Is dog flea treatment poisoning rivers? Pros and cons of using anti-flea spot on treatments on dogs (C) Perfect cocker spaniel dog blog

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.

Signs how to tell if a dog is happy, sad or stressed / dog body language / English cocker spaniel blog / Perfect cocker spaniel (C) Beyond the Doughnut / tips, advice on spaniel grooming, nutrition, diet, care, puppy tips (C) Natalia Ashton

How to tell if your dog is happy or sad & ways of bringing joy into their lives

When we know that our dogs are happy, we feel happier too. Even though we don’t speak the same language, dogs have plenty of signs and ways to express their feelings to us. We just need to read them.

A happy dog has a soft dreamy gaze and relaxed eyelids, his lips are loose, the forehead is wrinkle-free, his body is completely relaxed, the ears are floppy and the tail is raised to the mid-level and wagging, often so much that their entire behind seems to be wiggling and dancing.

A happy dog will seek engagement with you by greeting you with great enthusiasm, initiating fun time, play bowing or bringing a toy.

They will also enjoy their walks and meal times. And blissfully snooze for hours often stretching out on their backs to take most of your sofa.

And what about a stressed dog? Surprisingly, one of the first signs is an exaggerated yawn. A stressed pooch will have tension in his body, try to avoid eye contact, have enlarged pupils, raised eyebrows or tension in his forehead and ears, which he is likely to keep pulled back or erected and pointy (depending on a breed and situation).

The tail of a stressed dog may look limp and low.

Other signs include lip licking (especially if the stress is caused by fear), drooling, tight mouth, tensed body that may start trembling (some dogs also like to “shake it off” to release any tension), inability to settle, scratching, panting, vocalisation and reactivity to any sign of movement or any sound however minor.

They may struggle to relax or fall asleep. The changes in stress hormone levels can alter dogs’ appetite and ability to digest and utilise nutrients – some dogs refuse their food completely, others may develop odd eating habits.

Stressed dogs may start to destroy the furniture or rip out carpets as their way to relieve stress through chewing, others may suddenly forget their house training habits and urinate or defecate at home instead.

How to keep your pooch happy?

Feed your dog a complete balanced diet, so his body gets all the nutrients it needs for the happy brain.

Stick to a schedule, especially if your dog is prone to anxiety.

Choose activities that suit your dog’s age to avoid overstimulation.

Have at least one walk a day and allow your pooch to run and exercise depending on his age and physical abilities.

Visit new places, especially if your dog is an adventurer and enjoys these activities.

Move to the country. According to the 2020 study published in Scientific Reports, urban dogs were more fearful and stressed than the dogs living in more natural areas

Let your dog sniff! Sniffing is such a wonderful stress relief for all dogs. It helps them to relax yet keeps the brain happily stimulated.

Use mental stimulation games – anything from sprinkling a handful of kibble in the grass for the dog to find to using puzzle toys to taking a few agility lessons. Dogs love to learn, so let them do it! Learning and exploring in a safe environment plus plenty of praise helps a dog to build his confidence and feel positive towards changing environments and situations. Remember to use positive reward-based methods of training – not punishment of any kind.

Let your pooch enjoy a safe chew or a stuffed toy – licking and chewing are really relaxing.

Don’t skip on annual vet checks and preventative treatments. A healthy pooch is a happy pooch!

Spent some quality time with your dog every day – playing, cuddling, walking – anything that makes both of you happy.

Give your dog a massage. Many canines enjoy these touches and find them extremely relaxing.

Play a few tunes that dogs find relaxing. A study published in January 2020 showed that classical music has a calming effect on dogs, particularly those in stressful environments

Learn your dog’s habits – not every dog likes to be touched by strangers, some would rather share their time with people than dogs, others would prefer to avoid certain pooches or places.

Stay happy. Several studies pointed out that dogs synchronise their stress hormone levels with the ones of their owners (also known as emotional contagion), especially if you suffer from the long-term stress.

Fred, chocolate cocker spaniel puppy in the snow photographed by Natalia Ashton (C) Perfect cocker spaniel / Copyrighted / English cocker spaniel guide to how to choose, find, raise a puppy, grooming and hand-stripping english cocker spaniel, cocker spaniel diet, nutrition, health advice

Does a cocker need a coat?

This weather is no joke, so I got an adorable photo of Fred and his irresistible bum as a part of the “let’s keep smiling” package deal.

And talking of packages… Do you ever wonder if your dog needs to wrap up? Or got him to wear a coat already?

Most cocker spaniels can be pretty weather-proof even in sub-zero temperatures. Their double coat serves them well.

However, some dogs may benefit from a stylish top up if…
… they are young & have to be outside for longer then their typical short walk (a two month old pup would only need 10 minutes, so will be fine playing in the snow without a coat or jumper);
… they are senior & developed sensitivity to cold or suffer from arthritis;
… they are recovering from an illness or have an underlying health condition, for example underactive thyroid;
… the pooch is over or underweight;
… the dog was neutered – the overproduction of gonadotrophic hormones caused by the op affects thyroid stimulating hormone – and the gland function. Thyroid helps the body maintain its temperature. If this function is altered, so is the body’s response to the temperature changes;
… the coat of a cocker was clipped, which removes the undercoat and also makes the resulting coat attract and trap the moisture;
… you walk in a thick wet snow that can cover the fur with huge snowballs and make your spaniel uncomfortable.

Shivering is a sign that your pooch is cold and needs to be taken to a warm place as soon as possible.

The coat needs to be comfortable for your cocker. Remember that dogs see anything that covers and presses on their back as a possible dominant object. Make sure that the coat fits well, let the dog sniff it, be gentle when putting it on and whenever possible – take your spaniel for a walk straight away. No dog will ever enjoy wearing a coat but they can learn to associate a coat with a positive experience (i.e. a walk) & accept it in anticipation of something great and fun.


Photo credit: Fred photographed by me