BVA News: Vet associations call for risk-based approach to parasiticide use for cats and dogs

Leading veterinary associations have set out recommendations on the use of small animal parasiticides, as new research shows almost all (98%) companion animal vets are concerned about the impact of some treatments on the environment, with more than two in five (42%) feeling very concerned.

There is increasing concern that some small animal parasiticides, which are commonly used to treat and prevent against parasites on millions of dogs and cats across the UK, could contaminate the environment and cause harm to wildlife, ecosystems, and in turn to public health. This could occur in many ways, from being excreted in animal waste to the product being washed into rivers from wastewater in homes after being applied to an animal’s skin. There are also worries about the risk of product resistance building up.

In response to these concerns, the joint BVA, British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) and British Veterinary Zoological Society (BVZS) position on the ‘Responsible use of parasiticides for cats and dogs’ recommends vets should always take a proportionate, targeted and responsible approach to the use of small animal parasiticides and carefully weigh up all risks before prescribing or recommending treatment.

Other recommendations from the position include:

  • Veterinary professionals should avoid blanket treatment and instead ensure they risk assess each case and have individual conversations with their clients about their pet’s needs and treatment.
  • Clear, independent guidance should be made available to assist vets in making decisions about treatment.
  • Veterinary professionals should ensure their clients are educated about how to prevent their pets getting parasites, how to check for them and understand what treatments are available and how to use them. Information provided with medicines about safe usage should also be improved so it is clear and can be easily understood by pet owners.
  • The Veterinary Medicines Directorate should reconsider the classification of over-the-counter parasiticides to promote responsible use by pet owners. 

BVA President Dr Justine Shotton said: “The impact of small animal parasiticides on the environment is an issue which is an increasing concern in the veterinary profession. Our new joint position not only highlights areas of concern and recommendations around using these medicines responsibly but also how veterinary professionals can act now in order to protect the environment.

“We recognise that some of the recommendations for change will mean a substantial shift in approach for many practices but we’re encouraged by the strength of feeling in the profession that a more risk-based approach is needed.”

The BVA Voice of the Veterinary Profession survey also found that nearly nine in ten (87%) companion animal vets agree that small animal medicines should be environmentally risk assessed.

However, although risk assessment is important, there are many knowledge gaps in relation to parasiticides and parasites, which makes that risk analysis difficult. BVA, BSAVA and BVZS are calling for more research to be undertaken and evidence gathered in many areas, including the risks of parasites and parasite-borne disease on human and animal health, the risks of commonly used parasiticides and combination products on the environment, and information on how they may be contaminating the environment.

Dr Shotton said: “We recognise the need for more research in this area, but the potential risk for harm is clear from the existing evidence base. Our understanding and position will develop as the evidence base grows but for now we want to start a conversation, encourage professionals to see this as a priority and support them as they consider their approach to parasiticide use in the meantime.”

President of the British Veterinary Zoological Society Dr Elizabeth Mullineaux said: “BVZS were very pleased to collaborate with BVA and BSAVA on the policy position on responsible use of parasiticides for cats and dogs. This is an important and topical issue at present. We are pleased to see the veterinary profession engaging in issues such as this, which have both clinical and environmental concerns.”

President of BSVA Sheldon Middleton said: “We recognise that parasiticide products are commonly used in small animal practice on a daily basis not only to maintain the health and welfare of pets by preventing and treating parasites such as fleas and ticks, but also to manage associated risks to human health.

“Recently, growing concerns have been expressed that some of these medicines may have an adverse effect on the environment and may cause resistance in pets. This is a developing field of interest and whilst further research is needed to plug the existing knowledge gaps, veterinary professionals can have a key role to play in ensuring the responsible use of parasiticides. This can be done by adopting a risk-based approach when prescribing parasiticides that uses proportionate and targeted programmes tailored to an individual pet’s needs and also, by educating pet owners as to the responsible use of parasiticides.”

To read the full joint position visit 

At this year’s BVA Congress at the London Vet Show you can join a session on ‘Effective and responsible use of parasiticides, in partnership with MSD’ from 3.40pm – 5pm on Thursday 11 November. Chaired by BVA President Dr Justine Shotton, speakers will include Rachel Dean, Director of Clinical Research and Excellence in Practice from VetPartners Ltd, Rosemary Perkins, Doctoral Researcher from the University of Sussex and Ian Wright, ESCCAP Guideline Director and Head of ESCCAP UK & Ireland.

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