These Products Effectively Kill Weeds Without Harming Pets
As flowers begin to bloom this spring, it's inevitable that we'll soon notice the pesky weeds growing right beside them. Before turning to weed killers that could be potentially toxic for our four-legged friends, consider a pet-friendly weed killer that works as a safer alternative for pets and other outdoor animals.
Most pet-friendly products rely on recognizable household ingredients, like concentrated vinegar, dish soap, or salt. These low-toxicity products can tackle many weeds without covering the yard in unfamiliar chemicals that can be a cause for concern when pets are playing outside.
If you already have a traditional chemical weed killer (such as one containing glyphosate), don't throw it out quite yet. Highly effective glyphosate weed killers can still be safe for pets as long as they are used appropriately, according to a study from the University of Maryland. Whether you are ready to try a new pet-friendly product or want to use up an old product in an animal-safe way, here's everything you need to know about how to keep your pets away from potentially unsafe weed killers.
How to Best Protect Pets from Weed Killers
Tina Wismer, DVM, and the senior director of the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, says that many pets get exposed to weed killers when they are outside with their owner while gardening and lick a wet weed that has just been chemically treated. In order to avoid this, make sure you keep pets inside while spraying any chemicals, and keep them away from the treated area until the weed killer is fully dried.
"Always make sure to follow label directions when applying weed killers," Wismer says. "Keep pets off the treated area until it is dry—could be minutes or hours depending on the humidity."
Other pets are exposed not during the application of the weed killer, but when it is stored incorrectly. Dogs can mistake gardening products for toys, says Whitmer, and when "playing," they can ingest unsafe weed killers. To prevent this, pet owners should store their weed killers in an unreachable spot for animals and away from food sources.
This storage rule applies regardless of whether pet owners are using harsh herbicides or natural remedies: ingesting concentrated vinegar can cause many of the same illness symptoms in dogs as other chemical weed killers.
What to Look for in Pet-Safe Weed Killer
Many pet owners have begun turning to natural acid alternatives instead of potentially unsafe herbicides containing glyphosate after health-related lawsuits. Popular products to replace glyphosate usually contain concentrated vinegar, clove oil, or citric acid.
Erica Irish, DVM, who practices in Minneola, Fla., and works as a consultant for BetterPet, says that concentrated vinegar can be less toxic than other herbicides, but most pets will be perfectly safe with any weed killer as long as their owners are correctly following the directions for applying it. No matter the product (vinegar-based or otherwise), you will want to keep animals away during its application and drying period.
"As far as safety goes—the active ingredient in vinegar, acetic acid, is in a lot of the stuff that we will use, like certain ear cleaners," Irish says. "So, safety-wise, it may be a little better than more commercial products. But, then there's also the question of how effective it will be."
If you're especially worried about harsh chemicals in your yard, use a weed killer with more familiar ingredients like concentrated vinegar. But, if the natural weed killers are not doing the trick, then Irish says pet owners can still use more traditional weed killers as long as they carefully follow directions or hire professionals to apply the chemicals.
RELATED: 8 Tips to Create a Dog-Friendly Yard
Key Ingredients to Avoid in Weed Killer
There are many toxic herbicide ingredients that pet owners may want to avoid, but the danger often corresponds to how much of the product your pet ingests. Merck Veterinary Manual details over 130 products that can cause poisoning at different levels, but here are some common herbicide chemicals to avoid:
This common herbicide has been linked to health risks in humans and animals, though the scientific community is split on the issue, and it continues to be evaluated. The National Pesticide Information Center warns that glyphosate can be toxic if animals touch or eat plants that are covered in the chemical while still wet. The NPIC says if your pet ingests glyphosate, they can show signs of vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, or drowsiness.
This toxic chemical is recognized as the most dangerous weed killer, according to Wismer. It can accumulate in the lungs and can cause scarring leading to difficulty breathing. It is primarily only available to licensed operators, but it is worth pet owners being aware of its danger.
This pesticide ingredient is one that Irish says many pet owners avoid because of its high toxicity and its potential for harming an animal's nervous system.
