These chemicals are affecting the health of these animals and they come from a variety of sources, from plastics, food packaging chemicals, heavy metals, fire retardants, and stain-proofing chemicals, all of which the report states could also affect the health of children as well.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) produced a study that was released by Berkeley-East Bay Humane Society yesterday which shows that high levels of toxic chemicals are found in dogs and cats.
Pets face chemical exposures that in some ways are similar to those of infants and toddlers, who have limited diets and play close to the floor and put their hands and household objects in their mouths far more often than adults. For pets as for children, exposures are greater and the resulting health risks are higher.
Testing for industrial chemicals in the blood and urine of 20 dogs and 37 cats from the Virginia veterinary clinic, found 48 out of 70 chemicals that were tested for.
For almost all the chemicals included in this study, health risks in pets have not been studied. The chemicals could point to an increase in cancer and hyperthyroidism in cats and dogs.
Some of the conclusions found show that simple everyday products we use, or track into our houses, could be responsible. For example, cats lick their paws and end up with dust that studies show can be contaminated with the neurotoxic fire retardants. Dogs eat scraps off the floor which dirt and dust tracked in from the outdoors and contaminated with heavy metals and pesticides, even flea collars bought to protect animals from flea infestation spews "droplets of insecticide that can be lethal to cats", dog food package, chew toys, and even foam beds might be infused or coated with fire retardants and stain-proofing chemicals linked to cancer and birth defects, and plastic water bowls might leach hormone disruptors.
In what is being called the most comprehensive investigation of the chemical body burden of companion animals conducted to date, this study has found 23 chemicals being reported in pets for the first time.
For dogs, blood and urine samples were contaminated with 35 chemicals altogether, including 11 carcinogens, 31 chemicals toxic to the reproductive system, and 24 neurotoxins.
The particular worry there are the carcinogens, because dogs suffer from a much higher rate of cancer than humans do, including 35 times more skin cancer, 4 times more breast tumors, 8 times more bone cancer, and twice the incidence of leukemia, according to the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Center in 2008.
Cancer is the second leading cause of death in dogs. 20 to 25 percent of dogs die of cancer.
Cat samples contained 46 chemicals altogether, including 9 carcinogens, 40 chemicals toxic to the reproductive system, 34 neurotoxins, and 15 chemicals toxic to the endocrine system.
The particular concern there is the Endocrine (hormone) system toxins, because they include the thyroid toxins and fire retardants called PBDEs.
The leading cause of illness in older cats is Thyroid disease (hyperthyroidism).
According to Bill Walker, vice president of the group's West Coast operations, "We need a better system of regulating toxic chemicals in this country. We need to test the chemicals before they are allowed on the market. Our animals are trying to tell us something here."
It is believed the rise in health issues of the animals, directly related to the toxic chemicals found in their system may be a reflection of levels in humans.
One person that believes this is Arlene Blum who is a chemist and visiting scholar at UC Berkeley who works with members of the group for chemical regulation reform, says, "It's the same chemicals being exposed to our bodies, our cats' bodies, our kids' bodies."
The study concludes:
The body burden testing conducted in this investigation is the most expansive ever published for companion animals. The study indicates that cats and dogs are exposed to complex mixtures of industrial chemicals, often at levels far in excess of those found in people. 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.
As this report points out, in America there are 8 times more companion dogs and cats than there are children under five. Seventy percent more households have dogs or cats than children of any age.
As Blum asserts, "We need to test chemicals before they enter the environment. And companies have no incentive to do that."
Perhaps it is time someone gives them that incentive.