Pet dogs and cats are being "contaminated" and "polluted" by items commonly found in their homes, including tap water, furniture, carpets, bedding, plastic toys, lawn chemicals, flea collars and metal pet food cans, says a new study from a nonprofit group that works "to protect public health and the environment."
Environmental Working Group tested the blood and urine of 20 dogs and 37 cats and found they "are polluted with even higher levels of synthetic industrial chemicals than researchers have recently found in people, including newborns."
The Washington, D.C.-based group says its is "the first study of its kind."
Though the group generally deals with people, this study was done because pet owners had many questions, said Jane Houlihan, vice president for research for EWG.
"Cats and dogs may be serving as sentinels for human health problems that can arise from exposures to industrial chemicals," says the group's news release.
Pets, like small children, live closer to the ground and have more direct contact with chemicals, including those used on lawns. Indoors they are exposed to many chemicals including stain-retardants and flame-retardants on rugs, bedding and furniture; phthalates used to soften the plastics used in toys and dishes; and heavy metals used in old paints and old pipes that bring tap water into the home.
Dog and cat urine and blood were tested for 70 industrial chemicals. A total of 43 chemicals were found in the tests.
• Levels of perfluorochemicals were 2.4 times higher in dogs than in people. These chemicals are found in stain- and grease-proof coatings.
• Levels of PBDEs -- polybrominated diphenyl ethers -- used in fire retardants and plastics, were 23 times higher in cats.
• Levels of mercury were five times higher in cats, probably because they eat so much seafood.
• High levels of BPAs -- bisphenol -- found in the metal linings of cans used for pet food and people food.
Studies are linking chemicals found in the study to cancer in dogs, thyroid disease in older cats and behavior problems in dogs and cats, said Dr. Olga Naidenko, senior scientist for EWG. She holds a doctorate in immunology from the UCLA Molecular Biology Institute. Dr. Naidenko said veterinarians are seeing diseases in animals that they did not see 20 and 30 years ago, and much higher rates of cancers in dogs.
More research is needed, Dr. Naidenko said, "but there is enough evidence to call for action" including legislation. Under current federal law "chemical companies do not have to prove chemicals are safe before they are used in products, including pet toys."
There are things pet owners can do to cut down on chemical exposures, Dr. Naidenko said, including:
• Replace plastic food and water bowls with metal.
• Run tap water through a filter before giving it to your cat or dog.
• Discard flea collars because they deliver a constant supply of chemicals and aren't thought to be effective in flea and tick control anyway. Consult your veterinarian for more effective and less toxic treatments.
• Bathe cats and dogs more often to rid their hair and fur of toxins and pollutants.
• Vacuum furniture and rugs frequently using a HEPA-filter vacuum.
• Remove shoes when you enter the house to decrease the amount of pollutants, including heavy metals, that you track into the house.
• Aim for more natural pet foods with fewer chemicals and preservatives. Avoid pet foods that use colorful dyes.
• Avoid lawn chemicals, which are especially harmful to cats and dogs that lick their paws, hair or fur.
• Replace old pet beds and furniture that have foam stuffing, which is likely to be laced with flame retardants.
• Don't pay for optional stainproofing treatments on couches, carpets and car upholstery. They're loaded with chemicals.
Go to www.ewg.org to read the entire report.
Linda Wilson Fuoco can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-561-0826.