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Are Pesticides Harmful to Pets?

By: Dr Gareth Evans - Updated: 17 Mar 2012 | comments*Discuss
Pets Cats Dogs Fish Safety Poisons

All pesticides have the potential to be harmful to pets – and to human beings too – if they are not used properly; they are after all, designed to kill. While the type and strength of products sold for general use are closely controlled to reduce the risk of harming domestic animals – as well as children and householders – they still need to be treated with respect. It is always important to follow the instructions when applying any pesticide and doubly so when there are pets around. A little bit of care and common sense at the outset should avoid tragedy later.

Keeping Your Pet Safe

A few simple precautions will go a long way to keeping your pet safe – before, during and after pesticide use. Most of them are obvious. The product should be stored out of the reach of animals – ideally in a sealed, spill-proof container, if it does not come in one. In use, pets should be excluded from the area to be treated; how long they need to be kept away afterwards depends on the type of pesticide – the instructions will make this clear.

Since most of the commonly kept pets are mammals like us, dangers to the user mentioned on the packet will probably apply to them also. However, the amount required to accidentally kill a small hamster is likely to be considerably less than a human! Being aware of potential hazards can give you a big head-start in steering clear of them.

While many types of insecticides, weed-killers and other pesticides contain some extremely toxic materials indeed – chemicals such as organo-phosphates, lead and permethrin – generally their method of use means that pets are not commonly affected. Two types of product, however, pose a particular risk – rat poisons and slug pellets.

Rat Poison

Rat poisons represent a major danger, especially for cats and dogs and it is little wonder when you consider the ingredients of some of them – arsenic, phosphorus and warfarin.

A pet can be poisoned in one of two ways, either directly, by eating or drinking the poison, or indirectly – eating one of the pests which has taken the poison. Catching a “dopey” rat or mouse is an alarmingly common cause of poisoning in cats and some products – those containing sodium fluoroacetate, for example – can be lethal in extremely low doses. It is, clearly, very important to keep pets well away from both treated areas and the dead or dying rodents. The poison itself should be stored safely – a strong, burst-proof and chew-proof container is a must; the dog-owner who relies on the thin cardboard packet is simply courting disaster.

The most common forms of rat poisons work either by stopping the normal ability of blood to clot, making the rat bleed to death internally or by upsetting the level of calcium in the blood. Treating a pet affected by the first kind – warfarin, brodifacoum and the like – can sometimes be successful; the second type – which contain the chemical cholecalciferol – is much more difficult. Far better to avoid the possibility in the first place!

Slug Pellets

Slug pellets are sold in vast numbers every year. Chunks of cereal, soaked in metaldehyde or methiocarb, they are bait to lure slugs to their doom. Unfortunately, the same cereal which attracts their target appeals to other animals too – risk manufacturers minimise by making them taste bitter to dogs, adding pet repellents and colouring them blue to reduce their attractiveness to birds.

It is said that if the pellets are spread thinly – as the packet instructs – pets should not be able to consume sufficient quantity to make themselves ill; but the fact remains that significant numbers of pets do end up requiring veterinary attention each year from consuming such poisons.

Using pellets properly and being vigilant with your pet can certainly help to reduce the risk, but there are alternatives which the pet-owner would be well advised to consider. Slug powders based on aluminium sulphate are much less toxic, while the new Growing Success Advanced Slug Killer pellets, which contain iron phosphate, are less harmful still.

Exotic Pets

With the rise of exotic pet-keeping, the effects of pesticides on a whole range of creatures has become increasingly relevant. Of course, they are susceptible to many of the same chemicals which can harm more usual animal companions – and other threats are self-evident, such as the risk insecticides pose to stick-insects or slug pellets to giant land-snails. Some are not so obvious and few manufacturers take snakes, frogs and tarantulas into account when labelling. However, generally chemicals which are marked as hazardous to birds, fish or aquatic life should be avoided around exotics too. While this is not entirely fool-proof, it is a pretty good guide.

Having pets does not mean you have to have pests too; pesticides can be very successfully used around domestic animals provided the appropriate steps are taken to ensure their safety – as well as your own!

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