Beware the Little White Flags of Springtime (1)
Blogs, Creating a Happy, Healthy Life, Dogs & Lawn Care

The White Flags of Springtime: Being a Dog Owner in a World of Chemically Treated Lawns

The white flags are back, a sign of spring here in suburbia. I saw them yesterday as I walked with Jackson and Tinkerbell through our neighborhood, and I felt the annual flood of stress, frustration and disappointment that I feel every spring when so many homeowners in our neighborhood hire traditional lawn care companies to spray their yards with chemicals in pursuit of the perfect expanse of green grass. You know the chemicals that I mean, the ones that the industry says are so safe that they fed it to beagles as part of their testing and did not see any negative results, but that still require little white warning flags to let the world know that the products have been applied so that we do not walk or frolic in that grass for 48 hours.

This is not the first time I’ve written about this topic, and it won’t be the last. In the past I have written several blogs on the topic of dogs, lawn care products, and studies that link increased rates of cancer in dogs on chemically treated grass. You can read more about this topic at: Lawn Care Chemicals Linked to Cancer in Dogs and No Dogs on the Grass: Studies on Canine Cancer and Lawn Care Products. 

I have to admit, I dream of a world in which all homeowners realize the benefits of using an organic lawn care company that relies on all natural lawn care techniques instead of broadleaf weedkillers. A world in which we can watch our kids and dogs rolling around on the grass and not have to worry about whether or not the study done by veterinary team at Purdue University or the task force created to promote the use of 2,4-D had the accurate study. A world in which we can reduce the amount of plant waste that we send to landfills because we are using compost and grass clippings to achieve the American dream of a lush, green lawn.

I will also admit that after losing two dogs in row to cancer, the fear of any unseen toxins that my dogs are walking through sometimes makes me want to avoid walks in our neighborhood entirely. Just the other day I did not see the white flags in a neighbor’s yard until long after Jackson and Tinkerbell had thoroughly sniffed a large portion of his treated grass. But I cannot keep them in a protective bubble, simply because it is not fair to them to deny them the simple canine joy of going out and exploring the world with me.

Until we live in a world that embraces natural lawn care, here are the things that I do for my own dogs in an effort to minimize the effects of these chemicals in our lives.

Avoid Treated Lawns

Depending where you live, this can be extremely hard. Like I mentioned above, just the other day we the dogs and I walked through a yard in which some of the flags were missing at one end of the property, so I did not see them until we had walked the full length of the yard.

Try to avoid treated lawns and know that Purdue University determined in 2013 that lawn care products drift substantially from the area in which they are actually applied. As you see lawn care flags, make notes so that you can adjust your walking route and avoid those lawns on your daily walks. Shorten your dog’s leash when walking through affected yards and stick to the sidewalk or cross the street if possible.

You can also contact your local park department to inquire about what products are used in your municipal parks and if they have a routine schedule for when they apply pesticides. Look for natural areas that are not treated for weeds and take your dog on fun adventures to those locations, using an all natural tick preventative since the more natural the terrain, the more likely you are to encounter pests like ticks.

Post Walk Paw Wash & Wipe

1. Wash all paws in a foot soak using water with apple cider vinegar (1/2 cup vinegar per gallon of water) or an organic pet shampoo. Swoosh the paw through the water and use your fingers to massage the paws for a few second while in the soak. Rinse thoroughly in a second container of plain water and then dry well, including between the toe pads and webbing for breeds with webbed feet.

2. Wipe the entire dog from nose to tail with a damp cloth, including their legs, belly, nose and jowls. You can also use the same ratio of apple cider vinegar to water to soak the cloth or spray on them with a spray bottle, avoiding the eyes.

3. Wash my own feet (if wearing sandals or flip flops), ankles and calves to keep from spreading toxins on the floor, furniture and bedding that the dogs lay upon. This is also a good idea for owners whose dogs like to lick human toes or feet.

Dietary Supplements

Note: this is not intended as veterinary advice. Always consult with your veterinarian before adding any food or supplement to your dog’s diet. 

MicroFlora Plus or other probiotic for dogs: many experts believe that digestive health has a positive impact on an animal’s immune system. Although the food that I feed has a prebiotic and probiotic in it, I also add MicroFlora Plus to my dog’s bowls.

