Over 80 million pounds of chemical-based pesticides are used on American lawns & gardens every year. Sadly, pets and other animals are hit hardest by these toxic treatments. Because pets play in yards and sometimes eat greenery, they experience greater exposure to these poisons than most other living things. And as with children, their low body weight and small size make even small accidental exposure a serious, sometimes fatal occurrences.
But just how bad and widespread is pesticide exposure in pets? In 2008, the Environmental Working Group published a Polluted Pets report to give the public a better understanding of the chemicals affecting their pets. Among the dogs tested, Urine and blood samples detected 35 different chemicals inside these pets. Most alarming of all, 20% of the chemicals were at levels over 5 times higher than those regularly seen in humans. While direct contact with pesticides through lawn & garden exposure is common for pets, our animals also receive exposure from inside our homes, as pesticides applied outdoors almost always find their way onto indoor surfaces, such as carpet and counter tops. From cancer to intense stomach pain and mood changes, here’s 10 ways pesticides are harming your pets.
Vomiting & Diarrhea
In addition to slow heart rates, respiratory failure and even death, organophosphates—some of the most toxic chemicals used in agriculture—also cause intense abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea and other gastrointestinal distress in animals. Carbamates, another common pesticide, are known to cause dizziness, convulsions, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, too; as are phenoxy and benzoic acid herbicides (like 2,4-D), and pyrethroids (like Permethrin).
It turns out your pets’ physical health isn’t the only thing you have to worry about. A study published by Harvard Medical School linked Organophosphates and carbamates—two common lawn & garden pesticides—with aggressive behavior in both cats and humans.
Pyrethroids—which include common chemicals like Permethrin and Resmethrin—is another toxin that can mess with your cat or dog’s mental well-being. Not only are these chemicals possible carcinogens, they can also alter your pet’s mood and state of mind. Symptoms of poisoning include nervous system damage, hyperexcitability, tremors and even depression!
One of the most common but also most toxic pesticides is snail bait. Unfortunately, this poison is also very attractive to mammals, like dogs and cats. Snail bait’s active ingredient, metaldehyde, causes seizures, excess salivation and perhaps most frightening of all, blindness.
The above mentioned Pyrethroids, which are in the majority of household insecticides, are known to alter pets’ mental health. But, sadly, they can also cause muscle tremors, ataxia, anorexia and seizures—which can in turn lead to death. Organochlorines, which constitute a large percentage of common pesticides, also cause loss of bodily control and seizures. In severe poisoning, these seizures are often uncontrollable, leading to respiratory failure and eventually death in both cats and dogs.
Sadly, various forms of cancer are not uncommon in animals exposed to pesticides—which, unfortunately, includes most pets in the U.S. One study conducted by the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University found that consistent exposure to chemicals commonly used by professional lawn care companies elevated the risk of fatal canine malignant lymphoma by nearly 70%.
It’s not just Lymphoma you have to worry about. In a study published by the journal Science of the Total Environment it was found that dogs exposed to lawns treated with herbicides (like Roundup, for example) experience a significantly higher chance of contracting bladder cancer. Studies found the chemicals that help cause this extremely painful type of cancer are detectable in both treated and untreated lawns. Which means even if you don’t personally treat your own yard with pesticides, your pets are still likely receiving exposure blown in from other areas, like nearby parks or neighbors' yards.
A particularly nasty and quite common inorganic pesticide, Allethrin, has been linked with increased risk of liver cancer in dogs. A synthetic copy of a naturally occurring botanical insecticide derived from chrysanthemum flowers, Allerthrin is used in many yards throughout America to kill and prevent flies, mosquitoes and other flying insects.
Your fur babies aren’t the only ones facing harm due to pesticide exposure—their babies are, too. The Environmental Working Group (or, the EWG) found that dogs commonly test positive for phthalates at levels up to 5 times that of the average human. This chemical compound found in plastics, perfumes, food containers, makeup and pesticides is believed to cause, among other issues, birth defects in newly born puppies and kittens.
The same EWG report cited above linked phthalates not just to birth defects in pets, but to all kinds of reproductive issues also—a side effect perhaps more cruel than even death.
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