How Do Pesticides Affect Our Pets?

fall clean upsYou love your dog, but is your yard safe for your pooch? With so many conventional lawncare companies in the area, not all of our yards are safe.

Think about it. Cats and dogs use their noses to poke around everywhere. Those noses are moist, mucous membranes, making it easy to absorb, inhale and ingest pesticides. Plus, when our dogs and cats are outdoors, they frequently chew plants. That means, if your plants or any of your neighbor’s plants are treated with insecticides or pesticides, your pet could eat them and get sick or worse.

How about the dangers of secondary poisoning in your pets? Dogs and cats can eat rodents, insects, and other animals that could possibly be full of pesticides. Symptoms of secondary poisoning might not occur for weeks, so it is vital that you watch your pets closely and keep an eye on what they are eating. It goes without saying that you won’t have to monitor your pet so closely if you choose to use organic, all natural, chemical-free products on your lawn and in your garden.

“When someone uses ChemLawn or other chemicals, and a dog rolls in or walks on their lawn, it causes allergies, flare ups of inflammation in the paws, and irritates the skin. Chemicals also put a heavy burden on an animal’s immune system thereby weakening it. The first thing to blame is the synthetic element, not the natural one. Chemicals are invisible and we tend not to believe what’s invisible to the eye,” said Dave Cozzolino, owner of Wilmette Pet Center.

Barb Herman, owner of Thee Fish Bowl in Evanston for the past 45 years, agrees and has seen a huge uptick in the number of asthma and allergy cases in dogs and children. “We only have so much green space, and we are shooting ourselves in the foot with all the chemicals we are applying. I have customers showing me rashes on their dog’s paws from walking on chemically treated lawns. It’s a balancing act, but I avoid putting down chemicals in my lawn, as do my neighbors. Everyone wants something cheap and fast, but my lawn looks great and it’s chemically-free.”

Homeowners apply an estimated 78 million pounds of insecticide, herbicide and fungicide each year to their homes, lawn and gardens, according to the EPA. That’s up to 20 times higher than what’s used on agricultural lands. That’s shocking.

And even scarier, according to the EPA, a recent study of pesticide exposure among children living in major U.S. metropolitan areas, found traces of garden chemicals in 99% of the 110 children tested.

Dogs Are at Risk with Chemically Treated Lawns

Did you know exposure to herbicide-treated lawns has been associated with significantly higher bladder cancer risk in dogs? Dogs live in the yard in a way that we don’t. You and I sitting on the back patio is not the same as our dog rolling around in the grass all day.

A study funded by NCBI (The National Center for Biotechnology Information) examined how dogs were affected by our chemically treated lawns and found herbicides in the urine of dogs after home lawn chemicals were applied.

Chemicals were commonly detected in grass residues from treated lawns, and from untreated lawns suggesting chemical drift from nearby treated areas. As a result, dogs could be exposed to chemicals through contact with their own lawn (treated or contaminated through drift) or through contact with other grassy areas on their walks.

The double whammy is your pets can be affected even when you are doing the best thing by not using chemicals on your lawn, but your neighbor isn’t.

“The whole thing matters,” says Ramie Gulyas, the owner of Follow Your Nose in Evanston. “If your neighbor is spraying Roundup and it rains, those chemicals will run off in your yard and your pet will wallow in it. It will get into your vegetable garden.

“Years ago when we were walking dogs for our business, we would see TruGreen chemical application signs and we knew not to let our dogs walk in those yards. It’s not enough to wipe off paws. We see rashes on dog’s paws from walking through chemically treated lawns. Dogs can lick their paws because they are irritated and get skin infection.”

Gulyas says that Follow Your Nose sells booties year-round now because of lawn chemicals. They’ve also been seeing more dogs and cats displaying symptoms of asthma and allergies. “I don’t remember ever seeing dogs with asthma 20 years ago. Now, there are a lot of homeopathic remedies for asthma and allergies. It’s a thing. It didn’t used to be a thing,” Gulyas said.

What about Fleas and Ticks?

You might be diligent about chemicals in your lawn, but do you think twice about the chemicals in your pet’s flea or tick treatment? If we think of it at all, many of us probably assume these applications are a necessary evil, but be aware that spot drops applied to the back of the neck for monthly flea and tick treatments ARE toxic pesticides.

The EPA said it received 44,263 reports of harmful reactions associated with topical flea & tick products in 2008. Reactions ranged from skin irritation, to vomiting and seizures, and even death in about 600 cases.

In case you aren’t convinced that pesticides are hurting us and our pets, a startling first-of-its-kind paper was just published by the peer-reviewed journal PLOS Medicine. Eight researchers authored the paper and they examined all the existing scientific literature on organophosphates, a class of chemicals that is frequently used on golf courses, schools, shopping malls and other public spaces. These chemicals are also used in flea and tick medication for dogs and cats, and in insecticides sprayed to kill mosquitoes carrying Zika and West Nile virus.

The widespread use of organophosphates has “led to ubiquitous human exposure,” the study said.

