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poisoning weeds before they seed

Weed Killers: 5 Things to Know Before You Spray

Weeds are the bane of a gardener's existence. They grow, seemingly overnight, choking out healthy flowers and vegetables and starving them of water, sunlight, and nutrients. There are several weed killer methods to deal with unwanted plants. Garden centers stock entire aisles of products promised to curb leafy invaders and put a fast stop to a garden insurgence. Often, when the weeds appear to be winning the battle, it feels easiest to grab a product and attack. But take a few minutes and consider your enemy, the surroundings, and the best product or practice for the job at hand. Here are five must-know weed killer tips before your grab the spray bottle.

1. Begin with Prevention

The weed war begins before the invaders take root. Create a garden that favors the plants you want to thrive and discourages weeds. It's all grounded in healthy plant care. That means growing plants suited for your microclimates (shade lovers in shade, sun lovers in sun) and providing adequate moisture and regular mulch. When plants are healthy, they thrive. Healthy garden plants and vigorously growing lawns will blanket open soil, preventing weeds from getting a foothold.

Vigilance is also key: Walk around your landscape once a week, pulling small weeds before they have a chance to get established. Tip: The best time to pull weeds is after a light rain when roots come out more easily.

2. Know the Enemy and the Surroundings

The first step in identifying a product or practice to kill the trespasser is to name the weed. What weed are you fighting? Learn how to identify the weeds growing in your garden.

Weed killing products are weed-specific. A product that kills one weed might not phase another. Also, take a look at what is growing nearby. In general, weed killers are not appropriate for use on or near plants that are to be eaten. Some weed killers, including weed and feed, may drift in the breeze and kill nearby plants that are germinating.

3. Consider the Impact

Often the impact of a weed control product goes beyond the weed you are trying to control. Weed control products, or herbicides, are chemicals that cause a plant to stop functioning properly. The product has the potential to have a similar effect on non-weed plants and animals. Plants and animals have varying sensitivities to environmental factors, which amplifies the fact that weed products must be used with care and caution.

4. Follow the Label (It’s the Law)

Product labels provide critical information about how to safely handle and use the weed product. The Environmental Protection Agency oversees the label content based on scientific data on the potential health and environmental effects. Pesticide labels, unlike most other product labels, are legally enforceable. They all carry the statement, "It is a violation of the Federal law to use this product in a manner inconsistent with its labeling." In other words, the label is the law. Don't use the product for any other purpose or any other way than what is described on the label. 

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5. Be Mindful of Organic and Natural Herbicide

It is often thought that because an herbicide is labeled organic or natural, it is safer than a synthetic product. This is mostly true thanks to the quick breakdown of organic weed killers in the environment compared to some inorganic herbicides, which can remain a long time in the soil or a plant. High concentrations of some organic herbicides may pose a significant risk to nearby plants and animals. The most earth-friendly way to get rid of weeds is to dig them out by their roots. When that isn't an option, carefully choose a product that eliminates the weed with minimal impacts on the surrounding environment.

Weed killers: what are the dangers?

Cats can inadvertently become exposed to and potentially poisoned by weed killers. In this article we look at where the dangers lie, how to avoid exposure and what to do if you suspect your cat has been poisoned.

Weed killers or herbicides are used for the control of weeds. A large number of products for use in the garden are available but these domestic products (as opposed to professional agricultural products) only contain a few different herbicidal compounds. Cats are generally exposed to weed killers during, or soon after, their use by walking on treated grass or brushing against wet plants and then grooming. They may also walk in or lick up spills or drips from sprayed weeds, or chew treated plants, or (rarely) be exposed to ‘spray drift’.

It is important to find out which particular product a cat may have been exposed to. Noting the name or ingredients is important, so that if the cat requires treatment the vet can decide which is the best approach. Information can also be found on a pesticides database which is freely available on the internet: see cats-safe for more information.


Glyphosate is a widely used and readily available herbicide. It is primarily available in liquid formulations but these may vary in strength. Many products contain a surfactant, polyoxyethylene amine (POEA), which improves the ‘wettability’ of plants for maximum coverage and aids the glyphosate in penetrating through the plant surface.

