Summer is in full swing, and so are all the good things that come with it: picnics, backyard barbeques, gardening, and long walks with our dogs. But while it’s great to spend time outside with our pets, it’s important to take steps to protect them from potentially hazardous lawn and garden chemicals. In fact, a 2013 study by researchers from Purdue University suggested a possible link between bladder cancer in dogs and exposure to herbicides used to kill broadleaf weeds in lawns and gardens. While some experts contend that further studies are needed to establish a concrete link, it’s still a good idea to take steps to prevent our animals from ingesting toxic chemicals.
“It makes perfect sense that we want to avoid as many chemicals as we can,” said Tina Wismer, DVM, DABVT, DABT, and medical director of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) Poison Control Center.
Dr. Wismer, who is also a certified Master Gardener, shared her suggestions for keeping pets safe from lawn and garden chemicals, which include:
- Read the label and use the product correctly. “If it’s liquid, dilute it … if it’s a granular product, you want to make sure you apply it at the correct rate and water afterward,” Wismer said.
- Keep your pet off a treated lawn until it’s dry. This could be a few hours in a hot, dry climate or up to 24 hours if it’s humid. Also, treat the front lawn and backyard on separate days so your pet always has a safe area at home.
- Avoid your neighbors’ treated lawns. Whether you see your neighbor spraying or a lawn covered in those little flags left by lawn treatment companies, keep your dog on a leash to prevent her from walking on or rolling in the chemicals.
- Wipe your dog’s paws if she walks on a lawn. “Most of these products are poorly absorbed through the skin, but dogs are going to lick their paws,” Wismer said.
- Try to keep your cat inside. Obviously, it is impossible to protect a free-roaming cat. But an outdoor cat enclosure or harness are options if you want your cat to be safe outside.
- Consider organic gardening and/or replacing a lawn with indigenous plants. “For example, if it’s a hot and dry area, plant plants that don’t need a lot of water, and then we don’t have to worry about weeds and we don’t have to worry about applying fertilizers and pesticides,” Wismer said. “It’s much easier for you and safer for your pets.”
- Keep insecticides and other chemicals in their original containers and away from pets. Insecticides like snail and slug killers are very dangerous for pets—don’t dilute them in an unmarked container and then forget what they are.
Of course, if your dog or cat exhibits any signs of chemical poisoning, such as vomiting, diarrhea, tremors, fever, excessive drooling, difficulty breathing, or lack of coordination, call your veterinarian. But by taking precautions, you and your pet should be able to safely enjoy the season’s fresh air and sunshine together.
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