Pet-safe Pesticides?
March 17, 2007 6:13 PM   Subscribe

As usual, we skipped spring here in Texas and went straight to what my Yankee self considers summer. And with summer in Texas comes bugs -- fire ants, chinch bugs, and all kids of other assortments of creepie crawlies. Normally I'd simply diazinon the entire yard and just fuhgetabout it, but this year -- I have a puppy. A puppy that likes eating digging in dirt and rubbing her nose in it.

My dog's a 1 year old Rhodesian Ridgeback mix, and I love her to death. I don't want to do anything that could possibly risk her, but at the same time -- my yard will become one giant fire ant colony and the homeowner's association will be all over my ass because chinch bugs will have eaten my entire lawn if I leave the yard untreated.

Oh, and ... she also *loves* eating bugs. I haven't had to kill a spider since she moved in. If the pesticide takes a while to build up before it kills the bug, would she be at risk after she eats her billionth roly-poly?

My understanding is that diazinon and other 'apply once' pesticides stay in the soil for the entire season. I also know that they're incredibly harmful to household pets.

What can I treat the yard with that will be safe for my dog? I can keep her inside during the day for a few days to allow it to soak into the soil and do it's thing. But is that enough? What's safe? What do I need to take into consideration?
posted by SpecialK to Home & Garden (4 answers total)
The "nuke and pave" approach to pest control is not as good as a more selective approach, in my North Florida experience. Fire ants are best kept at bay with a bait such as Amdro. This stuff works at very, very low amounts, but you do need to walk your lawn frequently (about weekly at the beginning of the season especially) and treat any new mounds with a teaspoon or two of the stuff. It's quite effective, and you can watch the little buggers picking up the Amdro granules and hauling them down to feed their queen. 48-72 hours later, you'll see no activitity at all from treated mounds, and it's the only thing I've found that will eradicate infestations that get under concrete sidewalks or driveways.

Cinch bugs and other pests can be still be handled safely by topical applications of broadband pesticides, but stick to recommended label application rates. I use triazine based products in both weed and insect control programs. They are effective in low dosages, if applied as directed, under favorable conditions (morning applications, granular products immediately watered in, not applied within 24 hours of rain, etc.). You can supplement the overall lawn applications at the beginning and middle of the summer growing seasons with "band treatments" around the perimeter of your house foundation, for additional help in controlling insects in your home. You need to understand that the most effective low dosage insecticides work by disrupting growth and reproduction of insects, so that you establish "control" over a period of time, of perhaps a few days to a few weeks, depending on the reproduction cycles of the various insect species. You shouldn't be looking for instant "kill" and no visible bugs immediately. So, don't be tempted to over-apply product, and stick to recommeded package application methods and rates, and you and your dog will be fine.

To do a band treatment with the granular form of Triazicide, you cut your grass and ornamentals back as much as you can in a two foot wide perimeter around your home's foundation. Then using a disposable plastic cup or scoop, sprinkle the pellets as evenly as you can, at a rate recommended by package directions, all around the house, using a broadcasting motion to get even coverage throughout the 2 foot perimeter ribbon. Generally, you only need the equivalent of a good handful of Triazicide to do 4 to 5 linear feet of the band, so a 20 pound bag will do 2 or perhaps 3 band treatments for an 1800 square foot home. You may want to toss an additional handful of the material into flower beds or other areas where insects maybe specially attracted. Water the granules into the soil immediately thereafter. Repeating band treatments every 6 weeks or so in warm weather will stop ants and most spiders from being seen in your home, without materially affecting availability of insects for songbirds and other wildlife.

Here in Florida, we have bazillions of anoles and green lizards, and I feel I'm getting effective insect control so long as I see no spiders, ants or beetles indoors, no fire ant mounds in the lawn, and still see plenty of anoles and hear songbirds regularly. You don't want to try to suppress all insect life, just encourage them to live where you don't, in numbers that won't be visibly harmful to your landscaping. And you still have to water and do herbicide control in sufficient amounts to keep your lawn healthy, which, depending on the heat you get in summer, can wash away residual pesticide levels, or supply enough moisture to encourage additional generations of short lived insects. The general rule is that, if you have to water heavily, or get torrential rains, you may need to apply both additional fertilizer, herbicide and pesticide, in moderation to equalize for the amounts you lose prematurely in runoff or groundwater absorption.

My dog digs holes in our sandy back yard all the time. He thinks that's his main job, and he's quite proud of the number and depth of holes he can produce in a single day, and for a 55 pound mixed breed mutt, he's really good at it, frequently digging 2 or 3 holes a foot to 16 inches deep, and a couple feet across in a single morning. We've never seen any sign of trouble with him in the last 3 years, following this regimen, although we ensure he can't dig in the higher density "band zone" treatment areas. We try to discourage him from eating insects, as much as possible, as we have a number of nasty indigenous spiders and beetles here, and for the most part, our dog is not much interested in them, as he's well fed, and doesn't stay outside all the time, due to summer heat.
posted by paulsc at 7:13 PM on March 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

Check with the Texas Department of Agriculture. Not your usual resource, but they have experts on this exact subject.
posted by IronLizard at 11:37 PM on March 17, 2007

Or the county agent, which is similar, but this list will have your county on it separately, so a little more local way of accessing the info. We <3 the county agent; you get to talk to people like entomology professors, who seem to enjoy sharing what they know, and will give you permission to exterminate things with a clear conscience and without laying waste to the countryside.
posted by unrepentanthippie at 11:11 AM on March 18, 2007

Boric acid is non-toxic to you and your pup, but will kill roaches and ants and other bugs.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 12:14 PM on March 18, 2007

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