By Dr. Becker
Many pet guardians don't realize the potential for exposing their four-legged family member to environmental toxins like pesticides and herbicides. People also don't realize that after they apply a product to their lawn or garden, the chemical residues are tracked indoors on pet paws, and contaminate surfaces throughout their home.
A pesticide known as 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid, or "2,4-D", was developed during World War II. It was one of two active ingredients in the notorious defoliant known as Agent Orange, used during the Vietnam War to destroy forest cover for our enemies, as well as their food crops. A tremendous amount of herbicide was sprayed over millions of acres of land in Vietnam from 1961 to 1972. Agent Orange was the most commonly used product, and it has since been revealed to cause a wide range of serious health issues, including rashes, psychological problems, birth defects, tumors, and cancer.
These days, 2,4-D is used on athletic fields, golf courses, landscaping, timberland, rights-of-way, and various crops. A short list of popular products containing 2,4-D includes:
- Bayer Advanced All-in-One Lawn Weed and Crabgrass Killer
- Ortho Weed-B-Gon Max
- Scotts Liquid Turf Builder
- Sta-Green Phosphorus-Free Weed & Feed
- Scotts Snap Pac Weed & Feed
Pesticides, Bees, and Your Pet
I'm sure many of you are aware that bee colonies across the world are disappearing in a phenomenon called colony collapse disorder (CCD). In fact, most U.S. beekeepers have lost from 50 to 90 percent of their honeybee populations.
There are several factors involved in the die off of bees, not the least of which is the unprecedented widespread use of pesticides and insecticides. Neonicotinoid pesticides kill insects by attacking their nervous systems. These are known to get into pollen and nectar, and can damage beneficial insects such as bees.
Honeybees contribute $15 billion in annual agriculture revenue to the U.S. economy alone, as a full one-third of the American food supply depends on them pollinating crops. Just about every fruit and vegetable you can think of is dependent on the pollinating services of bees. Apple orchards, for instance, require one colony of bees per acre in order to be adequately pollinated. So, unless the mysterious disappearance of bees is reversed, major food shortages could result.
If we don't take action to protect bees and other pollinators from the toxic effects of pesticides and insecticides, there is no question that the survival of our pets, and our own survival, will be in jeopardy. In fact, honeybees are so crucial to our existence that a quote attributed to Einstein states: "If bees die out, man will only have four years of life left on Earth."
Pesticides and Canine Malignant Lymphoma
Most dogs love a carpet of thick green grass. They run around on it, roll on it, dig at it, and stick their noses in it. But unlike humans, who launder their clothes and bathe regularly, dogs don't change their fur or footpads every day. Whatever collects on their feet and coat outdoors stays there until the next time they get a bath. It also gets deposited across multiple surfaces inside your home, including carpeting, rugs, furniture and pet bedding.
A recently published study conducted over a six year period by the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University1 showed that exposure to lawn pesticides, specifically those applied by professional lawn care companies, raised the risk of canine malignant lymphoma – a progressive, fatal disease -- by as much as 70 percent.
Sadly, it's easy to envision how normal canine behavior turns risky when your dog's outdoor environment has been doused in potentially toxic chemicals.
Herbicides and Bladder Cancer In Dogs
Another study, published last year in Science of the Total Environment,2 indicates that exposure to herbicide-treated lawns has been associated with significantly higher bladder cancer risk in dogs.
The chemicals in question are common herbicides containing 2,4-D, 4-chloro-2-methylphenoxypropionic acid (MCPP) and/or dicamba. Dogs are being exposed through ingestion, inhalation and transdermal contact.
Since these chemicals are commonly detected in grass residues from treated lawns AND untreated lawns, it's clear there is chemical drift. This means that even if you don't use these products, if a neighbor does, your dog could still be at risk from chemicals that blow into your yard from a nearby property.
Flea and Tick Preventives (Pesticides) and Your Pet
You may not be aware of it, but most flea and tick preventives are actually pesticides, regardless of what form they come in -- spot-on treatments, pills, dips, solutions, shampoos, or collars.
Spot-on products attracted the attention of the EPA in 2009 after reports surfaced of over 40,000 adverse events the prior year, including 600 deaths of family pets. The agency called for new labeling requirements, but as recently as September, four cats were reported to have died from misuse of the products.
It's important to remember that just because a compound is applied to or worn on your 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.
Protecting Your Pet from Toxic Pesticides
Don't apply pesticides to your yard, and if you use a lawn care service, don't allow them to use chemicals, either. The same goes for herbicides, and be aware that a neighbor's herbicide can potentially contaminate your property and pose a risk to your pet.
Avoid lawn care and other gardening products that contain insect growth regulators (IGRs). (And be aware that the chemical pyriproxyfen, an IGR, is used in certain flea/tick spot-on treatments.)
Don't allow your dog access to any lawn unless you can confirm no pesticides have been used.
If you think your pet has rolled around on chemically treated grass, my recommendation is to bathe him as soon as possible. If you've walked your dog in a suspect grassy area, giving him a foot soak as soon as you get home should flush away any chemical residue that may be clinging to his feet and lower legs.
If you live in a townhouse or community that applies chemicals to common areas, I recommend "detoxing" a patch of grass in your backyard by watering the chemicals down into the soil to reduce skin contact after application. Keep your pet on a leash (and on the sidewalk) until you've walked to your pesticide-free destination.
When it comes to pest control, remember -- keeping your pet's immune system healthy and strong is the best way to help him fight off parasites as well as disease. A balanced, species-appropriate diet is the foundation upon which your pet's good health and long life must be built.
Use a safe, natural pest deterrent. Also consider cedar oil (specifically manufactured for pet health), natural food-grade diatomaceous earth, or fresh garlic (work with your holistic vet to determine a safe amount for your pet's body weight).
Bathe and brush your pet regularly and perform frequent full-body inspections to check for parasite activity, and insure your indoor and outdoor environments are unfriendly to pests.
Detoxifying Your Pet
Consider periodic detoxification for your pet. The level of environmental exposure to chemicals will dictate the appropriate frequency and type of detox. If your dog has constant exposure to toxic chemicals all summer, supplying a daily detox protocol is a wise idea. But if your pet's only source of chemical exposure is heartworm pills, or if you are applying flea and tick chemicals directly on your pet, then offering a detox program the week after each pill or topical treatment makes sense.
There are many detoxifying herbs and supplements to choose from. A detox protocol should not cause any side effects or visible changes in your pet.