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Glyphosate is considered of low toxicity and it is this surfactant present in many liquid preparations that is believed to be responsible for some of the toxic effects.

Signs of glyphosate poisoning

Vomiting, anorexia and lethargy are common signs in cats after glyphosate exposure. There may also be diarrhoea, tremors, drowsiness and dilated pupils. Severe respiratory signs are a feature of glyphosate exposure in cats and can be fatal. Eye and skin irritation are also possible after exposure to glyphosate-containing products.


If the cat gets a product containing glyphosate on its fur or feet, it should be thoroughly washed. If a cat has ingested a small quantity, particularly of a dilute solution from grooming or licking a spill or from a wet plant, the vet may wash out the cat’s mouth and give oral fluids. If there is definite ingestion, the vet will give more serious treatment.

Chlorophenoxy derivatives

The chlorophenoxy derivative weed killers include 2,4-D (2,4-dichlorphenoxyacetic acid), MCPA (2-methyl-4-chlorophenoxyacetic acid), mecoprop and dichlorprop. They are frequently found in combinations in products and are also used in lawn feed and weed products. They are available in granular form or as liquid.

Signs of poisoning with chlorophenoxy derivatives

These compounds are irritants and can cause salivation, vomiting, abdominal discomfort and lethargy. In severe cases, there may be blood in the faeces, anorexia, progressive weakness and there may be ulcers in the mouth.


Treatment of poisoning from chlorophenoxy derivatives is supportive. There is no specific antidote. In many cases exposure is minimal and decontamination of the paws and fur (using a detergent) and washing the mouth out with water, with rehydration and treatment to prevent vomiting is all that is required.

Ferrous sulphate

Ferrous sulphate is used as a moss killer. It may be available as the chemical itself, but is more commonly found in lawn feed, weed and moss killer products which contain a fertiliser (the feed), a herbicide (the weed killer, often a chlorophenoxy derivative) as well as ferrous sulphate (the moss killer).

These products are generally used to revive the lawn during the growing period and are available as granular products for sprinkling on the lawn or products to be diluted in water and poured over the lawn.

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Signs of ferrous sulphate poisoning

An overdose of iron can cause toxicity because the body has no system of eliminating excess iron. Signs include gastrointestinal irritation and more severe problems if a lot is ingested. However, this is unlikely to occur unless the cat has eaten a large quantity of moss killer. Walking on a treated lawn may cause irritation on the paws, and grooming the product off or licking treated grass may cause vomiting, salivation, diarrhoea and increased frequency of drinking.


If a cat is exposed to a ferrous sulphate-containing product, its feet or fur should be washed with a detergent and rinsed. If veterinary treatment is required it may be something to prevent the cat being sick or to rehydrate it if necessary. In the unlikely case of a cat ingesting a large quantity of a ferrous sulphate-containing moss killer, more serious treatment is required.

Fatty acids

Octanoic acid (caprylic acid), decanoic acid (capric acid) and nonanoic acid (pelargonic acid) are examples of naturally occurring fatty acids found in some weed killers, particularly those labelled organic.

Nonanoic acid is found in the oil of pelargonium (a common bedding or house plant) and has also been used as a cat repellent. The other two fatty acids have names referring to goats (capr-) because they have a goaty odour.

Signs of fatty acid poisoning

Few cases of exposure have been reported in cats probably because they dislike the smell. In the small number of cases reported to the Veterinary Poisons Information Service (VPIS), cats have developed irritation or ulceration in the mouth, anorexia, salivation, and a high temperature. There is a risk of severe skin irritation from prolonged contact.


A cat exposed to a herbicide containing fatty acids should have its paws or fur cleaned with a detergent and rinsed off. If the cat has licked the product or groomed it off its coat, the vet may wash out the cat’s mouth and offer supportive pain relief, feeding and treatment if necessary.


Many different products are available for the control of garden weeds, but they generally contain only a few different herbicidal compounds. Always read the packaging on herbicide products and use them according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

It may be difficult to prevent access to these products in free-roaming cats and if you are concerned that the cat may lick treated plants or spills of herbicide, it may be best to avoid their use and control weeds by manual removal.