Cat flea treatment insecticides are poisoning aquatic life in rivers

NEWS AND OPINION: It’s remarkable to report that insecticides such as for fipronil and imidacloprid in cat and dog spot on flea treatments are getting into rivers and watercourses in the UK after the pets’ owners wash their hands or they wash bedding and other products which have come into contact with the companion animal.

Cat flea treatment insecticides are poisoning aquatic life in rivers
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

And researchers found that these insecticides are polluting waterways to an extent which can damage wildlife.

The lead scientists in this research, Rosemary Perkins, a PhD student, and a veterinary surgeon from the University of Sussex said:

This research confirms that fipronil and imidacloprid used in spot-on flea products are important surface water pollutants. With around 22 million cats and dogs in the UK, we urgently need to rethink how these products are regulated and used.

The researchers found that the most common source of insecticides getting into waterways is through hand washing by the caregiver after they’ve administered the flea treatment to their cat or dog.

To me, it is remarkable that we put these nasty chemicals on our pets’ skin but we have to wash our hands as soon as possible to protect ourselves. Don’t you find that rather odd? An equally remarkably, I’m told that the current guidelines advise that owners should not touch pets in the 24 hours following administering the product. I would doubt if any cat or dog caregiver complies with that advice.

But it does confirm to us that these chemicals are very toxic and I wonder how many pets are harmed by them. Probably more than we imagine. I wonder how many people are harmed by them!

Every time I read about these chemicals I am more astonished. For example, they are banned from outdoor agricultural use, which has been the situation for several years. But you can still find them in UK freshwaters at levels where they harm aquatic life.

It’s rather hard to imagine how an insecticide can be transferred from your cat or dog to your hands and from your hands down the drain and from there to waste water and from there to rivers where they are ingested by aquatic life which poisons them. As I said, remarkable.

I would be very surprised if any cat and dog owner in the UK has thought that this might happen. And I don’t know how to prevent it happening other than to do away with these spot-on treatments which are incredibly popular.

I’m going to boast here and say that I have never used them because I don’t need to use them. My cat does not get fleas even though he does catch and eat mice in the spring and summer. And I flea comb him thoroughly daily to check.

I sense that a lot of the time, veterinarians suggest that their customers purchase these products from veterinary clinics and that pet owners use them automatically as a defence against their cat or dog getting fleas. Perhaps nearly every cat and dog owner in the UK thinks that these treatments are benign and safe but they are incredibly toxic and frankly dangerous.

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I’m told that this particular research builds on previous research which found that fipronil was found in 98% of freshwater samples while imidacloprid was found in 66% of freshwater samples. And it is stressed that they are in these waterways at a concentration which can harm aquatic animals.

As a result of the findings, the researchers are asking for a review of the regulations regarding the usage of these insecticides. Even when the product instructions are followed it still leads to pollution of rivers. Something needs to be done which is quite radical in order to resolve the problem.

Professor Dave Goulson also of the University of Sussex, who supervised the research said that:

These two chemicals are extremely potent neurotoxic insecticides and it is deeply concerning that they are routinely found on the hands of dog owners through ongoing contact with their pet. Pet owners will also be upset to learn that they are accidentally polluting our rivers by using these products.

RELATED: Insecticide for dogs is a top poison for cats

More information: Rosemary Perkins et al, Down-the-drain pathways for fipronil and imidacloprid applied as spot-on parasiticides to dogs: Estimating aquatic pollution, Science of The Total Environment (2024). DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2024.170175

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2 thoughts on “Cat flea treatment insecticides are poisoning aquatic life in rivers”

  1. Use your flea comb, it’s usually enough to get the ball rolling, so that you know how to deal with it. Michael? We do not need to subject our older cats to the usual squirt btwn the shoulder blades.
    If you truly want to protect your kitties, do the right thing πŸ‘ and spend a little bit of time protecting them, your dogs and yourselves!

    • We can protect our cats by keeping our homes flea-free. We can achieve that without using insecticides. And flea combing is the best way to keep a cat flea-free and check for fleas provided they are usually flea-free. Big infestations need treatments obviously.


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