When I go for my daily walks in my suburban neighborhood this time of year, not a day goes by that someone hasn’t just fertilized their lawn. I can see the granules on the sidewalk, and sometimes, I can even smell the chemicals. I am strongly opposed to the use of chemical fertilizers, and I don’t understand the obsession with flawless green lawns. But mostly, I worry about the effect lawn chemicals have on the cats who come in contact with them – and that can happen even if your cats never leave the house.

There is no question that lawn fertilizers and pesticides are hazardous to pets, humans and the environment. Pets can absorb pesticides through their paws and ingest them when licking or grooming themselves. In addition, pets can be exposed to pesticides when they eat grass.

Lawn chemicals tracked indoors contaminate air and surfaces inside the home

But that’s not where the danger ends. You also bring some of the chemicals found in fertilizers and pesticides indoors on your shoes. The EPA has well-documented evidence that pesticides impact indoor air quality by being tracked indoors, contaminating the air and surfaces inside residences and exposing children and pets at levels ten that are often higher than pre-application levels.

Signs of pesticide poisoning

Pesticide poisoning is always an emergency situation and requires immediate veterinary attention. Symptoms of pesticide poisoning are:

• Excessive salivation
• Tearing of the eyes
• Excessive urination
• Muscle twitching
• Weakness
• Difficult breathing
• Collapse
• Nausea
• Vomiting
• Abdominal pain
• Weakness
• Dizziness
• Unsteady gait

Repeated exposure to phenoxy herbicides like 2,4-D may affect the liver, kidneys, gastrointestinal tract and muscles. Pesticides containing chlorophenoxy acids can cause anemia, neutropenia (low white blood cell count), and thrombocytopenia (low platelet count.).

Keep cats (and humans) safe from lawn chemicals

The sad thing is that it’s so easy to keep cats (and humans for that matter) safe from these harmful chemicals: simply stop using them! There are plenty of natural and organic alternatives that are not only safer for your pets, but also friendlier to the environment.

If you have cats that go outside, consider keeping them indoors during the time of year when fertilizer use is most rampant. And even if your cats never go outside, remember to take your shoes off before you go inside the house so you don’t track residual chemicals inside. It doesn’t take a large dose of these toxic substances to cause a potentially deadly problem.

As for my own lawn, it’s survival of the fittest: I don’t fertilize at all. I also don’t water. And you know what? Every year, my lawn turns green in the spring, and grows through the summer. It gets mowed every couple of weeks. If I had my way, I wouldn’t even do that, I’d grow wildflowers and enjoy an even more natural look. Unfortunately, my homeowners association frowns on that. My lawn may not look as “perfect” as some of the lawns in my neighborhood, but I know that it’s safe for the critters that live in my backyard, and for any dogs or cats that may be passing through.

Image Pixabay stock photo

This post was first published in 2014 and has been updated.

75 Comments on How Lawn Chemicals Affect Your Cats, Even Indoor Cats

  1. i only use natural things to kill the grass, vinegar and hot water, salt, are one way. there are some pet safety products that you can use. they are expensive though, i think home depot carries them as well as Walmart. i put down diatomaceous earth, which i get from Tractor Supply, it is human grade that they put in the cow fields, to kill bugs.

  2. My kitties are indoors only. I’ve had concerns about the fertilizer that they use in our apartment complex. I do what I can not to walk through the grass so that I don’t get any of it on my shoes and clothes, but I can’t always help it. I agree with you – the best practice is not to use chemical fertilizers.

  3. While I admit I have no medical training whatsoever, I do pride myself on having good common sense! When I lost my first cat (a few centuries ago LOL) to cancer at 10 years of age I was devastated but somehow I just knew that dying that young of such a devastating disease wasn’t normal for cats. Healthy felines can live 20 years or more.

    After losing 2 other cats over the years (both rescues) too early in life also to cancer, I’ve come to believe we are harming them with inappropriate food, nasty chemicals and too many vaccinations even for indoor cats (do we humans get all new shots every year or two or three–nope, we don’t so why do they?). Many will disagree about the shots but really IMHO their little bodies simply are not built to withstand poor diets along with so many chemical assaults. Shots are chemicals foreign to their bodies.

    I’m encouraged by so many posts here being opposed to chemical usage on lawns where so many animals hang out (a homeowner up the street sprayed and had beware of chemical signs posted for days). However, such chemicals not only end up on our lawns but in our food (seeds sprayed before planting then plants sprayed right up to harvest often times with a spray truck just ahead of the harvester). Also, consider water quality.

    I now feed canned real meat along with raw food (supplier found through this newsletter), with a hope and a prayer that my little guy now will outlast whatever transpired before I got him. I’ve had him 2 years now and fingers crossed as it is hard to totally protect them today no matter how hard we try.

