When you identify a pest problem in your home, you want it dealt with quickly. You might opt to handle it yourself or hire a pest control company. Whichever route you choose, there are safety issues to be considered.
Pesticides are technically poisons, though they are often applied in amounts that are not harmful to humans and pets. However, infants, young children, and cats are more sensitive than adults and dogs. Furthermore, fish, reptiles, and birds are highly sensitive to pesticides and small rodent pets are much like rodent pests.
Pesticides can also wash into soil and water bodies, causing environmental damage. In addition to pesticides, traps are dangerous for curious pets and children. Handling a mouse trap incorrectly can cause injury. Here, we’ll cover safe practices for application and handling.
How to keep yourself and your kids safe during a pest control treatment
Always choose non-toxic or least-toxic methods first, including sanitation and exclusion. If you have pest problems outdoors, consider planting pest-resistant vegetation, mulching, keeping weeds down, and biological control (e.g., natural insect predators). If non-toxic methods are ineffective, only then move on to chemical control.
The first and best way to keep you and your kids safe is to stay out of the area being treated. Before the pest control professional arrives, be sure to remove any food from the area, cover furniture, and move any loose personal items, such as toys, into another room.
Also, ask the technician if there’s anything else you should do before they arrive to avoid exposure. Better yet, check with them to see if they have specific kid-safe pest control strategies.
If you’re applying the pesticides yourself, staying out of the room is obviously a little more difficult. However, wearing long sleeves, long pants, gloves, and a mask and leaving the area as soon as the application is complete are good ways to avoid exposure.
It’s best to use prepared solutions rather than those that you have to mix yourself. Never use products formulated for outdoor use inside your home. Make sure to follow all label directions and only target specific areas rather than blanketing the room in pesticides.
Dry products or gels are safer than fogs and sprays because they reduce the risk of inhalation or unwitting skin exposure. Wash your hands after application and do not return (and keep your kids out) until the solution has dried and you’ve had a chance to air out the room.
When applying sprays outdoors, make sure all the doors and windows are closed so it doesn’t spray into the home. Cover grills and other food preparation areas as well as vegetable gardens and fruit trees.
When using baits or traps, make sure to set them out of the reach of children. Read and follow all label directions in order to handle them safely and lower your risk of injury.
How to keep your pets (and other animals) Save during a treatment
Similarly to children, pets should be kept out of areas while pest control treatments are being applied. Prior to treatment, be sure to move their beds, food, water, dishes, and toys to another room (or a different area if spraying outdoors).
If you are unable to move fish tanks, cover them and turn off the pump.
Don’t let animals back into a treated room until it has dried and been aired out. You can aid room ventilation by turning on a fan. If you apply pesticides outdoors, don’t allow your pets access to the lawn for at least 24 hours.
As mentioned, birds, fish, and reptiles are highly sensitive to pesticide solutions. Birds should be moved out of the house during pest control treatment and either boarded or kept with a friend or family member. Special care should also be taken with pet rodents (e.g., rats, mice, hamsters, gerbils) as they are closely related to wild mice and rats and thus will be susceptible to poisoning by rodenticides. Move them to another room and make sure there is no ventilation between the treated room and the room you’ve moved them to. The safest option is to arrange for them to stay somewhere else (boarding facility, friend or family member’s home) while during treatment.
If you use baits, make sure they are kept out of reach of pets. Use enclosed bait stations rather than leaving them out in the open. Many baits used to control pests are designed to build up in the body, leading to illness and death. Small animals such as cats, squirrels, or raccoons are in greater danger than dogs, but no animal should be allowed to eat baits.
If possible, prevent animals from entering rooms that are baited for pests. If not possible, choose a bait formulation that has an antidote (e.g., anticoagulant class poisons) and keep that antidote on hand. It’s difficult to protect wildlife from baits, but whenever possible, set them where an animal larger than a mouse or a rat can’t access them. Avoid using slow-acting poisons outdoors as predators such as birds could be poisoned after eating a poisoned mouse.
Traps should also be kept somewhere that pets can’t access them. For added safety, you can use enclosed traps or live traps.
Beware of falling into the widely-held but false belief that natural remedies are inherently safer than synthetic ones. Garlic (used as an insect repellent) can harm pets’ digestive and circulatory systems while cats are very sensitive to a range of essential oils (e.g., tea tree, peppermint, citrus). Diatomaceous earth, while typically not toxic when eaten, can cause lung damage and skin irritation.
If you have a pet that is a particularly keen hunter, keep a closer eye on them during rodent treatment. As mentioned, some poisons build up in target pests and can be transferred to predators, including your cat or dog. If you catch them with a dead rodent while you have baits set out, take it away immediately and watch for signs of poisoning.
Signs of poisoning in pets include vomiting, diarrhea, excessive drooling, and seizures. If you notice any of these symptoms, reach out to your veterinarian or local poison control.
Insecticides are very dangerous for non-target insects like bees and butterflies. When spraying outside, avoid allowing spray to drift from the target area and don’t spray near beehives.
If you have indoor plants, you should also remove them from any rooms being treated with pesticides.
How to safeguard your home and property during a pest control treatment
As mentioned, pesticides can have negative impacts on the environment. It’s important to carry out safe pest control for your home to protect your lawn and garden.
When possible, choose methods with low or no toxicity. If chemical control is necessary, similarly to indoor treatments, don’t spray your entire yard or garden. Rather, target the areas that you’ve seen pests or locations likely to serve as pest hideouts. Bait stations (with fast-acting poisons) are a great way to avoid environmental contamination because the poison is contained and should only end up in the body of an animal that eats it.
If you choose to spray, don’t spray when it’s windy. Wind can blow sprays away from the targeted area. Don’t apply treatments if heavy rain is forecast or right before watering your lawn or garden. The water will wash the pesticides off of targets and potentially into nearby waterways. For a similar reason, don’t over-apply wet treatments. If your target is oversaturated, the solution will drip off and could be transferred to sensitive plants or into the groundwater. Avoid applying pesticides on impervious surfaces near storm drains to keep the chemicals out of nearby water bodies. Be sure to cover ponds and rainwater barrels during the application.
Pest control health and safety is very important, not just for you and your family, but for your pets and home as well. Here, we’ve provided some tips for safe practices and pest control methods, including using less toxic methods and ways to avoid exposure. Now, you’re ready to safely tackle your next pest problem. Good luck!