Okay, Googlers of the world, we're gonna make it easy for you: Frontline, cats, skin irritation. The popular and heavily advertised "spot-on" flea killer for cats and dogs warns on its label that it can cause "irritation" at the sight of application. "Irritation" can apparently mean "instant half-inch chemical burn with fur loss." Or at least it did for Lexi the Gorgeous Ragdoll (below).
It's been years since the cats of the Crazy Stable have had fleas...we've had a few isolated plagues over the years, including a race of superfleas that were impervious to all known interventions. But no sign of any this summer. Last night, however, Lexi leaped up with un-Ragdoll-like celerity as if nipped from below, Spouse and I panicked a bit (even though I couldn't find any evidence of infestation), and just "to be on the safe side," we applied an ampule of the Frontline we bought (and used with no problems) a few years ago. Minutes later, poor Lex had a raw chemical burn on the back of the neck. (The stuff is applied in a single spot between the shoulder blades, where it ostensibly gets distributed through the animal's coat via the sebaceous glands.)
The damn stuff is waterproof, but it still made sense to wash her immediately and at least remove some of the oily spot; turns out the most benefit was in washing away some of her skin's own oils, which disperse it. I was afraid her entire skin might get irritated. Fortunately, no sign of that yet--but a quick Internet search on Frontline made me very angry about not being a smarter, more skeptical cat mommy.
The active ingredient in Frontline is fipronil, a relatively new insecticide developed by Rhone-Poulenc, which turns out to be the same neurotoxin agent used in Combat. The Net pet boards turn up plenty of reports, not just of irritation and outright burns and fur loss in both cats and dogs, but of even scarier systemic adverse events like convulsions and other neurological problems, and even some animals' deaths. Used monthly year-round on a pet in my household (as if!), the stuff would also worry me for its association with cancer and reproductive problems in test animals. It's notable that all these anecdotes and warnings were reported by pet owners, not by vets (who make a good deal selling this and other such products and are undoubtedly the heaviest targets of promotion by companies).
But honestly, despite the company's safety claims, does it make sense that a potent insecticide, applied directly to an animal's delicate skin, where it can be licked and ingested, would be "safe"? After all the work I've done for the pharmaceutical industry's promotional tentacles, I was sort of flabbergasted at my level of trust.
Poor Lexi has dried off after her bath; the Frontline has left an oily mini-Mohawk around the bald raw spot, but removing more of it would require alcohol, which would sting like mad, so I'm going to leave her alone. No convulsions, thank God, unless you count her gymnastics trying to escape from the bathtub. (This was her first immersion bath--as we wrestled 16 lbs. of chubby frantic feline, she kept looking at us with those huge blue eyes, like, "Are you out of your freaking humanoid MINDS?")
Sorry to present a downer for Catblogging Friday, but I'm peeved that I unwittingly hurt my girl without fair warning that it could happen. I'm gonna call Merial today and blast them. Meanwhile, this article (from a hyper-"green" magazine called Whole Dog Journal, yet seemingly well-researched) gives more details. The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Committee in 2003 reconsidered its approval of fipronil, as a possible "undue hazard" to animals and humans. (Hope those links work okay.)
I guess all this proves the point of a recent Pew survey on the blogosphere, which showed that "people are talking about the subjects that matter in their personal lives," according to Chris Anderson, the editor-in-chief of Wired and presumably a man who Knows Such Things. Anderson, a marketing oracle, observes in the New York Times, "It's narrow, niche subjects. It's a granularity of media that we in the commercial media could not scale down to."
And I say: Hey, granulate this.