Imagine I am your neighbor or we are sitting across from each other over a cup of coffee. I am not a scientist or even a pet health expert, but I do have a story to tell that may save a life.
In the summer of 2009 I began to notice that my dog, Max was having trouble urinating. I took him to his veterinarian who determined that Max (a six year old West Highland White Terrier) had an enlarged prostate. This was rare, according to the veterinarian, being Max was a neutered dog. For the next two months we explored the condition and by September 2009 Max was officially diagnosed with TCC, (Transitional Cell Carcinoma) a form of bladder cancer. We understood the diagnosis to be fatal so our only concern was maintaining Max’s quality of life for as long as we could. He wasn’t expected to live beyond six months. Max died on January 6th 2010. Naturally I needed answers. Max had been a young, vibrant and healthy dog. What could have caused this cancer in my dog?
Three weeks after his death I began my discovery by calling Max’s Oncologist to discuss the cancer further and explore possible causes. I was told that this cancer is typically spontaneous and some breeds are more susceptible to this cancer than others, however there were some studies linking TCC to the exposure of herbicides and pesticides. After this conversation I began to recall that we had used a nationally known lawn care service for Max’s entire life. As a matter of fact we had chosen to purchase the home with the biggest and best yard for our little dog and we concentrated efforts to grow and maintain a gorgeous green lawn for him. He loved his yard so much. When I first hired this lawn care company I asked if their products were safe for pets; their answer was a definite “YES”. I trusted their professional opinion, followed their simple direction to “keep your pet off of the treated areas for at least an hour or so after treatment”, and never thought about it again.
I realize there are folks out there who already take precautions in regard to their pets and chemically treated lawns. I however was simply unaware of the dangers and made a very bad choice regarding the health of my animal friend. Can Max’s death raise awareness and prevent similar mistakes from happening? I say “YES!”
Considering there are four breeds who are predisposed to TCC; Shetland Sheepdogs, West Highland White Terriers, Beagles, and Scottish Terriers, we call on breeders and veterinarians to make new dog owners aware that their specific breed should be protected from chemically treated lawns and public areas. Exposure to herbicide-treated lawns and gardens increases the risk of bladder cancer by four to seven times in Scottish Terriers, according to a study by Purdue University veterinary researchers published in the April 15, 2004 issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medicine Association. The study adds to earlier research conducted by the National Institutes of Health that found elevated rates of canine lymphoma in dogs exposed to lawn pesticides (1991). (There are many additional reports of health issues in all breeds exposed to chemically treated lawns) Dr. Glickman, a professor of epidemiology and environmental medicine in Purdue’s School of Veterinary Medicine exclaims, “While we hope to determine which of the many chemicals in lawn treatments are responsible, we also hope the similarity between human and dog genomes will allow us to find the genetic predisposition toward this form of cancer found in both Scotties and certain people.” According to the National Cancer Institute, about 38,000 men and 15,000 women are diagnosed with bladder cancer each year.
Dr. Glickman (as a result of his comprehensive study of Scottish Terriers and TCC) determined that it is possible the active ingredient in most lawn and garden sprays – a compound known by its chemical name of 2,4-D – was to blame, although Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not classified it as a carcinogen despite other epidemiological studies linking it to cancer in dogs and people. However, he said it also is possible that one of the so-called inert ingredients in the mixture-ingredients which often make up nearly two-thirds of a treatment’s volume – could be responsible for the increased risk. Unfortunately for consumers the EPA has not required disclosure by pesticide manufacturers of any inert ingredients in their products. According to an article by Marla Cone, Editor in Chief of Environmental Health News, An inert ingredient is anything added to a pesticide that does not kill or control a pest. In some cases, those ingredients are toxic, but companies do not identify them on pesticide labels. For 11-years, EPA denied petitions seeking disclosure of the chemicals. Thankfully Marla Cone also reports the reversing of a decade-old decision by the EPA this past December in its plan to require pesticide manufacturers to disclose to the public the inert ingredients in their products.
Is it possible that a company’s non-disclosure of inert ingredients is the loophole used to claim their products are safe for pets?
As I had mentioned, if the breeder I had purchased my dog from or the veterinarian I first took my dog to for his initial puppy exam had warned me or better yet provided me with a simple pamphlet discussing the dangers of so called, “pet safe” chemicals – my Max would likely still be alive today.
I invite you to join The MaxMe Project, a grassroots movement whose mission is to assist in the dissemination of information regarding these issues and hopefully a base for support in the design and distribution of information pamphlets addressing these concerns for new pet owners everywhere. We intend to solicit Veterinary Medical Associations, Breeder Associations and the like in hopes of developing such a disclosure for new pet owners. Furthermore, we hope to continue to increase awareness regarding the dangers of chemically treated lawns both in the private residential sector and the larger community sector in areas such as our community parks, golf courses, etc. We believe if you research and learn and in turn tell your neighbor or a friend over coffee we can each make a difference one yard at a time. For those of us who are concerned about maintaining a healthy yard while maintaining a healthy environment for our pets, there are many organic lawn care options available.
Our mission continues with a call to “Max Your Yard” by signing the National Declaration on the Use of Toxic Lawn Pesticides,, by the National Coalition for Pesticide-Free Lawns. You can find this declaration by visiting www.pesticidefreelawns.org