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The Surprising Poisons in Our Pets

The Surprising Poisons in Our Pets

I worry about exposure to mercury and fire retardants for myself and my children. My cats and dogs? Never really thought about it, have you? The alarming truth is that our pets are not immune to environmental toxins–in fact, they are showing levels of toxins much higher than those found in people. The Environmental Working Group recently undertook a study to investigate the extent of exposures pets face to contaminants in our homes and outdoor environments. The results are absolutely staggering.

Are you sitting? The study showed that the blood and urine samples of dogs and cats were contaminated with 48 of 70 industrial chemicals tested, including 43 chemicals at levels higher than those typically found in people. The study included plastics and food packaging chemicals, heavy metals, fire retardants, and stain-proofing chemicals.

The heartbreaking results showed that average levels of many chemicals were actually even much higher in pets than is typical for people. Levels of stain- and grease-proof coatings (perfluorochemicals–these are from the Teflon family) in dogs were 2.4 times higher than in people, cats had 23 times more fire retardants (PBDEs) and more than 5 times the amounts of mercury, compared to what has been found in people in national studies conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Environmental Working Group.

Dogs were found to be contaminated with 35 chemicals altogether, including 11 carcinogens, 31 chemicals toxic to the reproductive system, and 24 neurotoxins. The carcinogens are seriously worrisome; dogs have much higher rates of cancer than people do, including 35 times more skin cancer, four times more breast tumors, eight times more bone cancer, and twice the incidence of leukemia, according to the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Center. It is estimated that between 20 and 25 percent of dogs die of cancer, making it the second leading cause of death in dogs. I’d say the pieces of the puzzle are quickly falling into place.

The cats in the study showed elevated levels of 46 chemicals altogether, including 9 carcinogens, 40 chemicals toxic to the reproductive system, 34 neurotoxins, and 15 chemicals toxic to the endocrine system. According to the report, endocrine system toxins (those that affect hormones) raise particular concerns for cats, since they include the thyroid toxins and fire retardants called PBDEs. Thyroid disease (hyperthyroidism) is a leading cause of illness in older cats. The  use of PBDEs in consumer products over the past 30 years has grown neck and neck with the rising cases of feline hyperthyroidism–one preliminary study suggests that PBDEs are found at higher levels in cats stricken with this disease.

How in the world is this happening?! See “Detailed Findings” in High Levels of Toxic Industrial Chemicals Contaminate Cats And Dogs. But the gist of it is this: Animals are exposed to chemicals in our stain-proof, fire-retardant furniture and carpets, their food (coating in fry food bags, can lining, mercury in seafood), their bedding (stain proof, off gassing), and any other number of consumer products. Meanwhile, phthalates are reaching them through pet toys, pet shampoos, and many pet medications. As well, pets pick up contaminated dust from outdoor and indoor pollution–and then, particularly cats, meticulously groom themselves–ingesting all of those toxins.

I wish I could say that the news isn’t as disheartening as it is. Actually, it seems to me a dire warning–our cats and dogs are becoming our canaries in the coal mine. There are some steps you can take to protect your pet, here is a good summary of tips from Pets for the Environment that will make your pet, as well as your home in general, safer and less toxic.

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Melissa Breyer

Melissa Breyer is a writer and editor with a background in sustainable living, specializing in food, science and design. She is the co-author of True Food (National Geographic) and has edited and written for regional and international books and periodicals, including The New York Times Magazine. Melissa lives in Brooklyn, NY.


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8:23PM PST on Jan 31, 2015

This is sad and scary. Thank you for sharing!!

5:47AM PST on Dec 3, 2012

Thanks for the information .Scary to many chemical in the world and there killing us all .

6:20PM PST on Mar 11, 2011


2:02PM PST on Mar 10, 2011

Thank you so much for helping spread the word, one pet owner and animal lover at a time. This is a very important subject, not just for the safety of our pets, but also for the health of our families, especially small children.

1:13AM PDT on Sep 4, 2010

This is very sad. Thanks

12:41AM PDT on Jun 9, 2010

I found this out when a friends dog ended up in the vets with a stripped stomach lining because he licked the floors and she used a 'normal' household cleaner. Now she only uses natural ones.
I was also told by a vet that cancer in animals has risen because of all the crap thats in our drinking water. Flouride.
Im just looking at the tips now and taking note. Thank you.

12:23AM PST on Mar 5, 2010

thanks for the article

8:34PM PST on Nov 11, 2009

Thanks for spreading the word on pet toxicities on your website- so important for pet owners to be aware of the lurking household poisons in (and outside of) their house! As an ER specialist, I see so many toxicities that owners bring in too late (making it more expensive to treat, with a worse prognosis!). When in doubt, it's so important to call a Poison Control for peace of mind!

r4i kort

3:29PM PDT on Sep 30, 2008

I totally believe this. I try to have as little processed food myself, because it's not rocket science to figure out that we all shouldn't be ingesting tons of chemicals. We also all need to use green cleaning materials whether or not we have pets! My 14 yr. old cat was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism in Jan 2006 and then lymphoma in his intestines in May of 2007, although I think it was bothering him from the fall prior (it just took the vet and then the vet specialist that long to figure it out during the time I keept bringing him in). I decided NOT to give him chemo, but to keep him on Tapezole (his thyroid medication) & prednisone (for the inflammation in his intestines), and he's doing well so far. He WAS eating a veterinary diet before, but started to throw up his food soon after her was diagnosed. The main thing was that I switched him to a diet of only organic, holistic and/or natural food. I also added some holistic supplements from Nature's Farmacy after speaking with the vet there, who was very helpful. The vets gave him a prognosis of 1 to 1&1/2 years but he's doing a LOT better now. He lost some weight, but he still seems happy & playful & purrs all the time, so I will keep him alive until he lets me know that it's his time.

Question: Does anyone think that our tap water contains contaminents that are bad for our pets too?? I should probably switch him to Brita water, but he loves running water if he can manipulate me enough to give i

2:33PM PDT on Sep 4, 2008

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