When the owners spotted fleas on their two cats, they put "just a drop" of topical flea treatment on each one. Within hours the cats were very sick, and one of them was convulsing. The family rushed them to the nearest veterinary clinic, but both cats died.
The family had used flea treatment that was clearly labeled for use on dogs, but they told the clinic staff that they assumed a small amount would be OK for cats.
Astoundingly, a total of four cats died in a recent four-week period when their owners used canine topical flea treatment, those products some people call "spot on" treatments. Just a dab, usually between the shoulder blades, quickly kills fleas on dogs. But those products can be deadly when people don't read or precisely follow directions.
"I am very upset that the warning on the canine flea topical -- 'Do not use on cats' -- is so very small. I wish it said: 'This Product Could Kill Your Cat' in very large letters," said Leslie C. Marino, practice manager at Greentree Animal Clinic.
None of the four cats were regular clients, but all were rushed there because the clinic on Greentree Road was closer than the owners' usual veterinary offices. The staff asked me to share this information with readers to prevent future tragedies.
I've heard that using dog products on cats can be dangerous, but this is the first time a veterinary clinic has provided real, heart-breaking anecdotes. Greentree Animal Clinic will send a copy of this column to representatives who sell veterinary drugs, Ms. Marino said.
Flea season has extended well into December and January in recent years, so everyone should be careful. Here are some other tips I've gleaned over the years from veterinary poison control centers:
• Read the fine print on all medications and use a magnifying glass, if needed.
• Save the packaging for all medications, so that if there is an adverse reaction a veterinarian will know exactly what you gave to your pet.
• Follow dosage instructions carefully and don't give flea medications intended for 50-pound dogs, for instance, to a 20-pound dog.
• Don't use old medications that have been sitting under your sink for years.
And most important: Don't give dog products to cats. It's probably also a bad idea to give cat meds to dogs.
All creatures great and small will be blessed Oct. 6 at 2 p.m. at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 2040 Washington Road, Upper St. Clair (15241). It's just one of many events sponsored by the ever-expanding Pet Ministry at the church.
"The vision of that ministry is to cultivate, nurture and sustain an environment that acknowledges and honors the unique relationship between people and their pets through education, services and events," according to the news release. "The local mission is to be good stewards of all creation."
Famous service dog coming
A golden retriever service and assistance dog named Tuesday is coming to Westminster Presbyterian Church in Upper St. Clair on Oct. 13 at 4 p.m. Smart as he is, the New York City dog can't travel alone, so he'll be with his partner, Luis Carlos Montalvan.
Mr. Montalvan wrote the 2011 best-selling book "Until Tuesday: A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever Who Saved Him." He served 17 years in the Army with two tours in Iraq that left him with a fractured back, vertigo and post-traumatic stress syndrome. In 2007 when he felt he couldn't get the medical and psychiatric care he needed, he left the military.
His appearance with Tuesday last April at Mt. Lebanon Public Library was one of the most memorable and touching Pet Tales assignments I've ever had. Mr. Montalvan's book and appearance raise awareness of the obstacles faced by veterans and the life-saving service of dogs like Tuesday, whose training costs are not covered by the Veterans Administration.
People who consider themselves warriors know they are supposed to be tough and brave, Mr. Montalvan says in the book. Family, friends and employers have a hard time understanding why soldiers who survived war have so much trouble dealing with peace.
Mr. Montalvan will be selling and signing his books at the church. The event is free, but you need to go to www.westminster-church.org/care/untiltuesday.html to reserve a seat.
The high-flying pilots at Pittsburgh Aviation Animal Rescue Team are having a fundraising Yappy Hour next Saturday 5-7 p.m. in Parcell Grove, next to the South Park dog park. It's on Maple Springs Road, just past the intersection of Corrigan Drive and McConkey Road.
For $10 you get snacks and beverages, including beer and wine. Adoptable dogs will be there, and children and dogs on leashes are welcome.
The pilots fly dogs and other animals from states where the "kill" rate is high to shelters and rescue groups that will find them permanent homes. Go to www.pittrescue.org for information.
Guinea pig picnic
Wheek Care Guinea Pig Rescue is having a "pignic" next Saturday 1-4 p.m. at Lower Burrell Lake Park, Pavilion No. 4, 201 Delberta Road, Lower Burrell (15068).
Pet guinea pigs are welcome, but bring a secure pen for them to play in. The rescue group is providing salads for pigs and for people, but guests are asked to bring a covered dish to share. There will be games, contests and raffles.
And, this is your chance to meet adoptable guinea pigs that are looking for new homes. RSVP by email to email@example.com or on the PIGNIC by Wheek Care Facebook page.
Adoptable dogs from dozens of shelters and rescues will be at DogtoberFEST at the SouthSide Works in Pittsburgh next Saturday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the parking lot next to McCormick & Schmick's Restaurant. It's hosted by Coalition to Adopt, Rehome and Match Abandoned Animals and sponsored by Robinson Animal Hospital.
It starts at 11 a.m. with the popular Pooch Pride Parade Costume Contest. A $5 entry fee puts your dog in the running for $500 in prizes for most creative, best homemade and dog-owner lookalike awards. There will also be vendors, food, live music, training demonstrations and Ask-A-Trainer and Ask-A-Vet booths.
Your own dogs are welcome if they are dog-friendly and people-friendly, up to date on vaccinations, and on a non-retractable leash. Go to www.carmaa-petadoption.com/dogtoberfest.html for more information.
Pet Tales appears weekly in the Saturday Home & Garden section. Linda Wilson Fuoco: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-3064.