WE pet owners like to call ourselves animal lovers. But, in our love for our pets and desire to keep fleas at bay, we are polluting our rivers with chemicals that are toxic for the wildlife that live in them.

Research, by scientists at the University of Sussex, published this week, showed that fipronil, a toxic chemical used in flea treatment was found in 99 percent of samples from 20 rivers in England, and one of its particularly toxic breakdown products was there at 38 times above the safety level. The neonicotinoid flea treatment imidacloprid was found in levels above toxicity limits in seven of the 20 rivers.

I’ve no doubt that exactly the same poisoning of our rivers and the wildlife that live in them is happening here in Scotland. We use the same flea treatments. We have the same obsession with our pets – surveys suggest around 23 percent of Scottish households own dogs, and 20 percent own cats – as well as the same desire to keep the biters at bay. For the sake of stopping an itch and a scratch – or even the torment of an infestation – we too must be poisoning precious wildlife.

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What’s particularly shocking is that these chemicals we are putting on our pets are banned for use in farms. Fipronil, which kills insects by disrupting the normal function of their central nervous system, was banned in 2017.

One of the report’s authors said that one flea treatment of a medium-sized dog with imidacloprid contained enough pesticide to kill 60 million bees. Multiply that up by the number of dogs owned in Scotland, and even if we imagine that just a small quantity occasionally is entering the water, then we’ve still looking at the potential of mass insect death.

I live with a cat. The only place it goes outside our home is the local rooftops, yet it seems to be a routine thing at my local vet surgery to put cats on a plan that involves regular flea treatment and worming. It’s only in the last year that I stopped doing it, though for years I’d been wondering why she was being regularly medicated for something that certainly wasn’t a problem yet and was also unlikely to become a problem. Wouldn’t it at least be better to wait for the first sign of fleas and treat then?

One obvious precaution would be to make sure that dogs and cats were not washed and were kept indoors, away from water, in the days following their treatment. But far more crucial is that these chemicals are regulated – and this is what the report authors call for.

We need to shift the way we think about our pets' health – and consider the balance of not just how these treatments impact on them, but also how they effect the health of other wildlife and ecosystems.

How can we call ourselves animal-lovers, if we don’t put the regulations in place necessary to protect all animal life, in all its biodiversity? Our six-legged friends as well as our four-legged.