Flea treatments damaging freshwater ecosystems

© Paul Gonella

Study has shown that pet flea treatments are polluting British rivers, threatening the ecosystem

A recent study has confirmed that treatments used to remove fleas from pets are poisoning water bodies in England, long suspected by conservation charities such as Buglife. Fipronil and imidacloprid (a neonicotinoid) are insecticides used in many common flea treatments. The chemicals were found in 99% of samples from 20 English rivers. They have been banned on farms since 2017 and 2018, with the only likely source in the rivers being flea treatments. 

It is thought that washing pets after treatment flushes the insecticides into sewers, with the water then discharged into rivers in some cases. Dogs swimming in rivers and lakes is another source of contamination. 

These pesticides are expected to be have a significant impact on the invertebrates that live in these rivers, and therefore the wildlife further up the food chain such as birds and mammals. 

80% of pet cats and dogs are treated for fleas, often monthly and unnecessarily. Scientists recommend only treating if needed and recommend that the government introduce the requirement for a prescription to these treatments as well as environmental assessments for flea treatments. 

There are many natural ways of treating pets for fleas, just ask your vet for advice on chemical-free options. Only treat pets for fleas if really necessary, and help keep our freshwater habitats safe for wildlife.