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By Krystle Vermes

Pesticides accounted for more than 32 percent of lawn and garden supply sales in 2014. As Americans strive for the perfect green lawn, they are using a wide array of chemicals to achieve their goals. Unfortunately, this has a detrimental effect on the environment and the animals who live in it.

But “animals” are not limited to wildlife. In fact, many pets are susceptible to falling ill as a result of exposure to lawn chemicals. Pet owners also happen to carry many pesticide chemicals with them, on clothes and shoes, as a result of regular exposure. Research has revealed that after pesticides are applied outdoors on lawns, they often make their way indoors and onto surfaces.

How much exposure do cats and dogs experience when they are close to the ground on a regular basis?

A study published in July 2013 looked at urine samples of dogs from 25 households to determine whether chemicals entered their systems after they were applied to lawns. Chemicals were detected in the urine of dogs from 19 of the 25 households examined following pesticide application. However, it’s worth noting that pets from 14 of the 25 households had chemicals in their urine prior to application.

“Lawn chemicals can vary widely in their safe use around pets,” said Dr. Tina Wismer, medical director of the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center. “Some items, such as fertilizers, may only cause mild stomach upset, while others, such as insecticides, can be deadly.”

Wismer goes on to state that insecticides and snail bait tend to be the most poisonous to pets. Luckily, safer alternatives, such as pyrethrins, have been developed as of late.

“There has been a greater awareness [from insecticide developers] that people have pets, and the labeling reflects that,” Wismer continued. “The products used today are much safer around pets than the ones we used 20 years ago.”

Some experts believe that it isn’t just insecticides that pose the biggest threat—herbicides and fertilizers can be just as dangerous. Disolfuton, for example, is a pesticide commonly used to protect roses. It’s extremely toxic to animals, causing everything from diarrhea to seizures.

“With more pressure from pet owners, the large lawn care companies may be looking for ways to accommodate safety concerns,” said Dr. Avi Adulami of the Smiling Pets Veterinary Clinic in Florida.

However, the key to improving safety may not just lie in the hands of fertilizer and pesticide manufacturers. There is plenty that pet owners can do to maintain their lush, green lawns while keeping their furry friends safe.

“Most lawns need very few supplemental chemicals beyond nutrients applied in fertilizer products,” said Dr. Frank Rossi of Cornell University’s School of Integrative Plant Science.

“When fertilizing your lawn, be sure to water the product off the leaves after application. Then, it is safe for pets to enter.”

The dryness of pesticides on plants after application may also play a role in how they impact animals that come into contact with them.

“Pesticide use is different if it’s allowed to stay on foliage,” Rossi continued. “This is only an issue with some weed control products that have to dry on the leaves. Most other lawn pesticides are watered in like fertilizer and once watered in will not pose a risk to pets. If a product must dry on the leaf, avoid the area with pets until it has dried.”

Rossi goes on to state that as pesticide and insecticide manufacturers move to make these chemicals safer for humans, they are inevitably becoming safer for animals, too.

Of course, it helps for pet owners to be savvy about what they buy for their lawns. Warning labels on lawn care items may list specific hazards to animals, as well as precautionary statements. All of these warnings should be taken into consideration before using a product throughout a yard.


More information on pesticides and their potential dangers to pets can be found at these websites:

Pesticide Action Network of North America

Pets and Pesticide Use Topic Fact Sheet; National Pesticide Information Center

Dogs and Pesticide Use; Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities

Image: Jupiterimages

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