According to the paper, the entire family of these pesticides causes brain damage in children even at low levels of exposure. The researchers found there is no safe level of exposure to any organophosphate pesticide for pregnant women, whose babies suffer disorders ranging from impaired mental and motor skills and memory loss to autism and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Flea and tick treatments containing pesticides not only affect us and our children, but our waterways, too. Giving your dog a bath isn’t just misery for your dog (and you), but also can cause real harm to nearby ecosystems when the dog has been treated with a neonicotinoid. When you bathe your pet after a topical treatment, the chemical gets washed down the drain to wastewater treatment facilities where, it has been shown, nearly 100 percent of it makes it through the filtration process and gets dumped into our streams, rivers and oceans.

Some Flea Treatments Can Harm Young Children

If you have young children at home, using some flea treatments on your pet can seriously harm your child. Just like dogs and cats stick their noses everywhere, toddlers touch everything and constantly put their hands in their mouths, leading to a high level of exposure. Ingredients found in some flea treatments are potent neurotoxins that can harm the development of young children’s brains. Read the label and if you have questions, please ask your vet or local pet store owner. (See the sidebar for ingredients to avoid.)

You can also ask your vet about oral medications for fleas, which generally are preferable to topical treatments or flea collars.

If chemical products are necessary for additional flea or tick control, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) recommends s-methoprene or pyriproxyfen, which are less toxic ingredients; however, read the labels carefully because some products use them with other, more harmful pesticides. Your local pet stores also have safer alternatives instead of chemicals to get the job done.

The Greenwise Approach to Creating Safer Lawns for Our Pets and Children

The quest for creating the perfect lawn is hurting us. Literally. At Greenwise, it’s our hope that landscapers can lead the effort to educate their clients to give up that post WWII idea that every lawn needs to look exactly the same with absolutely no trace of a weed.

At Greenwise, we are passionate about educating our communities about pesticide’s harmful risks to us and the environment. With what we now know about the dangers of pesticides, we have an obligation to do better.

If you don’t know us, Greenwise is an organic lawncare company that is 100% safe for our pets and families. We opened our doors in 2007 with the mission of using an organic approach to landscaping and to spread the word about organics and the risks of pesticides. When we first started, we owned one truck and had to convince people that organics actually worked. Eleven years later, we’ve got 22 trucks and have established a clear demand for organic lawns.

We have worked hard to educate our clients on what it means to have an organic lawn. As landscapers, we know our clients want and expect that perfect, weed-free lawn. But, when we teach our clients about organics, we’ve found they are more patient and supportive of our organic process. They understand an organic approach is just that, a process, and aren’t expecting a gorgeous lawn overnight. Our clients may want a beautiful lawn, but they give more precedence to having a safe lawn for themselves, their children, and their pets.

“I can’t recommend Greenwise enough. Not only will your yard look amazing, but you’ll be protecting your health from harmful chemicals. Just Google glyphosates and you’ll be shocked by what you read. I feel very fortunate to have a truly organic local lawn care service. Greenwise goes above and beyond,” said Lori D., a Greenwise client.

The tide is turning against pesticides. The highly publicized trial where Monsanto was ordered to pay millions in the world’s first Roundup cancer trial made this crystal clear. We need to educate ourselves about what we are putting on our lawns or what our landscapers are applying to our gardens and lawns. The health of our environment, our kids, and our pets are counting on us to turn away from pesticides and move toward safe, organic solutions. We can all make a difference one lawn at a time.

What Are the Signs Your Pet Has Been Affected?

Although pesticides will have different effects on your pets, if you suspect your pets may have pesticide poisoning and display any of the symptoms of toxic pesticides listed below, contact your local veterinarian immediately.

  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Seizures
  • Hyper-salvation
  • Constricted pupils
  • Increased heart rate
  • Lack of concentration
  • Respiratory failure
  • Acting strange or agitated after you apply monthly flea and tick treatment

Take a Look at Your Pet’s Flea and Tick Label. If You See These Ingredients, Try to Find a Safer Alternative

Many of the ingredients on this list have been classified as likely or possible carcinogens by the EPA and should be avoided for use on your pet:

  • Amitraz: poisonous chemical that may cause central nervous system depression and also respiratory/cardiovascular symptoms. It can cause poisoning in animals and humans when ingested, inhaled, or after skin exposure.
  • Bifenthrin: attacks the nervous system of insects and species you are not trying to kill – including people, pets and fish. Can cause acute and chronic health problems, kill bees and harm wildlife.
  • Carbaryl: causes an array of serious neurotoxic effects in animals, including irreversible neurological damage and behavioral disturbances. Highly toxic to bees.
  • Cypermethrin: highly toxic to fish, bees and other water insects. Classified by the EPA as a possible human carcinogen (group C) because there is limited evidence that it causes cancer in animals.
  • Fenoxycarb: neurotoxin, a PAN Bad ActorChemical, carcinogen, and a reproductive and developmental toxin.
  • Fipronil: classified as a possible human carcinogen.
  • Permethrin: neurotoxin and highly toxic to animals, particularly fish and cats.
  • Propoxur: neurotoxin and suspected of causing genetic defects, cancer, and damaging fertility or the unborn child.
  • Tetramethrin: possible carcinogen.
  • Tetrachlorvinphos: neurotoxin and suspected carcinogen that’s toxic to the nervous system.
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