Spot-On Flea Meds May Cause Water Pollution

Category: Cat Healthcare, Fleas
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Reading Time: 4 minutes

You know those spot-on flea meds humans have come to rely on for their cats? Turns out they may help cats but harm the planet. Researchers in England found high concentrations of fipronil and imidacloprid in English rivers, suggesting that spot-on flea treatments cause water pollution. But there are other, safer natural ways to get fleas to flee. Keep reading to find out what they are. 

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Speed Read

This cat's spot-on flea meds may cause water pollution

Natural flea treatments can cause less harm to the environment and to cats.

I have to admit I’ve never been a big fan of spot-on flea meds, especially the ones that kill every possible kind of parasite. I worry that a product that kills so many kinds of insects and worms could also kill cats. That hardly ever happens, but why take the chance when natural flea remedies usually work just as well? And now there’s another reason to worry about spot-on flea treatments. Researchers in England found high concentrations of the insecticides fipronil and imidacloprid in thousands of samples from 20 British rivers.

The chemicals are the active ingredients in many spot-on products, including Frontline Plus and Advantage.

The researchers are calling for tighter controls on spot-on flea meds, including making them available by prescription only or banning the use of some parasiticides entirely. 

Spot-On Flea Meds Manufacturers Bite Back

Even the researchers aren’t exactly itching to ban spot-on flea meds, which are an important source of revenue for vets. But the ones who are really biting back are the flea treatments’ manufacturers.

“It is important to underscore the critical role these products play in protecting the health and well-being of pets and their owners, ” a spokesperson for Elanco Animal Health, which owns Advantage said.

“Flea and tick products prevent parasites, which can transmit serious diseases to both animals and people. They also play an important role in the fight against changing health threats and emerging diseases.”

In its own study, the company found that spot-on flea and tick treatments do “not pose a risk to aquatic wildlife if products are used according to the label and leaflet directions.”

There’s a problem with this argument though. Not everyone is going to follow the directions or even bother to read them. 

How Spot-On Flea Treatments Work

The best place to apply spot-on flea treatments is between the cat’s shoulder blades, so he can’t lick it off. Part the fur, and put the medication directly on the cat’s skin. The skin absorbs the medicine, which then goes through the cat’s circulatory system. It attacks the fleas’ nervous systems when they bite your cat.

Never use spot-on flea meds for dogs on cats. The correct dosage is based on the cat’s weight.

The most common side effect of spot-on flea treatments is minor skin irritation and hair loss around the application site. Rare but more severe side effects can include loss of appetite, increased thirst, drooling, vomiting and diarrhea; dilated pupils; lethargy or unresponsiveness; and stumbling or trembling; seizures; and difficulty breathing.   

Natural Flea Treatments For Cats

If anyone is benefiting from global warming, it might be fleas. Cats are getting more fleas, and flea allergy dermatitis in cats is becoming more common, according to Banfield Pet Hospitals’ 2018 State of Pet Health Report. The company blames the increase in flea infestations on climate change.

But their growing numbers don’t mean that you need to put pesticides on your cat to get rid of the pesky, misery-causing little buggers. Natural flea treatments are more labor-intensive than spot-on flea meds, but they’re safer for cats and the planet and work just as well. And you don’t have to buy and apply them every month.

Here are some suggestions.

Comb your cat with a flea comb at least once a day. Sit on a sheet or pillowcase, so you can squish escaping fleas before they go all over everywhere. Put the fleas you comb off in a tall glass of soapy water and dispose of it outside. Flushing cat hair down the toilet can cause serious clogs. Do this every day until the fleas are gone. 

Vacuum your floors and upholstered furniture daily. Get all the dust bunnies, and don’t neglect the deepest, darkest corners where fleas love to hide. And wash your cat’s bedding and your own in the hottest water possible. 

Use food-grade diatomaceous earth. Sprinkle it on your rugs and furniture and use a flea comb to comb it into your cat’s fur. You can also put a sprinkle or two in your cat’s food. It won’t harm him, and some cats love the taste of it.

♦ Treat your yard with beneficial nematodes. They’ll gobble up the fleas before they land on you and your cat.

From Cats And Dogs To The Rivers

So how do those dangerous chemicals end up in the rivers? Some researchers speculate they’re washed down drains when cats and dogs are bathed and when humans wash their hands after applying spot-on flea treatments to their animal companions. Dogs swim in rivers, too. And while few cats enjoy going for a swim, they dip their paws into a stream to play with the running water or get a drink. A 2017 California study found that the treatments can wash off animals for as long as 28 days. That’s just a couple of days before it’s time to apply a new dose. 

Once in the water, the chemicals kill beneficial insects. And sadly, Imidacloprid is in a class of pesticides implicated in harming bees. 

It’s a “very big” problem Martin Whitehead, a veterinarian at the Chipping Norton Veterinary Hospital in England and one of the British researchers told the Veterinary Information Network. “We regard this paper as an alarm call to the profession.”

But what can be done about it remains to be seen. And the researchers agree the issue needs further study. In the meantime, I’m keeping my bag of diatomaceous earth handy in case my cats get fleas. 

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