Lawn Care Chemicals Linked to Cancer in Dogs
by Lynn Stacy-Smith
Losing a dog is one of the most heart wrenching parts of being a dog lover. Watching them slowly succumb to cancer before their time makes it even worse. Experiencing it twice with two separate dogs within a few years will forever change your approach to how you care for your dogs.
Dutch’s body was still working great at age thirteen. He showed no signs of arthritis and ran and played like a puppy most days. At an age when some dogs were plagued by arthritis and other medical problems, Dutch still jumped in circles like a typical crazy and lovable German Shorthaired Pointer whenever we asked the magical words, “Do you wanna go outside?” He showed not a bit of pain when he jumped onto the bed or raced around the yard chasing rabbits and birds. We thought we might have several more years with our big goofball by our sides.
Within months after being diagnosed with a mass on his spleen that we found by accident while making sure his stomach was not twisting from bloat, Dutch lost his voracious appetite, so we hand fed him hamburger and chicken breasts cooked just for him. He would lay on his bed shaking and we covered him with a blanket and comforted him until he fell asleep. It was the vivid red splashes of blood from his urine on some freshly fallen white snow that told us that it was time to let him go to the Rainbow Bridge. The cancer had spread throughout his entire body and was wreaking havoc through all of his organs.
Maggie, our rescued Basset Hound, had survived major surgery to her spine, had learned to walk all over again through physical therapy when she was six years old, and we were thrilled that she had a love of life and the energy of a young dog at her advanced age of thirteen. We had read that the average lifespan of a Basset Hound was eight to twelve years, so for her to be thirteen and to have hours of fun playing with her one year old Labrador brother was an incredible gift.
One day we found a lump on her neck and two months after her diagnosis with Lymphoma she also lost her appetite. One night her throat swelled up so much from the cancer ravaging her body and her lymph nodes that we were afraid she would suffocate before we could get her to the vet the next morning. My husband and I stayed up with her all night to monitor her, each of us taking turns laying on the floor next to her. In the morning we lay with her on the floor of the vet’s office while they gave her the two injections that took our Maggie May from our lives.
When Jackson was a young puppy, he and I were out on a walk when we came across a lawn care company spraying chemicals on a neighboring yard. Once again, as a result of growing up in the woods in a rural area I didn’t understand the suburban desire to have a perfect expanse of green grass, and so we did not use a service like this. It seemed unnecessary when our grass was just fine in its imperfect natural state. Jax and I made a wide arc around that property and as soon as we got home I started to Google the side effects of those chemicals.
This is an extraordinarily small sampling of the information I found:
September 4, 1991: Lawn Herbicide Called Cancer Risk for Dogs, NY Times In this article the New York Times shares the results of a study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in which researchers found that dogs were two times as likely to develop lymphoma when their owners “sprayed or sprinkled the 2,4-D herbicide on the lawn four or more times a year.”
2004,Purdue University: CANINE BLADDER CANCER by Deborah W. Knapp, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM Purdue University found an association between herbicide treated lawns and bladder cancer in Scottish Terriers. The risk of transitional cell carcinoma was four to seven times higher in dogs who were exposed to 2,4-D.
2011,Environmental Research journal: Household chemical exposures and the risk of canine malignant lymphoma The Journal of Environmental Research printed a study that showed that exposure to professionally applied lawn care pesticides resulted in a 70% higher risk of malignant lymphoma in dogs. According to page 176 of the study, “Dose of exposure to environmental chemicals such as lawn care products used at home may be substantial, especially for dogs spending a considerable amount of time outdoors on lawns.”
2013, Purdue University: Detection of Herbicides in the Urine of Pet Dogs Following Home Lawn Chemical Application Purdue University studied dogs from treated and untreated yards and found that untreated grass contained chemicals from drift from other yards and half of the dogs studied who lived in untreated yards still had chemicals in their urine.
This study is perhaps the most troubling to me because it demonstrated that even if owners use precautions and do not treat their own yards that their dogs are still at risk from other homeowners’ toxic pesticides and herbicides drifting onto their grass. It also showed that the 48 hour waiting period in which residents are instructed to keep children and pets off of the grass is insufficient to keep them safe. Once homeowners remove the signs from their yard, assuming that the lawn care company provides signs, there is no way of discerning which lawns have been treated, although because of the drift of the toxins into neighboring yards it may not matter which are treated and which are not.
According to the PuppyUP Foundation, “it is estimated between 4 and 6 million dogs die from cancer each year and recently it was announced that 36 children a day are diagnosed with cancer.” These studies are not new, you just have to Google “lawn care chemicals dogs” and you will find page after page of scientific research and articles linking lawn care treatments to cancer in dogs. Change “dogs” to “children” and the results are similar.
I have neighbors all around me as well as a very large local park who treat their lawns and I live in constant fear of what my dogs are absorbing through their noses and paws, what they are ingesting when they nibble on the grass in our yard or clean themselves after spending time outdoors.
I go through daily routines to wash their paws and wipe down their faces and bodies and I make sure I provide a healthy holistic life to try to keep their immune systems strong and able to fight the carcinogens that so easily drift onto our own grass, onto our own property against our will. There is no way for us to stop this toxic drift other than putting our house in a giant bubble, and so education and awareness is our biggest ally in this battle.
As we head quickly toward warm weather, please reconsider how much that perfect green lawn means in the grand scheme of life. I implore you to help educate your own friends and neighbors on the benefits of organic lawn care and organic gardening. Push back on your HOA and local park departments that also often use these toxins to ensure that the grass looks healthy.
If not for the dogs themselves, do it for the humans in the house who are walking on the same floors as the dogs, sitting on the same furniture, and petting the fur of the dogs who are out in the world just trying to be dogs but falling victim to the misguided dream of a perfect expanse of green grass. Do it for the children who are playing in the grass, running barefoot and innocently rolling around on a beautiful day. Do it for the bees who need the dandelions that grow when lawns are not treated. What is the point of buying organic at the grocery store, of eating healthy foods and trying to take care of our bodies if we poison our animals, our children and ourselves right in our own back yards?
Here are previous posts that I have written on this topic:
No Dogs on the Grass Part 2: Post-Walk Paw Wash: I encourage ALL dog owners to perform this after each walk or adventure and once a day during months when lawn care products are likely to be applied.