    But we definitely have to keep trying don’t we . . . we owe our animal companions that much at least because they give so much . . . and a big thumbs way up to all you lawn naturalists–only a wish for us apartment dwellers!!!

  4. It’s nice to have a natural habitat for all animals and birds. Maybe with the fertilizer shortage the lawns will be safer for all the critters. Something good coming out of it.

  5. My cats don’t go outside but I do have strays and other wildlife in my backyard so I don’t use any pesticides. If I have too treat my lawn I look up natural ways. Beside those are killing the insects that we need like the bees,. Everything on this Earth are here for a purpose.

  6. I really don’t care about having a perfect yard. As long as it’s green and cut, that’s all that matters. We don’t use any chemicals on the grass. But I still have a habit of taking shoes off before entering the house because I don’t want anything, (germs or chemicals) coming in the house. I feel my husband is good at it too, but sometimes he gets lazy and walks through the house with them on and I have to remind him.

  7. Here in NZ it isn’t common to fertilize your lawn, most of us don’t have an obsession with keeping a green lawn. We just let them be, no chemicals, no nothing. I prefer my entire garden this way too, I don’t spray chemicals and am against them, there’s no need for them.

  8. Hi,
    Can anyone help me with Mosquito problem. One of my cats is getting bitten on his nose and it’s red and irritated. I’ve been to the vet, got a steroid shot and some topical cream, but I need to solve the problem. My cats are used to going outside when I’m home, and I hate to deprive them of this joy. My eldest has cancer and is undergoing chemo. He is asymptomatic at this time, and I want him to have every joy possible while he is with me. It’s the youngest who is getting bitten. I’ve got a screened in porch which I can use some of the time, but it’s not mosquito proof. I can put up strips, but while doing research none of the the mosquito traps are very highly rated. I don’t want to spray the porch with toxic poison. Even if I spray before I let them out, they could get it on there paws etc. If I use a natural solution, can I spray the cats? Should I spray the screens on the porch? Is there anything I can do that will protect my cats (I use revolution now) while on the porch or to let them out (not at dawn or dusk). Any thoughts/help would be welcome.

    • I know this is a whole season later than Nora’s original post, but I use Cedarcide for both my people and animal family for all kinds of bugs. Natural cedar oil and safe. It is the only thing my husband will use to keep the ticks off in early hunting season in the woods. (This is not a product advertisement!! Just a personal experience for what we have used for years to spray on ourselves, on the pets, inside & outside the house, and it works!)

      • Thanks for sharing your experience, Hillary. I’m not familiar with Cedarcide – I’m assuming this is for outdoor use? I don’t consider any products containing essential oils safe to use around cats.

        • Feel free to go to their website to fully understand its uses. They have different products for different uses.

    • There r Mosquitoes Donuts u can buy n put in your bird bath n it is safe for outdoor cats n their water bowl according to the package. I use them all the time. U can get them at Walmart. Also, dump any standing water n that will help keep down those nasty buggers.

  9. I do not trust what Scotts has to say. They want to sell their product & I’m sure they won’t admit it could be dangerous.

  10. My husband put down Scotts Weed & feed on my back yard,when I was on a trip. He said he was sick of all the weeds. I have two cats,brother & sister that are 12 yrs old. They go out every day & nibble on the grass.
    What do I do now.It rained all day after he applied the Scotts & the cats haven’t been out for 3 days since but they are crying to go out all the time.Do I have to keep them in the house forever? I’m just sick over this.I can’t imagine never letting them out again.

    • I would find contact Scotts to find out how long it takes for the chemicals to dissipate after application before letting your cats out again, Nina.

    • Perhaps you could plant a pot or two of grass inside the house so that your babies have something to nibble on until it’s safe to let them outside?

  11. What about lawn fertilizer? We don’t use any chemical pesticides, but we do use grass fertilizer. You say you don’t fertilize — how bad is it?

      • I’m all for ditching the fertilizer, but this will definitely cause contention. I saw someone mention organic fertilizers. This would only be for grass — the plants kind of fend for themselves, but the grass has always been sparse and patchy. We just need something to “feed” the lawn. Does anyone have any suggestions for a safe fertilizer alternative?

        • Susan, I’ve planted red clover in my lawn as an alternative to fertilizer. It’s a nitrogen-fixing crop, which eliminates the need for additional fertilizers.

          You have to be willing to have “weeds” in your yard, though. I love that it also flowers and provides nectar for bees – I try to do all I can to support bees.

      • Lawn fertilizer, on it’s own, is no more toxic than table salt. Nitrogen, Potassium, and Phosphorus are all naturally occuring elements. It’s the fert with additives, like crabgrass preventer, or weed control that you would need to worry about.
        Even the granular fertilizers with additives would be perfectly safe after being watered in with a sprinkler, or rained on.

        source: 17 years as a certified lawn technician and avid cat lover/owner.

