You want the very best health for your pets…after all, they are a huge part of your family. Unfortunately, there has been a rise in canine cancer and many believe the main cause is what we are putting on our lawns. Most of us like a nice green lawn that is free of harmful bugs such as ticks and fleas. The CDC recently reported that in the United States, diseases spread by mosquito, flea and tick bites tripled from 2004 to 2016. The good news is that you can certainly have both — a green and healthy lawn as well as a healthy pet — just be careful how you go about it. Let’s talk about it.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency indicates that Americans apply 90 million pounds of pesticides and herbicides every year in order to achieve lush green yards. Surveys have found that because the use of pesticides and herbicides is so heavy, those chemicals can actually drift into our homes, even if their starting point was on a neighbor’s lawn and not our own. These chemicals have also been found in the urine of dogs whose owners did not spray their lawns. I don’t know about you, but for me this is very concerning.
DID YOU KNOW? Americans collectively spend big bucks — about $40 billion annually — on seed, sod and chemicals in order to achieve a perfect lawn.
We know that herbicides and pesticides are created with the intent to kill, so it should come as no surprise that studies have linked them – particularly the ones that contain 2,4-D (one of the main ingredients in Agent Orange) – to at least two kinds of canine cancers.
Canine Cancer and 2,4-D Studies
There have been numerous studies on 2,4-D (2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid) showing the damaging effects on pets and humans. 2,4-D is considered an endocrine-disrupting chemical which means it mimics or inhibits your body’s hormones and specifically affects your thyroid. It can also reduce fertility and up the risks of birth defects.
2,4-D is used as more than just a weed killer. It’s also used on cereal crops, orchards, and pastures. It has also made its way into the groundwater and drinking water in many areas. The runoff from large farms using 2,4-D is known to kill aquatic life.
A six-year study from Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine linked lawn pesticides to canine malignant lymphoma (CML). Based on questionnaire results from dog owners, the study found “specifically, the use of professionally applied pesticides was associated with a significant 70% higher risk of CML. Risk was also higher in those reporting use of self-applied insect growth regulators.”
A different study with similar methods discovered that herbicides also contribute to canine cancer such as malignant lymphoma. The study found that herbicides containing 2,4-D doubled the risk of CML when dog owners used 2,4-D four or more times per year.
A 2013 study concluded 2,4-D herbicides and other lawn chemicals make the risk of canine bladder cancer “significantly higher.” Certain breeds, including Beagles, Scottish Terriers, Shetland Sheepdogs, West Highland White Terriers, and Wire Hair Fox Terriers are more susceptible due to a genetic predisposition to bladder cancer. Exposure to the chemicals can come from ingestion, inhalation, or contact with skin, and the amount of time needed to restrict pets from a sprayed area has not been determined.
The study found “Chemicals were detected in the urine of dogs in 14 of 25 households before lawn treatment, in 19 of 25 households after lawn treatment, and in 4 of 8 untreated households. Chemicals were commonly detected in grass residues from treated lawns, and from untreated lawns suggesting chemical drift from nearby treated areas.”
Another study found herbicide 2,4-D contaminants inside and throughout homes both prior to and after outdoor application. The study is evidence that pets absorb and track lawn chemicals, and lawn chemicals travel from their intended targets. The study concluded “removal of shoes at the door and the activity level of the children and pets were the most significant factors affecting residue levels indoors after application.”
These studies are important to both the health of humans as well as pets. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma has a similar histology and epidemiology as the canine cancer malignant lymphoma, and has also been linked to 2, 4-D exposure. 2,4-D has been sited to “possibly” cause cancer, and the agricultural use of 2,4-D has increased due to weed resistance to Round-up (glyphosate).
Keeping Your Lawn Green Without Chemicals
Below are some safe and organic lawn care tips you can use to keep your lawn green and safe.
- If you’re easily drawn to cover your lawn with chemical fertilizers in order to achieve lush, green grass, please don’t. There are ways to achieve beautiful grass without using chemicals that are harmful for humans and pets. For nontoxic lawn nourishment, broadcast one-eighth to one-quarter of an inch of high-quality compost over your lawn using a shovel. A high-quality compost nourishes beneficial soil microbes which are important to lawn health. Synthetic fertilizers deplete the necessary insect life and bacteria that live in your soil. Because they are salt-based, synthetic fertilizers acidify the soil, driving life out and earthworms down. If you are a history buff, you will remember that the Romans literally salted Carthage after they conquered it, to make it impossible for the Carthaginians to grow any plant life. The take-away here is that by applying a high-quality compost, you will most likely see some good improvement in your lawn in just a few days and you will have a chemical-free lawn.
- Caution: Avoid cocoa bean shell mulch in your gardens because of its potential to be toxic to dog
- Instead of reaching for Roundup (glyphosate) or other harmful synthetic pesticides to kill those weeds that creep up through sidewalks or driveway cracks, you may want to try BurnOut, an organic weed killer made of food-grade vinegar and clove oil. Just be sure to spray it directly on weeds on a warm, sunny day for the best effect. You can also use BurnOut to quickly and organically kill weeds in your yard; however, be aware that it will temporarily leave a brown spot, and you’ll need to reseed the area to shade out new weed growth.
- Look for a greener grass. You can make your lawn even more sustainable by overseeding it, or completely replacing it, with native or organic grass seed. Pearl’s Premium and DLF Pickseed both offer organic lawn seed, grown without synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers. Another “green” option is using native turf-grass seed. Since these seeds are familiar with their regional soil conditions and average rain fall, they require less water and are more disease-resistant than non-natives, such as Kentucky bluegrass (from Europe) and St. Augustine grass (from Africa). The best known is buffalograss, a native prairie grass that extremely drought-resistant and, since it’s low-growing, only needs to be mowed about once a month. (For more info, visit Pawneebuttesseed.com)
You can certainly have that beautiful green lawn you desire and protect the health of your pets at the same time. Please make sure you avoid the chemicals no matter how convincing your local gardening sales associate is in insisting that the chemical fertilizers/pesticides are non-toxic to humans and pets. Avoiding toxic chemicals on your lawn is not only good for helping to eliminate canine cancer in dogs, but also for your family members and the environment. Go green!