Thursday, September 25, 2008

Pet Safe Pesticides

photo credit to eravariel at Stock Exchange

I have been suffering for a few days with a mob of home-invading ants. I blame myself, actually. Unknowingly, I'd brought them into the house in a recyclable shopping bag.  After hanging on a door handle for about a week, I took  the bag down and set it on the floor, getting ready to take it back to the car and shop.

The bag tipped over and instantly, I had a gazillion little black ants swarming over the floor!!

Luckily they were swarming on blond hardwood so I could see all the little beasties pretty easily. It turns out that flip-flops are a very effective weapon of mass destruction when applied with strategic precision. "Strategic precision" means wildly slapping the floor with said flip-flops while shrieking at the top of one's lungs.

However, the collateral damage for this particular WMD is the wind shear that sends a few dozen beasties flying for every shoe swing.

And here's where I (finally!) get to the post point. I have cats. Cats tend to eat off the floor. It's like having perpetual toddlers in the house - anything the cats find even mildly interesting is instantly eaten or licked. So..... traditional pesticides are out of the question.

After much internet research I discovered that there are several non-toxic ways to eradicate ants.  Boiling water poured on the anthill is supposed to be effective. Diatomaceous Earth (DE) is also said to be effective because it gets into the ants' little joints and dehydrates them from the inside out. I did find some online articles that seemed to prefer DE from plant stores over the pool-grade DE that's often used in the desert southwest for filtering pools. Pyrethrin is supposed to be a plant-based pesticide safe for use with pets. Except that  I found an online chat room where one member claimed the pyrethrin poisoned her cat and it took over $200 at the vet's office to restore the cat.

My problem with all the advice I found online is that I didn't feel I could trust the sources. The information I found came from websites with names like,,,, and   I've never heard of these! I'm just not sure that I'm going to trust my feline babies' health to those sources. If I'd found something from Cat Fancy magazine or even a single vet's office, I'd have felt more reassured.

So in the end I decided to try the two easiest and least harmful sounding options - white vinegar and powdered cinnamon. I knew the ants were drawn to the cat food crumbs on the floor, so first I baited the little buggers.

  • I put the cats into a locked bedroom away from the action. Then I laid out a trail of cat food across the floor of the ant infested room and waited about a half-hour. Sure enough, an ant swarm. I followed it to the source at the patio sliding door in the master bedroom and poured a little powdered traditional pesticide on the entry point.

  • I walked back the line of ants to the food crumbs, killing them with the flip-flop WMD method noted above with a speed adjustment to minimize the wind shear factor.

  • Next up, a vinegar water wash down for every floor and baseboard surface in the two rooms affected. Websites recommended a mixture of half-and-half white vinegar and water. Whew, what a smell!

  • Finally, a border of powdered cinnamon (from the spice rack) on all window ledges, sliding door tracks and around the baseboards. I vacuumed up the poison powder from earlier and covered over the ant's entry spot with a generous mound of cinnamon.

The whole process took two hours and it was midnight before I was done. Exhausted, I added a ring of cinnamon around my bed because the entry point was in my bedroom. Thoughts of little ants crawling onto my bed in the night was enough to send me screaming out the door to a hotel that accepts cats! (By the way, Motel 6 is pet friendly, should you ever travel with your beloved furry family members.)

The result? Success. Apparently ants really don't like cinnamon. Nary an ant in sight since I broke open the spice rack. Hope you find my ant saga helpful if you ever get infested yourselves!