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January 21, 2009 > Ohlone Humane Society: The Silent Spring Continues...

Ohlone Humane Society: The Silent Spring Continues...

By Nancy Lyon

The Green Movement to protect our increasingly fragile planet should be something we all embrace and include protecting our animal companions from the very the same threats that put us all in jeopardy.

Many common products we unthinkingly use on our lawns and in our gardens such as pesticides and herbicides are serous hazards to our dogs, cats and other critters as well as polluting the environment. Our critters lie, roll and nose around our yard, city parks and trails making themselves more susceptible to toxic materials used to control weeds and insects. When they lick to clean themselves afterward, they often ingest potentially health threatening substances.

A study by the National Cancer Institute found that dogs whose guardians treated their lawns four or more times per year with 2,4-D were twice as likely to contract canine malignant lymphoma than those who did not use the herbicide. Purdue University researchers found that certain breeds of dogs, when exposed to herbicide treated gardens, were four to seven times more at risk of developing bladder cancer. In 1998, the publication, Preventive Veterinary Medicine, stated that research linked hypothyroidism in cats to certain flea powders, sprays, and lawn pesticides.

According to 2004 statistics compiled by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals' Animal Poison Control Center, 22% of approximately 880 cases of sick family birds were caused by exposure to common household items containing pesticides (including rat bait and insecticides).

Not long ago the Environmental Protection Agency announced that a major manufacturer of flea and tick treatments pulled several products off the market that had been associated with a wide range of adverse reactions including hair loss, salivation, tremors, and numerous deaths in cats and kittens.

Add to this the alarming list of toxic additives that are making their way into their food (and ours). They all increase the chances of chemical poisoning and serious, often deadly health problems due to exposure to pesticides and other contaminates.

At a recent symposium of GreenCAP - The Committee for Alternatives to Pesticides, holistic veterinarian Dr. Regina Downey addressed the question of how to avoid subjecting the animals to synthetic chemicals. Reflecting upon her twenty years of experience, she stressed her use of the wellness approach contrasted with a crisis-management tactic. She emphasized how proper nutrition and exercise help create a sound immune system which thwarts disease and infection. Dr. Downey addressed the negative, sometimes fatal consequences that result when, in the absence of good (preferably homemade) food and lots of running to fetch sticks or clambering up scratching posts, animals may needlessly develop, for example, autoimmune-related diseases.

A complimentary approach to this wise advice is quite simple - use common sense. Companion animals are very much like children and you need to take the same precautions to keep them safe as you would a child.

Rodent poisons and insecticides are the most common sources of companion animal poisoning; the following list of less common but potentially toxic agents should be avoided if at all possible:
* Antifreeze that contains ethylene glycol has a sweet taste that attracts animals but is deadly if consumed in even small quantities; one teaspoon can kill a seven-pound cat. Purchase a safe and tasteless kind of antifreeze.
* Cocoa mulch, another garden hazard, contains ingredients that can be deadly to animals if ingested. Some animals consider the mulch a tasty if toxic treat.
* Chemicals used on lawns and gardens, such as fertilizer and plant food, can be easily accessible and fatal to a pet allowed in the yard unsupervised.
* Cedar and other soft wood shavings, including pine, emit fumes that may be dangerous to small mammals like hamsters and gerbils.
* Chocolate is poisonous to dogs, cats, and ferrets.
* Insecticides used in many over-the-counter flea and tick remedies, may be toxic to companion animals. Prescription flea and tick control products are much safer and more effective.
* Fumes from nonstick cooking surfaces and self-cleaning ovens can be deadly to birds. Always be cautious when using any pump or aerosol spray around birds.
* Human pain killers (including aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen), cold medicines, anti-cancer drugs, anti-depressants, vitamins, and diet pills can all be toxic to animals. If you drop a pill don't delay in picking it up.
* Leftovers such as chicken and pig bones easily shatter and can choke a cat or dog.
* Poisonous household plants include poinsettia, azalea, geraniums, dieffenbachia (dumb cane), lilies, mistletoe, and philodendron, among others.
* Rawhide doggie chews, pig's ears and other preserved body parts may be contaminated with Salmonella, which can infect animals and humans who come in contact with the chews. If you choose to offer one to your animal companion do so only under supervision, as they can pose a choking hazard as well.
* Chicken Jerky. For more than a year the Food and Drug Administration has received complaints from dog "owners" of a chicken jerky product from China that is apparently making some dogs very ill. The FDA is advising consumers who choose to feed their dogs chicken jerky products to watch their dogs closely for any or all of the following signs which may occur within hours to days of feeding the product: decreased appetite, although some may continue to consume the treats to the exclusion of other foods; decreased activity; vomiting; diarrhea, sometimes with blood; and increased water consumption and/or increased urination. Stop feeding the product and consult your veterinarian immediately.

Veterinarians have been aware of the issue of toxic exposure to companion animals and a new American Veterinary Medical Association Website makes reporting cases easy - and hopefully, will help in identifying the most risky chemicals and uses.

For more comprehensive information about common household dangers, see The American Veterinary Medical Association's Pet Owner's Guide to Common Small Animal Poisons at (

If you suspect your companion has been poisoned and you can't reach your veterinarian or there is no emergency veterinary clinic available immediately call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435.

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