Is your dog’s flea treatment really poisoning the rivers?

I am a dog person, so it’s only natural that I read dog magazines more than news paper articles. As a result I was blissfully aware of a research that was published in Science of the Total Environment magazine. The study suggested potential link between dog’s flea treatments and water toxicity in British rivers. Sadly, one of the dog’s magazines picked on it as a “lets fuel a controversy chat” subject. Worse, the news papers decided to join in and, as it often happens, created a pile of misinformation.

“Toxic flea treatments contaminate rivers!”

“Stop using flea treatments on your dogs!”

“Vets are overdosing our dogs! Use these natural alternatives instead!”

said the papers.

“I never use chemicals on my dog…”

“These chemicals are bad. I won’t inflict them on my dog…”

“Only use them when you can see fleas…”

“I would never use wormers or flea treatments on my dog ever…”

said “the majority” the “caring owners” interviewed by the magazine.

The noise of these articles became so overwhelming. At no point any of the journalists consulted professionals, veterinarians or allowed dog owners who did use the treatment to speak up. Most of them did not ever read the study by referred to a news paper articled that was the first one to come out! So I made a cup of tea and decided to have a chat with you here.

I found the study. Read it. Finished the tea and summed up the facts to help you digest the information with clarity and precision before setting into the panic mode.

First of all, the study did not say that it was the dog flea treatment that poisoned the rivers. It suggested potential role of the treatments in pesticide contamination. The firm “it’s the flea treatment” and “potential role” are two very different meanings that would require more research and carefully controlled studies for becoming a definite statement.

It is not new that any kind of pesticide is toxic to aquatic life. That’s why they put it on every leaflet that comes with the product!

The 98% of samples taken from the rivers indicated the presence of fipronil and some also showed imidacloprid (66%). It was fiproles (fipronil, fipronil sulfone, fipronil sulfide) that exceeded the toxic limit in most samples. The levels of imidacloprid “did not pose risk in most rivers”, took two years to detect, were below toxic in 13 out of 7 sites (and the sites that contained more only exceeded the limit by 3.3 ng/l (31.7 ng/l vs 35 ng/l as identified toxicity limit)

The study concluded “a high environmental risk to aquatic ecosystems from fiproles, and a moderate risk from imidacloprid”.

Before jumping into flea treatments, it is important to note that fipronil is an active agent found in ant baits, cockroach poisons, rootworms and several other treatments that are habitually used by households. The concentration varies by the amount use is often exceeds anything you’d ever put on your dog making it toxic to dogs and not just aquatic life. That’s why they put it on a leaflet too!

At no point it was clearly established and confirmed that the fipronil in rivers came from the flea treatments and not common ant baits or household pest treatments that casually got flushed down the toilet or drain (which is still a common practice).

The papers also referred to veterinary approved products containing fipronil. I checked them. These include Fipnil, Frontline, FIPROtec, Johnson’s 4fleas dual action and a few others. All of those products are sold over the counter – not through vets who issue prescription and can control the quality and frequency of the treatment.

The leaflet and protocol for anything prescribe by a vet “takes into consideration individual veterinary diagnosis and on the local epidemiological situation”. This is for those “experts” who expressed their scepticism at veterinary knowledge or expertise.

Every prescription-based flea treatment product comes with instructions that clearly specify that a dog “must not be bathed for at least two days after treatment” or “should not be allowed to swim in surface waters for 4 days after treatment”

There is no natural alternative on the market scientifically proven to be effective against fleas – or any other parasites that can be prevented by a veterinary spot-on product.

More over, most natural alternatives contain at least one ingredients known to be toxic to dogs. Even though it may not kill your dog straight away, it is likely to lead to a reaction when used regularly. Additionally, as none really deter fleas or other parasites, they can leave your dog exposed to those “bugs and worms” as well as several diseases transmitted by fleas, ticks and other creatures. Some of those diseases are fatal.

Anyone suggesting that you should only use a product when you actually see fleas or worms is a nincompoop. The sign of a parasite on your dog means that dog has already been exposed to disease, your house and your family (especially children and elderly) are at risk, any dogs and people you come across unknowingly become exposed to the disease, and any form of decontamination and parasitic treatment you will have to use is likely to take weeks and months and be much more toxic for your dog and the environment.

If you still believe that fleas are nothing serious, bear in mind that fleas are still one of the two main causes of dermatitis, itchiness and serious skin issues (which many owners mistake for food allergy these days), they can cause iron deficiency anaemia in your dog, they can infect your dog with tapeworms, in unlucky circumstances they can also pass a life-threatening disease to you.

Besides the fleas, most veterinary-prescribed products also protect your dog from ear mites, sarcoptic mange and decodicosis (the number one cause of allergy-like dermatitis in your dog – again, not food allergy!), lice, heartworm, lungworm, roundworm and a whole group of gastrointestinal nematodes.

So if you have any doubts, filter the information and talk to your vet – the person who spent years learning and practicing the art of keeping your dog well. Not a journalist, shop assistant, and most definitely not some fella on Facebook because he “sounds friendly”. It will be safer for your dog, your sanity – and indeed, British rivers and aquatic life.

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