Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Baldness from flea products: What to do when meds make your cats sick

Eamon the cat has a bald spot the size of a quarter due to a flea product
Eamon displays his bald spot (with a quarter for size reference).
Last week, in an effort to fight back against the fleas I was sure were eating poor Eamon alive, I put Revolution drops on his back. This product is designed to kill all sorts of nasty critters, including fleas, mites and all sorts of worms, and I'd used it on our outdoor cats in the past with no problems at all. I read the directions about this drug, and while it mentioned a few side effects that had been reported in cats, I felt comfortable providing it for a healthy cat like Eamon.

I've discovered that there's a big difference between reading about side effects and dealing with possible side effects in your own cat. One of these situations is academic, and the other can be quite expensive.

A few days after the application, Eamon started avoiding his food. It's not unusual for him to be a touch picky, but when his symptoms escalated into full-blown anorexia, I started to get worried. When he stopped coming to the kitchen at all during meal times, I was terrified. Around this time, I also noticed that he had a little heart-shaped bald spot, right where I had placed the flea meds.

Off to the veterinarian we went, and Eamon had some intensive bloodwork and fluid therapies. He spent a day in the clinic, and he seemed to brighten and wake up a little when he had some fluids under his skin and some anti-nausea medications in his system. I opted to take him home, just to nurse him there and see how well he did.

I do a lot of medical writing for my "day job," so when I got home, I immediately logged onto the computer to see how often these types of reactions happen in cats on Revolution. I must say, I was pretty impressed. It looks like Pfizer did a significant amount of clinical testing before this product was released, and only one kitten died in that testing (and that kitten had an unclear medical history). The product's website, as well as the information included with the medication itself, states that less than 1 percent of animals had digestive upset when they were given Revolution. That's a pretty low number.

However, when I did a random search of "Revolution" combined with either "vomiting" or "nausea," I got multiple questions written by frantic cat owners. This seems to suggest that nausea might be a little more common in the random cat population than it was in the testing population. I should say that this isn't a scientific study and I am in NO WAY SUGGESTING that there is some coverup here. But I do think there are some things pet owners can do to help.

Most, if not all, pet medication boxes include phone numbers consumers can use to report adverse reactions their pets experience when they take these medications. It's important to actually follow through and call when these things happen.

I called Pfizer this morning, for example, and they asked me many questions about Eamon's age, weight, health, test results and diet. All of this information is logged into a central database, and I would assume, it helps the company ensure that the products they provide are truly safe. If pet owners provide feedback, perhaps formulas can be tweaked or information can be revised or veterinarians can be educated on warnings and treatments. The feedback we provide is vital.

In the interim, Eamon is doing much better. He's on a bland diet and antinausea medications, and I'm hoping his hair will grow back in time. When a month passes and he needs new flea medication, however, I think we'll use a different product.