Cancer-causing lawn chemicals complicate the battle to keep grass green and pets safe

ST. GEORGE — Maintaining a vibrant, green lawn can be a hard-fought battle in Southern Utah. Often, homeowners turn to chemicals to assist in this endeavor, but with the risk some of these substances pose to animals, pet owners may want to reconsider their use.

A cat walks on grass in Utah, May 29, 2015 | Photo by Joseph Witham, St. George News

Fertilizers, weed killers and insecticides take time to be absorbed by grass, during which time dogs, cats and wildlife are susceptible to getting the chemical on their paws, fur or feathers.

A 2012 study by the Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine directly linking certain lawn care chemicals to canine cancer brings to light the seriousness of the danger these chemicals can pose.

One such chemical, 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid, which is used as a weed killer, can affect thyroid regulation in dogs, leading to lymphoma, a form of cancer affecting the immune system.

Cats and dogs that are exposed to 2,4-D by eating grass or licking themselves after walking on treated grass can experience a lack of appetite, diarrhea, lethargy and convulsions in the short term, according to the National Pesticide Information Center. Dogs are especially sensitive to this particular weed killer, which is also known to induce muscle weakness and vomiting.

Stock image, St. George News

The 2,4-D compound can also cause bladder cancer in dogs, according to a study by the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences at Purdue University. Terriers, beagles and sheepdogs are more likely than other breeds to develop bladder cancer.

Early signs of cancer in dogs can include weight loss, changes in eating and difficulty swallowing. Symptoms specific to bladder cancer include blood in the urine and painful urination.

Lawn care product alternatives

There are a number of alternatives available to concerned pet owners seeking safe weed killers, insecticides and fertilizers that don’t include chemicals like 2,4-D.

A representative from Star Nursery, which has stores in St. George, Washington City and Mesquite, Nevada, told St. George News that most organic fertilizers are pet-safe.

One organic lawn fertilizer the nursery recommends is Gro-Power, a fully organic humus-based soil conditioner. Other products that are certified organic include OMRI seals.

Stock image, St. George News

Kris Neal, who runs the nonprofit rescue One More Chance C.A.T.S. based in Southern Utah, said she uses organic lawn care and gardening products. The rescue employs the Dr. Earth line of products, which includes OMRI-certified fertilizers and weed killers that are listed as pet-safe.

“People need to remember that pets groom and lick the toxins off their paws, so it’s very important to keep pets off the treated area as well as water all products in the treated areas deeply, regardless of the safe labels on the packaging,” Neal said.

When it comes to pesticides, Neal doesn’t use chemicals at all.

“Nothing is better for the home garden than ladybugs and praying mantis,” she said, noting that the insects are available for purchase at hardware stores, such as Lowe’s Home Improvement.

Neal also uses food-grade Diatomaceous earth as an insecticide, which is run through a duster or handheld spreader. This product is also safe for use in household plants.

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