Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Use Lawn and Garden Products Cautiously AroundPets


Pet Column for the week of May 22, 2000


Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
By Carrie Gustavson
Information Specialist

On weekend mornings in the summer my two dogs and I often awake to a symphony of
lawnmowers, weedwhackers, and roto-tillers. People hard at work in their yards and
gardens now will soon enjoy delicious tomatoes, beautiful blooming gardens, and
deep-green lawns.

Just last weekend my parents came by to help me in my garden. And along with several
garden tools, my Dad brought the weed killer. My Mom and I shared a knowing glance.
With my two dogs, who begrudgingly share their backyard space with a vegetable garden
in summertime, it can be hazardous to use weed killers and fertilizers. Or so I thought. So
we used elbow grease instead of herbicides to battle the dandelions.

However, for pet owners who want to spruce up their yards and prefer to use lawn care
products, reading the label and using the products properly is the key to keeping pets safe.
According to Dr. Petra Volmer, veterinarian and toxicologist at the University of Illinois
College of Veterinary Medicine in Urbana, problems usually arise only when people apply
lawn care products incorrectly or when a pet is accidentally sprayed or allowed on a freshly
sprayed lawn too soon.

Most lawn care products fall into three categories: fertilizers, insecticides, and herbicides. "If
you use these products correctly and read the label, most really do not cause a problem,"
says Dr. Volmer. "In general, most residential-use products have low toxicity."

But everybody makes mistakes. According to Dr. Volmer, it isn't unheard of for a person
to grab a bottle of herbicide instead of the flea spray and accidentally douse the cat. "With
these yard products, any direct exposure can be a problem," says Dr. Volmer. "If you find
your pet rolling or walking in a recently sprayed area or spray him by accident, immediately
wash the substance off with a mild dish soap, such as Dawn, and contact a veterinarian."

Dr. Volmer notes that insecticides tend to be more toxic to pets than herbicides or
fertilizers. "There are a few insecticides for use in the garden, especially those for roses and
molluscicides for snails, that can be very toxic. People need to be especially careful with
these products around animals."

Your pets will thank you for following instructions and using common sense with lawn care
products. So, put your animal in a safe place, away from the area of application. Store all
fertilizers, insecticides, and herbicides where pets cannot gain access. Keep all products in
the original container and make sure the label is intact and readable before using. Then,
always read the label and follow directions exactly. And finally, make sure a treated lawn is
completely dry after waiting the maximum period recommended on the label. To be extra
safe, consider watering down the lawn after application and letting it dry before allowing
pets into the area.

If you notice your dog or cat acting strangely, stumbling, salivating, vomiting, or having
seizures and especially if you have recently applied a lawn care product, call your
veterinarian or the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)
National Animal Poison Control Center (1-888-4 ANI-HELP) immediately. Don't forget to
have the product in hand so you can tell a veterinarian what chemical your pet may have
been exposed to.

For the latest information and advice about the pet-friendliness of specific lawn care
products and less toxic alternatives, consult your veterinarian or the ASPCA National
Animal Poison Control Center.