I recently learned how frustrating it is to want to kill problem insects in the yard, but keep my pets safe. I was scouring the small print on the insecticide labels, looking for which I could use around pets. I wanted it to work, and was skeptical of the “natural, organic” ones with only some smelly oils as active ingredients. To boot, some things that are natural are actually highly toxic! Natural does not equal safe – ever! You have to judge each ingredient on its own merits. Life is complicated.
Good news – there are many name-brand options that actually are safe for use around pets! They are not marketed as “safe” or “natural”, I guess because they’re afraid people will think they won’t work? And no, these aren’t off brands, but name brands that work! Here’s what to look for. And yes, you’ll have to read the “active ingredients” in the tiny font on the lower part of the label. If you’re over 40, bring your reading glasses.
Ivermectin / Avermectin
Does this word look familiar? It should! I talk about it my article on heartworm preventatives. Because it’s what we feed our dogs every month when we give heartworm pills! So yes, ivermectin is safe. It is often found in ant traps. When a dog eats one, I am never worried about the “ant killing ingredient” hurting the dog. I care more about the plastic or metal container causing an intestinal obstruction if the dog ate it! And if you’re thinking you can save money by buying ant traps instead of heartworm preventatives, sorry. The concentration in them is rather low.
If you’ve had your house treated for termites, there’s a good chance they used this. It can be found in insect traps, as well as several insect-killing products. This name may sound familiar as well – it’s the active ingredient in many over-the-counter flea and tick treatments designed for dogs and cats. Think Frontline, Pet Armor, etc. Fipronil kills insects and arachnids (spiders and ticks). It’s allegedly safe enough to drink (wouldn’t recommend it though – it does NOT taste good!) So if that’s the active ingredient in your insecticide, your pet is very safe!
This is the active ingredient in Advantage, another flea preventative designed for use on dogs and cats. Again, fleas are insects, so kill them on pets is no different than killing them on plants. And if it kills fleas, it kills other insects as well. If you are treating your garden and your dog walks by, no worries! Like the fipronil products, the concentration is low, so I would not recommend using it on your pet to control fleas. Buy the stuff made for pets for that.
Pyrethrin / Permethrin (but no cats!)
These can both be considered “natural” – they even come from flowers! (Yet, read on, and you’ll see that Permethrin is by no means safe for cats!) They are compounds that were used in pet flea products before the more modern solutions came out (ie -Fipronil and Imidicloprid). While we vets do not recommend using them on pets, there are still many low-cost products on store shelves today marketed for pets. They don’t work all that well on pets, but they do work on the garden! Reason being – they do not have any staying power on pets. So if your pet has fleas and you treat with a product using these ingredients, the fleas die, and an hour later the whole new generation hatches. Square one. Warning – permethrins are highly toxic to cats. People who buy the cheap dog flea killer with permethrin (different from pyrethrin) and put it on the cat then get to spend the next few hours in a vet clinic with a seizuring cat. Not all of them live. So don’t chance it. Consult your vet on which flea product to use on your pet. However, these ingredients are generally safe if you’re treating the garden and the dog wants to watch.
Even though these are safe, still read the label and follow directions. Don’t apply them directly to your pet ever, but use the labeled products for pets. Why? These are the active ingredients, which often make up about 1% of what’s in that container. The other 99% are not listed. Obviously, if they were considered toxic they would have to be listed, but why chance it?
Still, these are the ingredients I look for when choosing a product for my yard or home. Some of the other products can be downright fatal if your pet consumes or comes in contact with even a small amount, so why chance having it even around? This is one instance when label reading can do you a lot of good!
Web-DVM guest blogger Dr. Karen Louis is a practicing small animal veterinarian. See more of her articles at her blog at VetChick.com