Fleas are pesky parasites that can not only cause itching and scratching but also a few other, more serious health problems for your pet. Preventing fleas and treating infestations quickly is no doubt essential, but it's important to exercise caution when giving flea medication to your pet.
Most flea and tick medications are topical drugs that can be applied to the skin and contain pyrethrins or pyrethroids. While they're typically safe if administered according to instructions, if your pet overdoses on medication or has an adverse reaction, they can suffer difficult breathing, seizures, and potentially life-threatening consequences.
Keep reading to find out how you can ensure that your dog is protected against fleas without overdosing on their medication.
Signs and Symptoms of Flea Medication Overdose
If you apply a flea treatment as recommended, you shouldn't have any problems. However, if the medication is applied excessively, or if a dog is exposed to them in some other product (such as insect sprays and fertilizers), the toxins can affect the dog's nervous system and cause a range of problems.
This can result in repetitive nerve discharges, or twitches and tremors, in affected dogs. So if a dog has a mild overdose of flea medication, symptoms, you may notice include twitching, excessive salivation, paw flicking, vomiting and diarrhea, and depression.
If the overdose is of a greater magnitude, the symptoms can be much more worrying. Vomiting and diarrhea can be ongoing, and your dog may be unable to control their muscles. A lack of coordination is another common sign, along with confusion, excessive drooling, moving in circles, seizures, and even collapse. In some severe cases, death may result.
Please note that symptoms may take up to 12 hours to appear after the flea treatment has been applied, as it can take some time for the insecticides to make their way into the dog's system. It's also worth pointing out that dogs that have abnormally low body temperatures, for example after bathing or sedation, are predisposed to showing the signs and symptoms of toxic poisoning.
If you think your dog is having a severe reaction to a flea medication containing pyrethrin or pyrethroid, take them to a veterinarian immediately.
The Science of Flea Medication Overdoses
Pyrethrin insecticides are derived from the chrysanthemum flower, while pyrethroids are the synthetic versions. They're commonly used in topical sprays and powders used to treat and control flea infestations.
Dogs may suffer a reaction to these ingredients if they're applied excessively and leach through the fur, however, reactions can also occur when a dog licks or bites the area where flea medicine has been applied, or they inhale flea powder.
However, pyrethrin and pyrethroid are also present in varying concentrations in a range of other products. For example, you may find them in yard and garden insecticides for use around the home, as well as in some fertilizers.
As a result, when a pet presents with signs of pyrethrin/pyrethroid poisoning but hasn't been treated with flea or tick medication recently, your vet will also ask whether they could have been exposed to any garden insecticides, fertilizers, or other products that may contain these substances.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Flea Medication Overdose
Your vet will be able to diagnose a flea medication overdose by conducting a thorough physical exam of your pet and asking you a few key questions. For example, your vet may ask if you've applied any flea treatment to your pet recently and, if so, when did this happen and how much did you apply? They'll also check whether your dog may have been exposed to pyrethrins or pyrethroids in some other way, such as playing on a lawn that had recently been fertilized.
Mild cases of flea medication overdose are often self-limiting, with symptoms gradually wearing off over a period of 24 to 72 hours. However, they should still be checked out by your vet immediately, as he or she will be able to monitor your dog for signs of a more serious reaction and advise on the best way to remove the insecticide and help your dog recover.
In extreme cases of poisoning where the symptoms are severe, your vet will make a presumptive diagnosis and begin treatment immediately. Dogs that have severe reactions need immediate emergency care, requiring hospitalization, fluid support, and temperature control.
Once your pet has been stabilized, they can be washed with a liquid hand-washing detergent to remove the medication from their skin and fur. Other medications may also be prescribed to reduce the severity of your dog's symptoms, and blood tests will be taken so your vet can keep track of your pet's blood sugar levels and kidney function.
If caught early and treated quickly, the prognosis for dogs who have suffered a flea medication overdose is actually quite good. However, if the affected dog develops uncontrolled neurological signs, or if they develop secondary complications such as kidney failure, the outlook is a lot less positive.
The key point to remember is to know the warning signs of a flea treatment overdose and act quickly. Seek veterinary attention as soon as possible to give your pet the best chance of a safe and speedy recovery.
Written by a Labrador Retriever lover Tim Falk
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 05/28/2018, edited: 04/06/2020