A recent study by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that pet dogs and cats have an extensive mix of toxins circulating in their systems. According to an article in the New York Times, the researchers tested the blood and urine of 20 dogs and 37 cats at a Virginia clinic and discovered high levels of mercury, as well as 48 industrial chemicals (out of 70 chemicals tested) used in manufacturing fabrics, furniture, plastics, food packaging, and electronic goods. These chemicals included a high percentage of known carcinogens, neurotoxins, and reproductive system disrupters. The toxins mirrored those found in human subjects, but many were at considerably higher levels. For instance, when compared with human subjects, the cats tested at 23 times the level of fire retardants (PBDEs), and more than five times the amounts of mercury, while the dogs showed more than double the level of perfluorochemicals, including toxic stain-retardants.
Given that the cancer rate in dogs far surpasses the rate for humans — dogs have 35 times more skin cancer, four times more breast tumors, eight times more bone cancer, and twice the incidence of leukemia — and given that 11 carcinogens were found in the dogs tested, one might suspect that there’s a link between the high levels of toxic chemicals and the elevated levels of disease. In fact, numerous studies have shown such a link. In the case of cats, the researchers point out the “growing use of PBDEs in consumer products over the past 30 years has paralleled the rising incidence of feline hyperthyroidism,” one of the leading causes of illness in older cats.
Why do dogs and cats accumulate so much more of the poisonous stuff than humans do? For one thing, everything beloved by pets goes into their mouths. Dogs chew on plastic toys, slippers, underwear, molding; cats lick the couch or lick their fur after sitting on furniture. And these things, benign though they seem, are loaded with toxins. Plastic toys have been treated with chemical softeners. Clothing and furniture may have a fire retardant or stain repellent coating. Accumulated toxins on these surfaces go right into the pets’ systems, posing risk of cancer, reproductive problems, and birth defects.
But the “uncivilized” oral behavior of dogs and cats doesn’t account for all of the toxic build-up in their systems. Their flea collars spew chemicals. Canned pet food may have toxic packaging; that same pet food is relatively unregulated and may contain toxic additives; and fish products used in pet food contains mercury and PBDEs. Pet beds may be treated with stain repellents. The floor, where pets spend most of their time, may be coated with pesticide residue tracked in from outside. The bottom line is that our pets literally lie in a toxic soup.
If you love your pets — and there are seventy percent more pets in America than children, signaling a lot of interspecies love — certainly these findings should concern you. But you might also wonder, what do these findings mean for humans?
Make no mistake, we are equally exposed — and only slightly less toxic than our pets. In fact, according to the report issued by the EWG, “Our pets well may be serving as sentinels for our own health, as they breathe in, ingest or absorb the same chemicals that are in our environments. Exposures that pose risks for pets pose risks for human health as well. A new system of public health protections that required companies to prove chemicals are safe before they are sold would help protect all of us, including the pets we love.”
Yet another reason to detox regularly, eat organically — and refrain from chewing on the couch, no matter how frustrating life may be at the moment. As for your pets, you might want to consider cooking for them rather than serving packaged pet foods and consulting a holistic vet for additional guidance.