  12. Might putting the shoes in a paper bag just inside the door do the trick for those who need a locale?

    I try to wash my hands before touching the kitty but with the one that feels he must greet us that is difficult.

    Felder Rushing’s web site and podcast might help those neighborhood associations understand the intent of having a lawn that is not just green.(

    and the Gestalt Gardener podcast (

  13. I’m sorry to hear about your area’s Homeowner Area. They sound like a group that would like to see all lawns as Green Carpets. (I imagine they also want to see any homeowner’s garden like a perfect Martha Stewart-type of environment.) But when someone in my town wants a lawn that’s just mother earth-type of an environment, they avoid those perfectionist homeowners by simply calling it something like a natural environment, buying a few of the plants from a Native Greenhouse and putting a sign by those species.

  14. We don’t use chemicals on our lawn either and it is one of the prettiest in our neighborhood IMHO (and a child bicycling into the azaleas accidentally or maybe on purpose complimented me on them.) Our cats are inside but their relatives are not and I always worry about the outside darlings.

    I had been leaning toward taking shoes off on arrival and you have cemented the decision.

    I knew from our vet that some kitty diseases could be brought in and that is why ours remain well vaccinated.

  15. I couldn’t agree more with your last paragraph!!

    I stopped using lawn chemicals 5 yrs ago for my own 1 yr old daughter (at the time) plus a beloved outdoor neighborhood kitty. Never looked back. It’s not a prize winning lawn like it used to be but it is green and when mowed, looks fine.

    As for weeds in beds and various places, I spray vinegar! (All you need is a hot sunny day and they die by days’ end). Go natural!

    • I’m from Bavaria, and manure is still used a lot there!! Doesn’t smell great but certainly better than chemicals. People who use chemicals also don’t consider how much of it goes into the ground water!!!!!

      • I’m originally from Germany, Kat. I’ve been in the US for 30 years, but I’m happy to hear they still use manure as a fertilizer there! Actually, in a weird way, the smell of manure always takes me back to my childhood: we would spend summers on a working farm in Austria, and there was plenty of manure there…LOL…

      • If applied correctly according to the product label, there is no lawn chemical or fertilizer that will effect the groundwater.
        How is allowing our pets to walk around in cow poop teeming with bacteria, any better than manufactured nutrients? Nitrogen, Potassium, and Phosphorus all exist in manure. Only difference between “chemical” fertilizers, and manure, is how those nutrients were broken down and made available for the lawn.

  16. You can get completely organic fertilizers for your yard that is made from chicken waste and not harmful to pets or humans. I’m not sure why it’s necessary to vilify wanting a yard that looks nice. Grass like wildflowers, bulbs, pereniels, or rose bushes needs nutrients to survive.

  17. We get infested with fleas every season. Any good suggestions to kill them off without using a pesticide? Thanks.

  18. I fully agree with the ‘survival of the fittest” part. We do NOT have a homeowner’s to tell us about the yard and it does just fine (no watering, no fertilizer, hardly any mowing and a once in a very long while organic weed kill application) and we live in Georgia. Backyard is about as wild as it can get, we try to take out the brambles that make we welt up and itch. I get a huge laugh when this time of year comes along and all of the landscape companies, Scott’s, everyone, try to tell me that I need to hire them to get rid of the violets, wild strawberry, clover and the ferns that are in my yard. Don’t they realize that the bunnies and the occassional deer are much better tv for the kitties than green grass? LOL. Will mention the tracking to hubby, but most of our neighbors don’t treat their yards (from what I can tell anyways), and we don’t like to walk across their yards-respect thing.
    Thank you for the post. I’ve given a few to my vet. You are appreciated.

  19. We don’t use lawn chemicals here but; I bet some neighbors do. Good to know cause I sure would not want to hurt my kitties or other’s animals.. Thank you for the great post.

  20. And the permethrin. *shudder*. That stuff is just AWFUL.

    We just emailed a very non-chemical weed killer that is made of salt, apple cider vinegar and dawn dish soap to our humans – just as effective, and not very toxic. (well the salt & vinegar aren’t – dawn is still a chemical of sorts.

    • Agreed. Would you post the “recipe” for the homemade weed killer in a comment? While Dawn is still a chemical of sorts, I’d bet it’s a heck of a lot less toxic than pesticides.

      • 1 gallon white or cider vinegar 1 pound of salt, rock or table works and a few drops of dish soap DAWN recommended but any will work, dissolve the salt in te vnegar and add the soap, spray on weeds and within a few hours the weeds will wilt and die.

