Pets and Pesticides: Keeping our Companions Safe
Individuals often use toxic pesticides without realizing the harm that they cause to people, the environment, and pets. Pets come in contact with pesticides by digging, sniffing, licking, and eating unknown objects. Toxic chemicals in insect sprays and baits, rodent poison, flea collars, weed killers, disinfectants, and more are also hazardous to our companion animals. The good news is that toxic products are not necessary to solve everyday problems, and we can work with our neighbors to keep our whole community — including pets — safe!
Pets’ smaller bodies make them more susceptible to chemicals, and their behavior patterns make them more likely to be exposed to toxic pesticides.
Dogs absorb pesticide residues by chewing or eating plant material that was treated with pesticides. Time spent in a yard treated with toxic chemicals can be dangerous.
Cats absorb more chemicals than dogs due to their grooming habits. Because cats are specialist carnivores, they lack certain enzymes in their liver that detoxify chemicals. This makes cats especially vulnerable to the effects of chemical exposure.
Pet birds have fragile respiratory systems and are sensitive to aerosol sprays of toxic chemicals such as insecticides and cleaning products.
In addition to having immediate poisoning risks, many toxic pesticides are linked to cancer, which is a leading cause of death for pets.
Humans and dogs share over 360 analogous diseases, including various cancers (i.e., testicular, breast cancer, etc.). While human diseases can take many years to develop, dogs can develop comparable anthropomorphic diseases from susceptibility to the same environmental contaminants at a much quicker pace. Dogs therefore serve as a veritable “canary in the coal mine” for health risks related to pesticide exposure. When we consider the impact of toxic pesticides on the health of our pets, we’re also looking out for the people around us.
- Dogs whose owners’ lawns were professionally treated with pesticides were associated with a significantly higher risk (70%) of canine malignant lymphoma (Takashima-Uebelhoer et al. 2012. Environmental Research).
- Dogs accumulate 2,4-D in their bodies when it is applied to lawns (Reynolds et al. 1994. Cancer, Epidemiology, Biomarkers, and Prevention)
- Glyphosate was found to be widespread in the urine of dogs and cats in a study based in New York state. Glyphosate concentration in cat urine was 2-fold higher than that in dogs (Karthikraj and Kannan. 2019. Science of the Total Environment.)
- Cats are highly sensitive to synthetic pyrethroids (often found in insecticides) which trigger seizures, tremors, muscle spasms, and even death (Review study: Dymond and Smith. 2008. Australian Veterinary Journal.)
- Chemical disinfectants containing phenols (i.e. Pine-Sol, Dettol, many essential oils) and quaternary ammonium compounds (i.e. benzalkonium chloride) are highly toxic to cats, and can cause hypersalivation, hyperthermia, oral ulcers, neurological damage, liver failure, and death (Addie et al. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery.)
Did you know?
Adverse reactions from flea and tick medication range from mild effects such as skin irritation to more serious effects such as seizures and, in some cases, the death of pets. Numerous prevention products (i.e., collars, topical treatments, sprays, dusts) include pesticides like tet rachlorvinphos (TCVP), propoxur, synthetic pyrethroids, and fipronil. Pesticide poisoning from flea and tick medication occurs more frequently than some may think. According to EPA data, just one flea and tick medication, "Pet Armor Plus," was the cause of over 1,300 pet poisonings within a 10 year span.
An organic, systemic approach eliminates the need for toxic pesticides. The principles behind indoor and outdoor pest management are the same. Focus must be placed not simply on killing pests (or weeds), but also on eliminating the conditions that brought them about in the first place.
Use Principles of Ecological Pest Management
For your pet: While it is important to keep your pets and home free of fleas and ticks, Beyond Pesticides recommends talking to your veterinarian about treatment options and asking questions about poisoning incidents associated with any product they recommend. Pet owners should vacuum daily during flea season with a strong vacuum cleaner, changing the bag often; groom pets with a flea comb daily, using soapy water to dunk and clean the comb between strokes; bathe pets frequently with soap and water; and, restrict pets to a single bed and wash bedding frequently to kill larvae. If you choose to use a flea and tick product on your pet, have it applied by your veterinarian and monitor pets for any signs of an adverse reaction after application.
At home: Ecological Pest Management emphasizes the broader ecology of pest management and avoiding toxic chemicals unless there are no alternatives. Use Beyond Pesticides’ ManageSafe™ page to find out how to take a least-toxic approach to issues in the home and garden!
Grow Organic Lawns and Gardens!
Create a pesticide-free space for your pet and encourage neighbors to do the same. There are plenty of resources to help! See Beyond Pesticides' factsheets for information on how to manage a weed-free yard and lawn: Read Your "Weeds": A Simple Guide to Creating a Healthy Lawn. Fall is the best time to intervene and make your yard free of toxic chemicals. Read our fall lawncare fact sheet, Organic Lawn Care 101, for specific information on how to prime your yard for next year! An organic lawn requires a holistic paradigm shift, not a product-for-product swap. However, if you’re looking for safe products, look at our Products Compatible with Organic Landscape Management.
Advocate for Policy Change
Ultimately, the burden of keeping our pets safe from toxic chemicals should not fall on the public. Cities, counties, states, and the federal government should respond to the body of evidence showing that toxic pesticides are harmful through precautionary regulation and legislation. See our Tools for Change and contact us at [email protected] if you’re ready to join the fight against toxic pesticides!