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Lawn Chemicals & Your Dog

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We all want a healthy, green lawn for our families to enjoy.  But, did you know that using synthetic lawn chemicals in your yard may increase your dog's risk of developing certain types of cancer?  If being more environmentally-conscious wasn't enough motivation for you to consider organic lawn care, consider the health benefits for your furry family members (and your two-legged kids too!).

Increased Risk of Transitional Cell Carcinoma (bladder cancer) and Lymphoma

"Correlation isn't causation, but it sure is a hint." 
~ Edward Tufte

A landmark 2004 study from Purdue University showed that dogs exposed to chemically treated lawns, specifically those treated with a chemical called 2, 4-D dramatically increased the risk of Transitional Cell Carcinoma (bladder cancer) in Scottish Terriers by four to seven times that of dogs not exposed to these toxins.  A follow up-study is underway. Other breeds considered at high risk of developing this difficult to treat type of cancer include Shetland Sheepdogs, West Highland Terriers and Beagles.

Studies also suggest that there may be a link between Lymphoma, one of the most common types of cancers in dogs, and exposure to lawn chemicals. In a 1991 study published in The Journal of the National Cancer Institute, a link was found between 2, 4-D and malignant lymphoma in dogs and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in people. According to the study, "researchers report that dogs were two times more likely to develop lymphoma if their owners sprayed or sprinkled the 2,4-D herbicide on the lawn four or more times a year. [And] even with just one application a season, the cancer risk was one-third higher than among dogs whose owners did not use the chemical."   Breeds at highest risk of developing lymphoma include Boxers, German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Scottish Terriers, West Highland Terriers and Pointers.  Although there is still some controversy over the initial research linking lymphoma with these chemicals, it seems wise to err on the side of caution when it comes to the four-legged members of your family.

2,4-D is a very common ingredient in many broad-leaf weed killers and to give you a better picture of how toxic this chemical is so you can draw your own conclusions, it was also a primary component in Agent Orange, used during the Vietnam War and known for its highly toxic effects on human health, including causing cancer, birth defects and other diseases.

Why Dogs are at Increased Risk from Lawn Chemicals

Although most lawn care companies will try to convince you that their products are safe for your pets, there are a few things to consider before treating your lawn.

First, lawn care companies are only obligated to provide information on "Active Ingredients" in their products.  This list of active ingredients often leaves out the many "Inert Ingredients" that are also found in the treatment products, many of which are known carcinogens or have documented health risks associated with them.  One chemical that is often considered an inert ingredient is 2, 4-D, the focus of the Transitional Cell Carcinoma study.  If you are curious about the information that these companies are willing to share, I encourage you to contact them for more detailed information about the full chemical content of their lawn care products so you can evaluate their safety for yourself.  You may be surpised at how reluctant they are to share this information with you -- if they do at all.

Secondly, dogs are not people, and generally speaking, lawn care companies are concerned with how their products may affect people. Dogs are at greater risk of exposure and potential side effects from lawn care chemicals because:

  • Dogs do not wear clothing -- chemicals get on fur and are more easily absorbed into the skin.
  • Dogs do not wear shoes -- chemicals are absorbed through the paw pads and chemicals can be tracked into your home and they may be ingested when dogs lick their paws, as they often do.
  • Dogs (and children) have a higher ratio of skin surface in relation to their body size, which gives them a proportionally larger surface area which can absorb toxins.
  • Dogs don't just walk on the grass, they roll in it, lay in it, sniff around in it and dig in it -- all opportunities to inhale, ingest and absorb more toxins than the average human would.
  • In addition to walking on and playing in grass, it's not uncommon for dogs to eat grass while out in the yard, either intentionally or as part of all of the sticks and other things that they chew on while outside.  Chemically treated grass was never meant to be eaten.

Ways to Reduce Your Dog's Risk

While there is no way to guarantee that your dog will not develop cancer, there are some proactive things you can do to reduce their risks -- especially when it comes to lawn care chemicals. 

  • Use only natural lawn care products in your yard.  Examples are using corn gluten meal as a natural weed killer and fertilizer, or diatomaceous earth and boric acid for pest control.  Reducing exposure is the best way to prevent potential side effects.
  • Be aware of ALL the environments in which your dog may be exposed to lawn chemicals.  Even if you don't use them in your yard, consider yards you pass when going on walks, the parks where you and your dog play, and other public areas that may be treated.
  • Always wipe your dogs paws off after walks to remove any residue, and wipe down their fur as well if they have been out playing in treated grass.
  • Talk with your vet about your dog's specific risk of developing Transitional Cell Carcinoma or Lymphoma so you can be more aware of the signs and symptoms of these cancers.  For breeds at highest risk of TCC, consider regular urine testing, especially after 6 years old, to catch cancer at its earliest stages. 
  • RELATED ARTICLES
    Organic Lawn Care
    Raise A Green Dog
    Informationand products that are environmentally responsible, and safe, for you and your dog

    Organic Lawn Care 101
    Learn how to keep your yard beautiful without using synthetic lawn fertilizers and pesticides

    CatsDogsLawns.org
    Information about lawn chemicals and their impact on your pets' health

    PesticideFreeLawns.org
    Sign the National Declaration on the Use of Toxic Lawn Pesticides from the National Coalition for Pesticide-Free Lawns

     This website is not intended to replace the advice of a veterinary professional, and is for informational purposes only. Please seek the advice of your veterinarian or a veterinary specialist before giving your dog any supplements or pursuing any alternative cancer therapies. 

    © Georgia's Legacy. For questions or comments about this website, please email
    georgiaslegacy@fightcaninecancer.com.