“Are insecticides safe to use around my pets?” is probably one of the most common questions homeowners have about pest control products. This is a great question…. and important, because when using any pest control product, safety comes first!
The first point to recognize is that pest control products go through a registration process. During this process the Government assesses the safety of the product. When the Government registers the product as suitable for sale, they confirm that the product is safe to use against the pests listed on the labelas long as it is applied according to the label. A pest control label is a legal document – using a pest control product against pests not listed on the label or in a manner not specified on the label is an offence. So read the label before use!
How toxic are pest control products?
In Australia, all products (not just pest control products) receive a Schedule of Poisons. This is an indication of a health hazard, if a person or pet is accidentally exposed to the product (by drinking, coming into contact with the skin or breathing it in). It is pointed out as the signal heading at the top of the product label. For most consumer products this would be “HAZARD”, although there are some higher risk products labeled “POISON” (such as rodenticides). Sometimes, a pest control product does not have a label on the product. These products are “unscheduled”, which means they represent a low risk to consumers, when used according to the label.
Regardless of the product or schedule of the poison, safe use of the product is achieved by reading the label and following all safety instructions before, during and after use. Although individual products often have specific directions regarding use, there are some general safety principles that should be followed. Let’s start with rodenticides, which clearly represent the highest risk to homeowners and their pets.
Use of rodenticide around pets
Rodenticides are designed to kill rodents (rats and mice). However, since rats are also mammals, rodenticides can also have fatal effects on cats, dogs, and humans (if enough of the bait is eaten). Consumer rodenticide products contain anticoagulants. The rodents eat the bait and once they have eaten enough, the anticoagulant thins the blood and the rodent bleeds internally, falls asleep and dies.
In general there are two types of rodenticide bait, one containing warfarin (1st generation anti-coagulant) and those containing 2nd generation anticoagulants (such as brodifacoum, bromadialone and difethialone). Warfarin is less toxic than the 2nd generation anticoagulants, which means that rats have to eat a lot of bait to get a lethal dose. In contrast, rodents usually only need one feed of bait with a 2nd generation anticoagulant to obtain a lethal dose. There was also a difference in the speed of action of warfarin which tended to take longer to act, with the mice often taking two weeks to die. 2nd generation products often control rodents for 4-7 days.
As the food component of rat baits usually consists of various grains, they are attractive to dogs (although they often contain a bitter agent), but generally unattractive to cats (which only eat meat ). However, when using rodenticides it is important to know that anticoagulants remain in the body of rodents after they die. That said, if a pet eats a rodent killed by bait, the pet can still receive a lethal dose of rodenticide. It is therefore important to remove dead mice after the baiting program. Remember that it is possible for your pets to eat rats that have been poisoned by a neighbor, so it is important to know the signs of potential anticoagulant poisoning.
Signs of rodenticide poisoning
- Weak, trembling, unsteady
- Nose bleeding
- Blood in the vomit, dirt
- Bleeding from the rectum, gums
- Bruises under the skin
- Stomach swelling
- Difficulty breathing
- Bloodshot eyes
As with rats, it may take several days for the anti-coagulant to work on your pet, so it may be several hours before these symptoms are noticed. Even if symptoms are not visible, if rodenticide poisoning is suspected contact your veterinarian immediately, as early intervention is essential to successful treatment.
You should think carefully about using rodenticides around children and pets. If you decide to use a rodenticide, take the following precautions;
- Use warfarin based bait (may take longer to control rodents, but safer)
- Always place the bait in a lockable bait station
- Make sure the bait stays at the station (rats love to take food home with them!)
- Place the bait station in a place out of the reach of children and pets
- Check your property (inside and out) for dead mice (at least every morning)
- Get rid of mice by putting a bag, seal and put in a bin with a lid (wear gloves).
- Always keep rodenticides in a locked cupboard out of the reach of children and pets.
Using mouse traps around pets
An alternative to using rodenticide baits is to use traps. Various traps are available in the market. Successful rat control using traps often requires more patience and skill than using rat baits (as well as a good trap design). From a safety point of view, any snap traps should be placed away from children or pets or placed in a lockable station to prevent injury to fingers or feet.
Use an insecticide spray around pets
When using an insecticide spray (pump pack, aerosol or fogger/bomb), all animals should be excluded from the treatment area during application and not allowed to re-enter the area until the treatment has dried. Generally speaking the main risk is from the spray, which is absorbed through the skin as a liquid. Once it dries, the risk is taken.
Fish tanks and ponds should be covered before spraying an area with an insecticide.
Many insecticide sprays are very toxic to aquatic life, especially fish. So if you use pest control products indoors, make sure any aquariums are completely covered to prevent the spray from entering the water. Similarly, make sure any outdoor ponds are completely covered before spraying and avoid spraying when wind direction has the potential to blow the spray into the pond or nearby waterways. . Although sprays are generally mildly toxic to mammals, they can be highly toxic to fish and therefore small amounts in a pond can be fatal.
Use cockroach and ant bait around pets
Most consumer cockroach and ant baits on the market today have low toxicity to mammals. In addition, it is usually used in small quantities, which reduces the chance of an adverse event from accidental poisoning. However, placing bait at bait stations and placing baits out of reach of pets will help prevent any accidental ingestion. As we know, dogs are always hungry and want to smell food. Baits contain food materials that are very attractive to dogs. They can be persistent in their efforts to get their snouts and paws under the cupboards to retrieve the bait if they like the smell – so make sure they are out of reach!
Use of insecticide granules around pets
There are some granular insecticide products on the market that are designed to be spread on lawns and pavers. An example of this type of product is insecticide ant sands that are often used to control ants. Make sure that the pets are always clear during the application and that the treatment is spread evenly (no piles of product). Animals may be admitted to the treatment area after application. Although it may seem unlikely that a pet would eat sand, dogs often eat a lot of strange things and they have been known to get into a pile of sand!
As with insecticide sprays, make sure that any insecticide granules are not used near ponds or waterways.
Should I use personal insect repellents on dogs and cats?
Personal insect repellents should not be used on pets for protection against mosquitoes, fleas or scratches, because these products are not specified for use on the label. For on-pet protection from insect pests, consult your veterinarian.
So the basic rule is just one, read the label before use, follow the instructions and take appropriate precautions, to protect your family and pets….. and key.
Point to note: Owning pets can make your home more attractive to pests – animal waste and pet food provide breeding sites and nutrition. So good home maintenance and good hygiene practices become more important. With preventive actions to eliminate pest outbreaks, you can avoid using pest control products altogether! (Top 30 pest prevention tips).
Please note that the information contained in this blog is general and is not a substitute for product label information. If in doubt, contact the product manufacturer before applying. If your pets have accidentally come into contact with or ingested a pest control product (or you suspect they have), call your local Vet.