Fipronil and imidacloprid pet flea treatments poisoning river wildlife

NEWS AND VIEWS: This is a cross post because I think the issue needs to be flagged up as strongly as possible. Some very high-profile and well-known cat and dog skin parasite treatments such as Frontline and Advantage contain strong pesticide chemicals such as fipronil and imidacloprid. When you read the instructions on the box the manufacturers say that pet owners should keep these chemicals off their skin because they’re dangerous and yet they are putting it on the skin of their cats and dogs. This has always seemed to me to be very strange. The chemicals are far too dangerous in my view.

Frontline flea treatment contains fipronil which harms river life
Frontline flea treatment contains fipronil, a nasty pesticide, which harms river life. Manufacturers need to take responsibility for this.

And here’s the deal: when you bathe your dog as dog owners frequently do, they are washing fipronil and imidacloprid down the drain where it makes its way to rivers where these nasty chemicals kills river life such as dragonflies, mayflies and beetles. And of course marine wildlife inside the water itself.

Another way the chemical gets into rivers is when pet owners wash the bedding of their companion animals. Cats are rarely bathed and therefore I would argue that the biggest problem by far comes from the dog owning public. And no doubt they are completely unaware of the dangers that they are delivering to marine wildlife.

This problem has been known about for quite a while because I wrote a story about this in 2018. A recent study has been published in Science of the Total Environment which again highlights the dangers of these nasty pesticides.

Fipronil was detected in 98% of samples taken from rivers by the researchers and the average concentration was 5.3 times the safe limit. As this is a UK study, the samples were taken from the Nene in the East of England, the Test in Hampshire and the Waveney on the boundary of Suffolk and Norfolk.

It is ironic that these pesticides are banned in agriculture but are allowed in the consumer market. It is also highly ironic that pet owners are protecting their cats and dogs from parasites and therefore benefiting the health of their companion animals while at the same time killing other animals in rivers. This is obviously unacceptable.

The manufacturers must take responsibility for this state of affairs. Dave Goulson, a co-author of the study, said: “Studies have shown both pesticides to be associated with declines in the abundance of aquatic invertebrate communities”. He finds it deeply troubling that our rivers are being routinely contaminated by these pesticides and their breakdown products. His sentiments are echoed by Matt Shardlow, the chief executive of Buglife who is also shocked that these “highly toxic nerve agents” are routinely washed into rivers. They are causing the “over-pollution of all water bodies”. He is asking for a full investigation to take place of the environmental risks.

There is a tendency to believe that every cat owner should apply an insecticide to their cat to kill cat fleas or prevent the possibility of cat fleas living on your cat. But not all cats have fleas. Not all homes have fleas. I have never routinely applied a spot-on insecticide flea treatment on my cats. I’ve never had to. I simply check with a comb and keep an eye on the problem. But I’ve never had a real problem in my home with fleas. Therefore there is no need to endanger yourself and your cat with these treatments. Think of alternatives and think of the environment as well.

The researchers on this recent study are based at Sussex University.

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