Managing fleas naturally and being kind to the planet


Fleas are pesky and a flea infestation in the home is a very stressful situation both for pets and their humans, but is a spot-on treatment necessary every month?


When biting bugs ‘spring’ into action, we’re advised to apply an insecticide on dogs’ necks to prevent any risk of fleas, yet such topical applications don’t prevent fleas from jumping on your pooch for a quick snack.


Whilst one flea will only bite the once, in some ‘allergenic’ dogs just one bite from a flea can trigger an eruption of flea dermatitis.


The irony is that fleas jump on and off your dog, they predominantly live and breed in your garden, in your home furnishings, carpets, in your wardrobes, even in your car – in fact 90% of fleas will be in your environment, not on your dog!


We’re living in a world where monthly ‘subscriptions’ are a business model, and vet practices have optimised such packages, encouraging monthly insecticide treatments as a precautionary solution to fleas.


Yet in many other countries, especially in Scandinavia, vets are prohibited from selling treatments unless the dog actually does have fleas. Then a prescription is prescribed to obtain the insecticide at a pharmacy.


The mantra being to #TestBeforeYouTreat, which scientists at Imperial College London are urging British vets to adopt this approach. At least assess the risk to benefit of monthly application following shocking evidence that insecticides only used on pets are polluting British rivers. 


The insecticides used in these flea products flow down household drains when pet owners wash their hands after applying the treatment.


Vet guidelines advise that pet owners should not touch their animals until the application site is dry, but the Sussex-Imperial research, which was published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, shows that pollution lasts for the product’s entire duration of action, which is at least one month, potentially even longer.


Wastewater from sewage treatment works is a leading source of fipronil and Imidacloprid pollution in rivers, with concentrations exceeding safe limits for wildlife.


With drastic implications for wildlife, as the pesticides contained within the flea treatments can harm fish and invertebrates that live in waterways.


Both Fipronil and imidacloprid are widely used in flea treatments, which are typically applied to the back of the pet’s neck once a month, but they are no longer approved for use in outdoor agriculture.


Imidacloprid belongs to a group of pesticides known as neonicotinoids, which affect pollinators. In fact, a teaspoon of Imidacloprid can kill 1.25 million bees!


The paper from Imperial College London shows how domestic pet flea and tick treatments or Parasiticides, are largely overlooked, but are a potentially significant source of contamination polluting our waterways.


Scientists are urging vets to assess the risk to benefit of each individual animal, with certain single house cats potentially never needing a treatment at all!  


Offering practical advice like recommending natural product alternatives and teaching owners to test for fleas with a piece of white paper and a flea comb!


In the same way that we might apply a ‘mosquito’ repellent, there’s a raft of natural ‘sprays’, shampoos, containing ‘anti-flea’ essential oils like lavender, rosemary and cedarwood.



Understanding the flea lifecycle, and hoovering regularly with a pointy nozzle to collect eggs prior to hatching, making sure you remove the bag every time, so the critters don’t hatch and escape!


Regular hot washes for your dog’s bedding and using a silicone product spray to help suffocate fleas, or use diatomaceous earth – a natural insecticide – and a natural flea powder.


As noted by Imperial College and Sussex University - on a bigger scale these insecticides could be harmful for human health as until recently the impact of pet parasiticides has been considered ‘trivial’ in the grand scheme.


But if pet owners get these insecticides on their hands, its likely to be all over the home, and as yet the impact of such parasiticides has not been studied on human health!