        • Plain white vinegar works just as well…I pour it right on the targeted weeds…don’t spray because it broadcasts and I don’t want to kill the ‘good weeds’/wild flowers. I just lost a kitty to this pyrethrin time release lawn stuff and another is recovering. The time release pellets can get into puddles around your house…the kitties drink from the puddles or if you have concrete block is absorbed into the concrete and then transferred to the kitties paws. My vet tells me that cats are very sensitive to this type of poison…so no more green pest control for me…pour boiling water on the fire ant mounds and I’ll just have to go back to stomping the scorpions ^^. I am now going to get some red clover seeds and turn the back yard into bee heaven.

          • I’m so sorry about your kitty, Jean. I don’t really care that much about weeds – as far as I’m concerned, if it’s green, and it can be mowed, it’s a lawn – but I recently planted some red clover to fill in some bare patches in my yard, and I love the way it looks. I can’t wait for the bees to move in!

  21. wow. The first thing I do upon entering my home before I touch my cats is wash my hands. I have long since had the habit of not wearing my street shoes inside (I have shoes I only wear around the home and no where else) as a way of not tracking dirt inside, but the exchange takes place in my bedroom. Guess I’ll have to start back to taking my shoes off at the front door or outside before I come in.

    • Washing your hands before touching your cats when coming home is a good practice, especially if you’ve handled other cats while out and about.

  22. I deliberately planted Australian Red Clover in my lawn – not only is it a great nitrogen-fixing crop (eliminating the need for additional fertilizer), but bees love the flowers! I set my mower to its highest height to be sure I chop down as few flowers a possible each time I mow. I laugh whenever Scott’s or other lawn companies leave notices on my door about how I have – OH NOES! – clover in my lawn, and they can take care of that problem for me.

    I also take my shoes off as soon as I come in the door. I have a boot bench there just for that purpose.

  23. As usual another very good and informative post Ingrid. Unfortunately we live in a complex that handles the landscaping so we have very limited control over what they do to the yards. I will definitely look into it though. I always smell that chemical crap people put on their yards when I am walking around this time of year. You mention taking off shoes before you come in, what do you do leave them outside? This might not be real practical for us to do here.

    • I come into my house through the garage and laundry room, so I usually just leave my shoes in the laundry room, which my cats don’t have access to. Even just leaving them just inside your front door would make a difference, at least you wouldn’t be tracking anything further into the house that way.

  24. We have a “tunnel” that is similar to this one except ours has openings at each end….our cats will run thru it….they love it and we find it very entertaining to watch them.

  25. Cannot agree more; there is nothing positive about lawn chemicals, or toxic chemicals in general. Period. Nor pesticides either for that matter. Ask me how I know.

    • I don’t have to ask you….I know too, unfortunately I live in a park where since the cat hating neighbors moved in and made best friends of the park owners…they have done everything within their power to harm or kill my cats…and don’t tell me to call the cops they refuse to do anything about these neighbors regardless of who calls them to complain…now we got notices that they will be spraying chemicals on our yards to kill the crabgrass….in the two hellish years I’ve lived here, they have NEVER done that and now they are…. hummmmm wonder why…..and they’re determined to really spray my yard down good….I fear for myself and my cats but can’t afford to move so all I do is pray. Should be a law that says you can’t spray others lawns without a weeks notice and their permission in writing because I would never approve them spraying but they own the land and we just own the trailer….wished we could sell it and move it’s pure hell here for me and my cats. Anyone wanna buy a cheap trailer? *sigh*

      • Cricket — Maybe others have ideas. I’d check with your state’s Dept. of Public Health & maybe chat with the attorney general’s office too to see if there is anything that might work. There should also be an area public health officer you might ask for help from. There should be — whether the area officer is in your town or not. (My state for example has 8 sections and each section has a public health offiicer.)

        Have you talked with the upper echelons of your police dept. about your concerns? Or tried a lawyer (be sure 1st visit free for consult) who might know whether you have any rights to get notified at least.

        This might be worth a try. I’d verify property ownership too to be SURE they have a right to spray your yard. Unless they own it they don’t unless the owners allow it.

        Good luck!

        • In my city, if your neighbor harms your PLANTs, your neighbor has the right to sue you with a civil rights suit. (Although the city doesn’t step into this legal battle.) So I imagine if your neighbor harms your PET you have the same right.

          So I hope your city will allow you of this same right. You might want to contact your District Attorney to see if you have this right. Good Luck Cricket.

      • Also sometimes it is the third or fifth complaint that does the trick. Bullies will bully so please investigate all alternatives.

        Your state secretary of state’s office should have info on businesses and whether they are kosher. Example: Are they a legitimate business? Are they licensed to use pesticides at all commercially? Someone in state government will know. Don’t give up and keep an eye on them. If a cat is ill, document with your vet and consider taking them to city court (or your version of small claims’ court).

      • Oops, just saw the part where you live in a park. Is it national or state or private. Whatever the answer, there is someone somewhere who is SUPPOSED to oversee it and they cannot do their job (or are unlikely to) without help from those in the know — i.e., you. And I’d still ask everyone as above.

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