There are many products on the market with DEET as an active ingredient. The 'strength' ranges from 4% DEET to 100% DEET concentration (CDC DEET info). With this range, it is very important read instructions and use as directed.
At this time, there are no DEET products labeled for use on pets. There are safer bug fighting alternatives for dogs, cats are more difficult to protect with topical treatments. Here are some tips for keeping bugs away from pets.
Case Report: DEET Toxicity in a Cat
The insectide DEET has a good safety record for humans, but is not labeled for pets and toxicities do occur. In this case report, Justine A. Lee DVM DACVECC, Associate Director of Veterinary Services Pet Poison Helpline, shares the case of a cat sprayed with DEET for insect protection.
DEET Sprayed on Cat to Protect From Insects
A 2 year old, male neutered cat presented to the veterinarian after having a 40% DEET insect repellent applied to him 2 days prior. The pet owner wasn't aware of the potential toxicity from DEET, and sprayed the product on the cat as a mosquito repellent.
Clinical Signs of DEET Toxcity in This Cat
Within a day of application, the cat developed severe drooling, lethargy, and was leaking urine and not moving. The cat was mildly febrile, with a temperature of 103 (normal 99.5-102.5).
Initial blood work done by the veterinarian revealed an elevated blood glucose and mildly elevated kidney test, due to mild dehydration.
DEET application in cats can result in drooling (e.g., hypersalivation), severe lethargy, and rarely central nervous system (CNS) signs like walking drunk, tremors, or even seizures.
DEET Toxicity Treatment
There is no antidote (cure) for DEET toxicity, treatment is supportive - to keep the patient stable as the toxin is removed/excreted from the body.
Treatment included bathing the cat with a degreasing soap (e.g., liquid dish soap) to get the product off, and careful flushing of the mouth to dilute the product from the mouth.
Fluids to help hydrate the cat, along with muscle relaxants and anti-seizure medication were administered to control tremors and seizures.
Thankfully after one day of hospitalization, the cat responded to treatment and was able to go home.
Cats and Spray Repellants or Topical Medications
Since cats are fastidious groomers, spraying a product onto a cat can be dangerous as it can be easily groomed off, resulting in both skin (dermal) and oral exposure or poisoning.
Thank you, Dr. Lee, for this case report.
Keeping Toxins Out of Pets Reach
Many people have unintentionally poisoned their animals trying to help them feel better. As a general word of warning, never give your cat or dog human pills or topical medications unless directed by your veterinarian. Cats are especially sensitive to medications and chemicals.
If you suspect that your pet has been poisoned or eaten something toxic (don't forget gum - the artificial sweetener xylitol is toxic), please call your veterinarian, poison control, or Pet Poison Helpline for assistance.