Keep Fido and Fluffy safe this spring by replacing chemicals with non-toxic pest control alternatives.
April showers bring May flowers – and pests – to our lawns and gardens. As the warmer weather beckons us and our animals outdoors, we naturally want to rid our personal utopias of those pesky fleas and ticks, snails and slugs, rodents and weeds.
Many people reach for pesticides and herbicides, but these toxic chemicals, while effective, can be very harmful to your companion animal. Cats and dogs can easily ingest them by playing, rolling or digging in treated areas then licking their coats and paws, or by eating grass, plants, or rodents that have been poisoned. This article looks at some of the most common pest control poisons, and how you can avoid using them.
These pesticides are designed to kill mice and rats. Their toxicity levels vary, as do the number of times a rodent must ingest the poison before dying. Many rodenticides use anticoagulants that prevent the blood from clotting, and may come in forms that resemble pet food.
“Rodenticide toxicity is one of the most common types of poisoning that come into the ER,” says emergency veterinarian Dr. Sara Beg. “Rat bait comes in different formulas, flavors and colors. There are several active ingredients on the market and each presents differently in terms of clinical signs.
“Both first generation (d-Con, Rodex, Ratron, etc.) and second generation coumarins (Ratimus, D-Con Mouse-Pruf, Havoc, etc.) reduce the amount of vitamin K1 in your animal’s system. Vitamin K1 is essential for producing clotting factors. Within four to five days of ingestion, your animal may show signs of lethargy, bruising on the skin or belly, bleeding from the nose or gums, bloody stools or difficulty breathing. Seizures or blindness may also occur.
“Bromethalin (Vengeance, Trounce, Assault, Tomcat) presents with different symptoms because this active ingredient is toxic to the brain. Animals that ingest this form of bait will show signs of depression, anorexia, vomiting , tremors, weakness in the limbs or paralysis. You may see these signs ten to 86 hours after exposure.”
If you think your dog or cat has consumed rodenticide, contact your veterinarian or emergency hospital immediately. Take the product packaging with you or write down the product name and its active ingredients so the veterinarian can better determine the best course of treatment.
Rodents enter our garages, garden sheds and homes seeking food and shelter. You can deter them without resorting to chemicals by simply making your space uninviting. Try to locate and block all potential entry spots in your structures, keeping in mind that a mouse can get through a hole the size of a dime! You can also hire a professional who specializes in rodent-proofing buildings. Store pet food and bird seed in glass or steel containers (mice and rats can chew through plastic). Keep garbage cans and compost bins securely covered, pick up any dropped fruit from your yard or garden, and keep outside areas free of clutter or brush piles, which make attractive rodent habitats.
In 2013, the ASPCA Poison Control Center took 180,000 calls, and approximately 15.7% of those calls concerned animals that had ingested insecticides. Further, more than half the calls about cats involved insecticide exposure.
Among the most common insecticides are flea and tick control products. They come in many forms, including shampoos, collars, dusts, dips, sprays, oral tablets, and topical spot-ons.
“Most flea and tick pesticides are sold over the counter and typically applied by the owner,” says integrative veterinarian Dr. Michel Selmer. “Typical dangers include using a dog product on a cat, applying the preventative too frequently, or using an incorrect dose. Symptoms of toxicity usually appear rapidly and severity can vary and even cause death.”
“Many topical agents are absorbed in the fat, so concentrations can still be present in your animal’s body even after the product has been washed off,” adds Dr. Beg. “If topical products are applied incorrectly to areas where the animal can lick at the formula, or if a dose is higher than what’s recommended, he can become very ill. You will notice anorexia, nausea, drooling, dull appearance, vomiting, diarrhea, tremors, and weakness. Some formulas can cause hyperactivity and seizures.”
Controlling fleas in your home without the use of chemicals includes frequent vacuuming of floors and upholstery to remove flea larvae and eggs, and emptying the bag as often as possible. Wash the animal’s bedding and fabrics in hot water, and dry in a hot dryer. Essential oils such as lavender, tea tree or eucalyptus can help repel fleas and ticks, but use them cautiously around cats. An animal with a healthy immune system is less likely to become infested with fleas, so feed a healthy diet and avoid over-vaccination.
Beneficial nematodes can help control flea populations both indoors and out. Minimize tick-friendly environments in your yard by keeping the grass mowed and cleaning up brush and yard debris.
Used for slug and snail control, these poisons contain metaldehyde and iron phosphate as their active ingredients. Metaldehyde is highly toxic. The bait comes in pellet forms that resemble pet food, and are unfortunately very appealing to dogs, cats and other animals. Iron phosphate is often claimed to be “dog safe”, yet dogs have died from iron phosphate poisoning.
“Early signs of poisoning include anxiety and restlessness, uncoordination, vomiting, diarrhea, heavy salivation, muscle tremors or convulsions,” says Dr. Beg. “If left untreated, it can progress to respiratory or even cardiac arrest.”
You can enjoy a non-toxic slug-free yard by watering in the morning instead of at night, using drip irrigation, and removing the debris and weeds these pests use for shelter. Barriers of diatomaceous earth or copper strips will protect your plants. You can also enlist the help of natural slug and snail predators by creating habitats for birds and toads.
In the quest for the perfect lawn, many people turn to herbicides. While some municipalities now prohibit or limit the use of these products, they’re still widely utilized in many areas. Common chemicals include 2,4-D, MCPA, dicamba, triclopry and glyphosate. They are used not only in people’s yards, but in parks, on golf courses, and at farms. Dogs and cats are at risk whenever they walk over treated areas or eat the grass. Avoid these areas until they are completely dry, and wipe your animal’s paws thoroughly after any exposure.
Symptoms of herbicide poisoning include drooling, nausea, weight loss, diarrhea, weakness in the hind legs, and convulsions.
Be careful with fertilizers, too. The ASPCA Poison Control Center receives thousands of calls about fertilizer poisoning in animals each year. Common fertilizers are made from dried blood, poultry manure and bone meal, which many dogs and cats enjoy rolling in or eating.
It is possible to have a prize-worthy yard without resorting to either herbicides or fertilizers. Grow hardy native species and aerate your lawn. To get rid of weeds, mow at 3” to 3½” to shade them out, use steam or boiling water to remove them from driveways or patios, or pull them by hand. Or just learn to live with them! Dandelion leaves, for example, make tasty salads and steamed greens.
Eliminating or minimizing the use of chemical pest control products can be one of the biggest steps you take in improving the safety and welfare of your dog or cat!
Ramona Marek is a writer who has been published in many national and international print and digital magazines. She is a former director of the Cat Writers’ Association and has been a professional member since 2007. She is also one of a handful of non-veterinarian members of the American Association of Human-Animal Bond Veterinarians, and a supporting member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC).