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.