advice on how to spot and treat fleas on your pet? Click here.