Home & Safety Preparedness

When Choosing Outdoor Products, Don't Forget the Pets

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If you share your home with a four-legged friend, you've probably questioned the safety of lawn and yard products. The good news is that there are plenty of animal-friendly alternatives to standard outdoor chemicals. Here's a quick guide.

Pondering Pesticides

There are a variety of common household substances that can double as effective insect and weed killers. To help stave off or eliminate these outdoor nuisances, try using:

  • White vinegar. Make a pet-friendly (if pungent) spray with this pantry standby.
  • Cayenne, chili pepper, or paprika. Spice up your pest control: Add a teaspoon of seasoning to a cup of water, or sprinkle directly around insect entry points.
  • Powdered soap. Use dry, or mix with water and vinegar.
  • Eucalyptus oil. Sprinkle a few drops where buzzing insects live, or mix with water and spray around the base of your home.
  • Boiling water (for weeds). When your cupboard is bare, turn to the tap. Some super-hot H2O may be all you need.

If you use a standard pesticide: Avoid products that contain metaldehyde. Found in many slug, snail, ant, and mouse baits, this chemical is particularly poisonous to pets. By law, products that contain metaldehyde must include an explicit label about its dangers.

Grow Green... and Pet Safe

Most professional lawn care companies state that their fertilizers, used in compliance with strict codes, don't pose significant hazards to children or pets. While this may be true, pet owners might consider these other general options:

  • Organic fertilizer. If you're looking to go green, what better place to start than your own lawn? Organic fertilizers typically blend manure, kelp, and worm castings, which won't harm pets. Remember, the word "organic" isn't automatically a safety guarantee. Your best bet is to look for "pet safe" on labeling.
  • Compost. An ancient process that's gained modern popularity, composting is making your own fertilizer from biodegradable materials—especially plant-based food scraps. Note: If you wouldn't feed it to your pet (think coffee grounds and raw meat), avoid using it for compost. Visit the ASPCA's website http://www.aspca.org for a list of potentially unsafe scraps.

If you use a standard fertilizer: Beware of inert ingredients, those that serve as fillers or binders. Common examples include carbon tetrachloride and chloroform, which can be highly toxic to pets.

Snow and Ice Melts: Worth Their Salt?

When it comes to melting products and pet safety, the main concern is injury to paws. The basic offending ingredient in these products is sodium chloride, otherwise known as table salt (or rock salt). Salt contains a corrosive element that can irritate pets' tender toes. Some of today's melts also contain a substance called calcium chloride, which heats up as it works and can cause burns. In addition, because pets have a tendency to lick their paws, any exposure to products containing chemicals may be injurious to your pet's health.

Fortunately, there are countless products on the market specially formulated for pet safety. (Look for telltale words like "paws" and "pets" in the products' names.) These generally contain no salt, although some may contain lesser amounts or less corrosive forms. The active ingredient in most of these products is a biodegradable chemical compound called urea, which is considered non-hazardous to pets.

If you use a standard melting product: Steer clear of products containing calcium chloride. Be sure to wash off your pet's paws after winter walks.

You have a right to know what's in the products you buy. If ever in doubt, request a MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) from the manufacturer; a reputable company should be ready to provide one. Your veterinarian can also advise you on what's best. No matter the season, you can take good, safe care of both your property and your pets.

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