Pet Pesticides and the Watershed

Summertime means longer days, warmer temperatures, an increase in outdoor activities and, if you are a dog or cat owner or come in contact with these pets, you know that summertime brings more pests! Especially fleas and ticks. Why are these pesky pests a cause for concern? What should we consider before using pet pesticides and are there alternatives we can use to protect our pets, ourselves and our environment?

The discovery of pet pests requires immediate action. Fleas and ticks are not just an annoyance, they pose a health risk. They can spread bacterial infections, pass along tapeworms, and even cause anemia. Ticks are a “vector” for transmitting disease, most notably Lyme disease (which can be passed along to humans). The most common reaction after finding a flea or tick is to apply, feed, and/or spray our pets with Fipronil (a synthetic insecticide, and an active ingredient in many flea and tick control products for dogs and cats), as well as to apply it in our homes and outdoors, but we must consider the associated risks.

Recently, studies conducted by the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, Santa Rosa, found that Fipronil and its by-products were found in both surface water and sediment samples. Fipronil (and even more so its metabolites) is highly toxic to sea and freshwater fish as well as to the invertebrates these fish feed upon. Toxicity is not just related to aquatic species. Fipronil is highly toxic to honey bees and some birds ( Some dog owners (including Russian Riverkeeper Executive Director, Don McEnhill) have noticed their dogs display negative behaviors after applications of Fipronil. Many pet owners have stopped using Fipronil and instead use methods listed below.

How can you reduce your use and reliance upon pet pesticides?

  • Understand the life cycles and feeding habits of pet pests. Consult your veterinarian, the internet and/or your local library. You can make more informed decisions with a firm understanding of these life cycles.
  • Be proactive and vigilant. Minimize your pet’s contact with fleas and ticks both outside and inside. Fleas love shady, protected areas. Ticks love woodlands and tall grassy areas. A combination of both landscapes and your pet is at high risk for exposure. Make appropriate landscape changes and avoid exposing your pets to areas where fleas and ticks are found.
  • If your pets are exposed to fleas and ticks, implement daily pet care and housecleaning chores:
    • Comb your pet daily using a special flea comb. Be sure to comb right down to the skin. Put the debris into a jar ½ filled with hot, soapy water. Cap the jar, shake it, and flush the contents down the toilet. Disinfect the comb and jar after use.
    • Change pet bedding and fabric toys frequently. Wash blankets, zip-off bed covers, and pillow covers at least once a week in hot, soapy water.
    • Vacuum often. This includes any area your pet has access to. Floors, carpets, sofas, chairs (under the cushions), tops of appliances, etc. Place vacuum bags or canister debris in zip lock or plastic bags and seal them tightly before tossing.
    • Using a disinfectant (preferably natural), mop weekly any areas that pets have access to or travel through, including hard surface floors, concrete garage and/or patio floors.

There are two other considerations pet owners should evaluate before using Fipronil or any other pesticides, however, it is highly recommended that you consult a veterinarian or trained professional before advancing them. One is to consider your pet’s immune system and how it can be boosted in order to develop a natural defense to pests. The other is to substitute natural, non-toxic repellents for pesticides. Many resources are dedicated to both of these topics and can be found on the internet and your local bookstore (Naturally Bug‑Free; Tourles, Stephanie L. 2016).

On a final note, it is extremely important to consider how ALL of your activities affect our watershed. Always consult professionals in the field of pesticide applications. Ask questions about pesticides, their toxicity and the associated health risks to you, your family and your pets ( Research natural, non-toxic substitutes. There are many non-toxic practices and alternatives to choose from in addition to traditional pesticide solutions. In the event you must apply pesticides yourself, read and fully understand all labels in order to best protect your pets, yourselves, and our environment.

This article was authored by Bob Legge, of Russian Riverkeeper, on behalf of RRWA. RRWA ( is an association of local public agencies in the Russian River Watershed that have come together to coordinate regional programs for clean water, habitat restoration, and watershed enhancement.