It’s not an unreasonable fear. Two of the top ten culprits in accidental poisonings–insecticides and snail and slug bait–are found in the garden. But if you know what chemicals to use with caution and what to steer clear of entirely, you can spare your dog, and yourself, from a frightening ordeal.
Dog-safe gardening and lawn care
What to avoid
Disulfoton is part of a class of pesticides, called organophosphates, which have by and large been pulled off the market. Disulfoton is still around, however, and turns up in rose-protecting products such as Ortho Rose Pride.
Not only is disulfoton extremely toxic to dogs–causing vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, and potentially death–it’s also a dog’s idea of fine dining. “Dogs will eat as much of it as they can get a hold of,” says veterinarian Tina Wismer, of the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center. It’s often mixed with fertilizers such as blood and bone meal, making it even more appealing to the canine palate.
Wismer recommends that dog owners steer clear of disulfoton pesticides entirely. But if you’re bent on using it, keep your pup out of the treated area and store leftovers in a chew-proof container, locked out of reach.
Slug and snail bait with metaldehyde
It can cause tremors, seizures, and even death and again, it tastes mighty good to dogs. If you’ve got a dog, use something else. Baits containing ferric phosphate are a less toxic version.
What to use with caution
Roundup and similar herbicides aren’t as dangerous as disulfoton and snail bait, but they can still cause vomiting if eaten. Put your dogs inside when applying herbicides–along with their chewtoys, food bowls, and anything else they might put their mouths on–and make sure they stay there until the treated area is good and dry. Once it’s dry, the chemical has been taken down to the root of the plant and the lawn is considered dog-safe.
You might also try using corn gluten meal in place of chemicals; a natural herbicide, Wismer says it’s effective and safe for dogs.
What about the long-term effects of garden chemicals?
There hasn’t been much research to find out, and for the moment the answer is a frustrating, “We don’t really know.” One study did find that Scottish Terriers living in homes where phenoxy herbicides were applied were about 4.4 times more likely to develop bladder cancer. Unfortunately, no one has followed up on the study, and because the research didn’t look at the other, healthy dogs living with the dogs who developed cancer, Wismer says it’s not conclusive.
What we do know: Cancer is the leading cause of death in many dog breeds, and playing it safe is never a bad idea. “I would certainly use the least amount of garden chemicals possible and use organic options when you can,” says Wismer. It’s definitely better for the planet, and it may be better for your dog.