Wholistic Pet Organics diatomaceous earth: Scientific research has indicated that diatomaceous earth has a detoxifying property to it, so I add food grade diatomaceous earth from Wholistic Pet. Just make sure you purchase food grade diatomaceous earth, not the variety that is sold for outdoor use. You can read about more uses for diatomaceous earth for humans and dogs here: https://www.tipsbulletin.com/diatomaceous-earth/

Watch for our next blog in which we talk about positive links to share with friends and family to encourage all natural lawn care practices. 

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Blogs, Creating a Happy, Healthy Life, Dogs & Lawn Care

No Dogs on the Grass Part 2: Post-Walk Paw Wash

For the last two years, ever since I learned about the connection between lawn care pesticides and herbicides and canine cancer I have been extremely reluctant to take my dogs for walks off of our property. Actually reluctant is a mild term for it. Downright terrified is quite frankly the most appropriate way to express how I feel about walking my dogs on any piece of grass.

With each walk around the block I have pictured my Jackson and Tinkerbell with their noses full of carcinogenic substances, sniffing innocently and so unaware that humans sometimes intentionally cover the ground with toxins to keep weeds from marring their perfect green grass. For a few weeks after my initial Google binge during which I learned about the connection between lawn care pesticides and cancer in dogs, I kept Jackson’s walks limited to the local park, naively thinking that he would be safe there. But one day as I was driving past the park I saw a tractor spraying chemicals onto the grass on the park. An email from the park department revealed that they were spraying a broadleaf herbicide on that grass on which our puppies frolicked and our children ran around barefooted and innocent. So much for the park being safe.

During the winter I have walked them with a bit more mental peace but anyone who lives in the Chicagoland area knows that we go straight from warm weather to winter with ice covered sidewalks and ice melting salt all over and then back to warm weather without much of a fall or spring in between. As a result, most of my dogs’ exercise has been in our fairly large fenced in back yard.

Fortunately our yard is large enough for our dogs to race around as fast as their muscular legs will carry them as they play their games of chase and “bitey face” which is the popular name for the dog game of play-biting and snarling at each other either with or without full contact wrestling. We often joke that any of our neighbors who do not have multiple dogs probably wonder why on earth we let our dogs do this, but it is a standard and time tested type of play among many canine siblings and they rarely actually make contact with their large gleaming teeth. At least as far as our own dogs go, the second that one of them accidentally nips the other they stop the game for a few minutes to calm down. 

I also accompany the dogs outside on each and every outing and so I have ample opportunity to throw their favorite West Paw Zisc to them and do lots and lots of training practice. I play outside with them all winter and their favorite game of all time is to play “snow zoomies” in which they run through the snow chasing each other as fast as they can.They also love to chase snowballs that I make and I am always amazed that they can find the snowball in the rest of the snow from the scent of my hands through my gloves.

With room to run and each other to play with I know that they are getting plenty of physical exercise. However, I have spent as much time feeing guilty over their lack of mental exercise as I have spent obsessing over the lawn carcinogens that they are picking up on walks.

This spring I have thought more and more about what they are missing out on by not going on leash walks. For awhile when the canine flu was new I had an excuse beyond lawn chemicals: they should not go out because of the threat of the dog flu. The panic of the dog flu has somewhat subsided even though the actual flu has not, and I am back to feeling guilty that they are missing out on exploring new places, working their minds, and doing the dog version of reading the trending stories of the day. The smells of the neighborhood sidewalks are the equivalent of our own Facebook and Instagram feeds yet mine have been missing out because of an overprotective dog mom.

When it comes down to it, raising a healthy dog is similar to living a healthy life as a human in the sense that there are hazards all around us but we cannot, or should not, choose to live our lives in fear of leaving our safely maintained homes. We know the sun causes skin cancer but I spend plenty of time outside, about 75% of it with sunblock and the other 25% without. We know that smoking causes lung cancer and a myriad of other issues, yet I smoked until four years ago when puppy Jax was my motivation to quit. Some people joke that everything is bad for us, and sometimes I think it’s not that far from the truth. So this year I have resumed periodic walks into our neighborhood.

Just like I take precautions for myself and my family, though, I am also taking precautions with the dogs, including paw soaks and body wipedowns after each walk or at the end of each day. Although we cannot guarantee that we can prevent cancer, promoting a healthy immune system is one way that we can help our body fight back against antigens. As I have increased Jackson and Tinkerbell’s walks off of our property I have also increased some of the measures that I am taking to boost their immune system to battle the cancer causing lawn chemicals and other harmful substances.

