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Pets, Pests and Pesticides

by Gordon Ramel B.Sc, M.Phil

Pets are often our most treasured possessions. They are a part of our family and we tend to pamper them, but they do require thoughtful management in all areas relating to pest control. There are three aspects to this, "Pets as Pests", "Pets supporting Pests", and "Pets and Chemicals".

Firstly, Pets as Pests.

1) As much as we may not like to admit it our pets can be pests, both to ourselves and to other people. Controlling them is often as much an art as a science, common sense is an invaluable asset when dealing with pets. If you are going to keep pets indoors then you will need to toilet train them, and be patient during the process. However you cannot train them to stay out of certain areas, such as a child's bedroom and for this you will need to use physical barriers such as 'Silent Screen' if you desire airflow.

2) Pets outside are a different problem, cats in particular can not be contained easily and may well consider any nearby garden as their toilet. There are two proven approaches to this. The first is an organic product, basically it is pellets soaked in essence of lion poo, cats are territorial and will avoid a garden they think has a lion living in it. The second is electronic and involves infrared detectors and an ultrasonic emitter. In the UK this approach is recommended by the RSPB as being very bird friendly.

3) Keeping dogs out of your garden can best be done by fencing, if you are a dog owner remember to be responsible for preventing your dog from fowling a neighbor's lawn. It is also your responsibility to train your dog to be quiet.

4)Finally neutering your cat will solve the problems associated with spraying and midnight singing as well as help reduce the number of feral cats in the world.

Secondly, Pets as Supporters of Pests

1) Pets support pests in two main ways. The first is on and in their own bodies. Ticks, fleas and worms can all be easily controlled by chemical measures and do not need to be a problem. However you need to follow several basic rules. Always use EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) registered products, these have been tested to be safe for use. Always read the label and read all of it, and having read it follow the instructions fully. Keep the product in the box it came in along with all the paper work that came with it until the product is completely used up. Never use a product designed for cats on a dog or vice versa, and never use pesticides on sick, injured, pregnant or lactating animals without authorisation from a vet. Finally if you have concerns about counterfeit products visit the following EPA website on the subject.

2) The second way that pests support pests is through their ordinary living... in their bedding, food and feces. Pets do not need food available 24/7 and can pass through the night without water. The best approach is to offer food at one or more regular times and remove what is not eaten an half an hour or so later to either be disposed of or safely stored. Any food left uneaten over night will feed flies as well all manner of other pests including rodents. Remember to clean your pets feeding bowl after they have used it, the scraps they leave behind look like a feast toinsect pests. Furthermore store pet foods in clip down bins, dry dog or cat food in a bulk paper bag is an open invitation to Ants, Beetles, Cockroaches and Rodents, and bird seed is also a bonanza for many pests.

3) Keep your pet's living quarters clean. Cats and dogs naturally shed hair, birds throw seed around... all this is food to pests. Be fastidious about cleaning the litter box and your animals' bedding and you will greatly reduce the opportunities for pests to take advantage of your pets.

Thirdly Pets and Pesticides Don't Mix

1) Ask your pest control expert about the pet-friendly qualities of the products they are planning to use and ask about alternatives to chemical pesticides. Remember... pets have smaller bodies and faster metabolisms than us, so err on the side of safety

2) Whenever you are using pesticides inside a house, make sure pets are in another room or out of the house until such times as the work is finished and any pesticide residues are cleared up. If using an aerosol product turn off the air pump for the fish tank until the treatment is finished and the air fully refreshed.

3) Be wary of using snail and slug control products in any area of the garden your pets have access to, which is just about the whole garden for cats, if you must use such products use one that is guaranteed safe for pets and wildlife.

4) Pesticides on lawns and outdoor active pets, particularly dogs, are not a good combination. Pets cannot read warning labels and get a great deal closer to the chemicals than we do, they wear no clothes and lie, sit and roll around in the grass. This means they can acquire a relatively large does of a pesticide very quickly. Furthermore both cats and dogs will eat grass or chew other items they find, such as dying insects. This also applies to children of course.

5) Be aware that pets that cross or play on lawns recently treated with pesticides can easily bring pesticide residues into the home and leave them on the furnishings and carpet. Many pesticides require the presence of sunlight to promote their breakdown, once out of the sunlight they can linger for much longer than the label states.

6) Pets that have been poisoned by accidental contact with a pesticide will often betray the fact by behaving in an unusual manner such as salivating, vomiting or by displaying a lack of co-ordination. If you think your pet has been accidentally poisoned by a pesticide, take them to a veterinarian immediately.

Finally, be aware that while pets, like children, give us a lot of joy, they also bring responsibilities with them. They cannot read and are eternally curious and like to play with objects they find, which includes chewing, so it is advisable to store all pest control substances and other poisonous products in a sturdy lockable cabinet and keep it locked. In this way you will protect not only your own pets but also your children and any visiting pets and children.

The author, Gordon Ramel B.Sc, M.Phil , set up the first online "Ask an Expert" forum on entomology in 1996, and is a practicing entomologist currently employed by Wetland Kerkini, the largest National Park in Greece, and is the author of the Earthlife Web, including the chapters on insects and arachnids

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