By Dr. Becker
If you have a cat – especially one that never goes outdoors – you may not give much thought to the dangers that lawn chemicals can pose for your feline companion. But if you, your homeowners association or your neighbors use fertilizers, pesticides, or other chemicals in your yard, your kitty may be exposed to these toxic agents in ways you never even considered.
Obviously, if your cat spends some or most of her time outside (which I don't recommend for the sake of her safety and health), there's a good chance she'll absorb lawn chemicals through her paws, or ingest them when she grooms or nibbles grass or other outdoor plants.
But there's another way your cat can be exposed even if she never steps foot outside. The potentially toxic chemicals found in lawn fertilizers and pesticides come indoors on the shoes of humans and the paws and coats of dogs. Common chemicals found in herbicides, including 2,4-D and dicamba, are easily tracked indoors where they contaminate the air and surfaces inside your home, exposing your kitty to dangerously high levels of these toxins.
Symptoms of Lawn Chemical Poisoning
Signs that your cat may have been exposed to toxic lawn chemicals include drooling, tearing of the eyes, excessive urination, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, weakness, dizziness, muscle twitching, difficulty breathing, unsteady gait, and collapse.
However, cats exposed to toxic chemicals may not exhibit obvious signs of poisoning, and in fact, sometimes insecticides cause the opposite of the listed symptoms, but there is usually some indication the cat is not well. If you suspect your kitty has been exposed to insecticides, you should remove him from the toxic environment and seek medical attention as soon as possible.
If your cat exhibits any of the listed symptoms and there's even a remote possibility he's been exposed to lawn chemicals, you should seek immediate veterinary care for your pet.
Chronic exposure to phenoxy herbicides like 2,4-D can affect your cat's liver, kidneys, GI tract, and muscles. Exposure to pesticides containing chlorophyenoxy acids can result in anemia, and low white blood cell and platelet counts.
Keeping Your Cat Safe from Lawn Chemicals and Other Toxic Pesticides
The best way to protect your kitty from the toxins in lawn chemicals is to use natural and organic alternatives that are not only safer for pets and humans, but also the environment. Unfortunately, even if you don't use chemicals in your yard, if your neighbors do, the products can blow onto your property from neighboring properties.
If your cat goes outside, even within the confines of a secure outdoor enclosure, you should consider keeping him indoors during the time of year when lawn fertilizers and pesticides are typically in use.
Develop the habit of removing your shoes outside the door to prevent tracking residual chemicals inside your home. And wipe off the paws of your indoor/outdoor cat daily, especially during the summer months.
Keep in mind that most flea and tick preventives are pesticides, whether they are spot-on treatments, pills, dips, solutions, shampoos, or collars. The EPA has called for new labeling requirements for spot-on products, but tragically, cats continue to die from misuse of these products. It's important to remember that just because a compound is applied to or worn on a pet's fur doesn't mean it's safe. What goes on your pet goes in your pet, by absorption through the skin or ingestion during grooming.
Alternatives to Chemical Insecticides and Fertilizers
If insects are wreaking havoc in your garden, consider using a garden hose with a nozzle to get rid of them safely. Many of the insects that commonly infest gardens have soft bodies and can be eliminated with a spray of water. Try hosing down your garden twice daily for a week to resolve the problem. If that doesn't do the trick, add a little dish soap to plain water and spray the garden again. You might also want to consider a product I've found very helpful in managing resistant garden pests called Pyola®.
You can fertilize your lawn and garden using compost applied twice a year. Create a compost pile and apply biannually to your lawn and garden. The compost will add essential nutrients to the soil without the use of chemicals, making your property safe for your cat.