Here are the steps that I take after walks or once a day if the dogs stay on our own property:

1. Wash all paws in a foot soak using water with apple cider vinegar (1/2 cup vinegar per gallon of water) or an organic pet shampoo. Swoosh the paw through the water and use your fingers to massage the paws for a few second while in the soak. Rinse thoroughly in a second container of plain water and then dry well, including between the toe pads and webbing for breeds with webbed feet.

2. Wipe the entire dog from nose to tail with a damp cloth, including their legs, belly, nose and jowls. You can also use the same ratio of apple cider vinegar to water to soak the cloth or spray on them with a spray bottle, avoiding the eyes.

3. Wash feet and lower legs of humans if wearing sandals or flip flops to keep from spreading toxins on the floor, furniture and bedding that the dogs lay upon. This is also a good idea for owners whose dogs lick toes or feet.

Watch for the next blog in this series in which I will elaborate on this infographic titled Promoting a Strong Immune System for Your Dog. 

Blogs, Creating a Happy, Healthy Life, Dogs & Lawn Care

No Dogs on the Grass: Studies on Canine Cancer and Lawn Care Products

It has been about two years since I began obsessing over lawn care pesticides and herbicides and the chemicals that my dogs were being exposed to as a result of the American aversion to anything but beautiful perfect grass. Since that day I have tried to spread the word that the perfect weed free lawn that is part of the American dream is a direct threat to the other part of that dream: the children and pets who play on that grass.

Maggie sniffing the grass before succumbing to Canine Malignant Lymphoma
Maggie sniffing the grass in happier days before succumbing to Canine Malignant Lymphoma

It was a beautiful day in May 2013 and I had just quit my corporate job to become a self-employed writer. Being around our neighborhood in the daytime was still a novelty to me and I loved being able to stop in the middle of whatever I was doing and run to the store or go for a walk with Jackson. Our Basset Hound Maggie had just died from lymphoma a month before and Tinkerbell was just a teeny pup in the whelping pen and far from being able to come home to us. This meant that I spent a lot of one-on-one time with Jackson to keep him from being lonely and to shower him with all of the human attention before his new puppy sister came and changed the dynamic of the house, making the best of the sad situation that had left him an only dog.

Halfway through our walk that day I came across a lawn service truck in a neighbor’s yard and a man spraying the grass with some sort of spray. With canine cancer still weighing heavily on my mind following Maggie’s death, we took a very wide path around the truck and the man spraying chemicals into the yard.

Jax chillin in our yard
Jax chillin in our yard

Later that evening, as I watched Jax performing his normal grooming activities which included a lot of paw licking, I started to obsess over the other yards that we may have walked through with potentially toxic chemicals or contaminants. The more I thought about it, the more uneasy I became.

Some yards were marked with signs, but what about the DIY treatments that can be applied by the homeowner? How many yards had we walked through that had been treated with products available at home improvement stores? I had no way of knowing what Jackson had on his paws as he trotted along happily, innocently smelling the grass and the dog version of the trending stories of the day.

I remember jumping up as I watched him licking himself clean and filling up a large container with warm water and his organic shampoo and another container with clear water. I called him over and washed all of his paws, swishing them through the soapy mixture, rinsing them, and then drying them between his paw pads. I grabbed a wash cloth and wet it with warm water and ran it all over his body, his head, jowls and even his nose. And then I Googled.

It seems I was extremely late to the game associating lawn treatments with the rising number of canine cancer cases. I was astounded that it never clicked in my head before, although this is the first time I have lived in a subdivision, where the lawn is king and people obsess over the state of their grass. Growing up in a rural lake community in northern New Jersey, most of our property was in the woods, with two grassy areas that Dad mowed weekly but did not tend to much more than that. Once I moved out on my own after college I never noticed the companies spraying toxins onto the grass.  I was too oblivious in my 20s and in my 30s because I did not get home from my commute until 6:30.

Here are some of the things that I found.This is an extraordinarily small sampling of the information available online. 

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.

Watch for my next blog on www.lovelaughwoof.com to read about the measures that we take in our home to protect Jackson and Tinkerbell from the impact of potentially deadly lawn care products from neighboring lawns and parks.