The Best Pet-Safe Weed Killers
Green Gobbler Vinegar Weed & Grass Killer
With a formula of 20 percent vinegar, the Green Gobbler promises to eliminate any type of weed within 24 hours. It is especially effective for invasive and widespread weeds like clover, crab grass, or dollarweed. This weed killer is non-selective, though, so only spray it on areas where you want all growth ceased—in other words, do not expect it to spare your perfectly green lawn.
The Green Gobbler boasts more than 4,000 five-star reviews on Amazon. One purchaser said, "I purchased this product because I wanted to reduce the number of weeds in my backyard, which is the yard my dogs primarily use. Having lost one dog to lymphoma and knowing that they all like to munch on backyard 'greens,' I was looking for something non-toxic while still being effective. Green Gobbler fits the bill."
Shop now: Green Gobbler Vinegar Weed & Grass Killer, $25; amazon.com
Harris 20% Vinegar Extra Strength
When looking for a non-toxic weed killer, Harris' 20 percent concentrated vinegar is hard to beat. Spray the pure vinegar on invasive patches of weeds to kill them, but keep in mind that it will kill any plant or grass it comes into contact with. The concentrated vinegar can still irritate skin and lungs, so make sure you keep pets inside and wear protective gear while applying it.
Shop now: Harris 20% Vinegar Weed Killer, $15; homedepot.com
Just For Pets Pet Friendly & Pet Safe Weed Killer
The "Just For Pets" all-natural weed killer boasts a fast-drying formula that will not harm animals. This pet-friendly herbicide relies on a combination of common ingredients, including vinegar, citric acid, salt, clove oil, and lemon juice. Be careful where you spray it though because it will kill any greenery it touches! A bonus for pet owners: A portion of each sale is donated to animal shelters nationwide.
A five-star reviewer of the "Just For Pets" weed killer said, "I was skeptical but wanted to give it a try since we have dogs and toddlers and try to avoid the harsh chemicals. We had some very heavily overgrown weeds in some flower beds and this stuff worked amazingly! Killed everything we sprayed overnight!"
Shop now: Just For Pets Pet Safe Weed Killer, $30; amazon.com
Doctor Kirchner Natural Weed & Grass Killer
This pet-safe weed killer from Doctor Kitchner relies on ocean salt water, vinegar, and soap to disrupt photosynthesis and kill pesky weeds. Like many natural weed killers, the product is non-selective, so only spray it on areas where you want all of the vegetation killed.
One five-star reviewer said, "I have pets and generally grow organically, but have some stubborn weeds that don't respond well to being pulled by hand. This is a great alternative. I wish it wasn't so expensive, but given how effective it is, I'll deal with the cost. Instead of spending an hour or more weeding my gravel path, it took less than ten minutes to spray this."
Shop now: Doctor Kirchner Natural Weed & Grass Killer, $20; amazon.com
Bonide Ready-to-Use Burnout Weed and Grass Killer
The "Burnout Weed and Grass Killer" promises to disintegrate any greenery in its path. The all-natural Bonide product is a good option for anyone with a nose that is particularly sensitive to vinegar: Many reviewers say the clove oil and citric acid formula offers a more pleasant smell than other products. Once fully dried, the formula is waterproof, making it particularly safe for humans and pets.
Shop now: Bonide Weed and Grass Killer, $29; amazon.com
Natural Armor Weed and Grass Killer
In its organic formula, Natural Armor's herbicide uses vinegar, salt and citrus ingredients, and essential oils to stop the growth of weeds in mere hours. As with many other products, the weed killer is non-selective, so use it carefully around prized plants. This product does best when applied on warm, sunny days.
Shop now: Natural Armor Weed and Grass Killer, $30; amazon.com
ECO Garden PRO - Organic Vinegar Weed Killer
This ready-to-use product uses organic white vinegar and Himalayan rock salt to eliminate yard weeds without harming pets. Since it is a non-selective product, this organic weed killer is especially useful when targeting weeds that pop up on driveways, sidewalks, or parking lots. It tackles everything from widespread clover to poison ivy without creating a dangerous environment for pets.
A five-star reviewer wrote, "We had a lot of weeds and crabgrass in our yard, but we also have dogs. It was hard to find a weed killer that was organic and safe for my pets but worked. This does the job."
Shop now: ECO Garden PRO Weed Killer, $27; amazon.com