Whether your dog is cuddly and cute or tough, steadfast and stoic, most American canines have one thing in common: Chemicals in dogs are now detected at alarming levels, sometimes at levels 20+ times higher than what we’re seeing in humans.
So what are the biggest threats when it comes to chemicals in dogs? Here, we’re going to look at a landmark investigation that identified some of the top chemical pet threats and learn how to avoid them to protect not just our pups, but ourselves, too.
Chemicals in Dogs: Top Threats Detected
Medical journals are loaded with hundreds of studies looking at household chemicals and how they impact human health. But how do all of these endocrine disruptors, carcinogens, neurotoxic compounds and reproductive toxicants impact our pets?
Interestingly, a rise in human breast cancer is also paralleled by a rise in breast cancer in dogs, too, signaling that environmental factors are likely at play. (1)
To help figure out what’s contaminating man’s best friend, Environmental Working Group published a Polluted Pets report to offer a comprehensive look at the chemicals winding up inside of our dogs. After testing urine and blood samples of 20 different mutts, mixes and pure breeds, researchers found 35 different chemicals detected among the pups. A whopping 20 percent of the chemicals turned up with average levels five or more times higher than levels seen in people.
Here are some of the top chemicals turning up in dogs, including the possible side effects of these unnatural exposures.
1. Pups are loaded with nonstick chemicals.
Nonstick chemicals are common in fast food packaging, cookware, and stain-proof carpeting and furniture, but EWG found they’re one of the most widespread chemicals in dogs, too. Testing found six different perfluorochemicals in dogs’ blood samples. Five of them occurred at levels higher than what we see in humans.
2. Plastic toys are poisoning your pet.
Phthalates are industrial chemicals found in everything from dog shampoos, scented candles and air fresheners to certain plastics. Phthalates aren’t only used to synthetic scents stick around longer, but they help turn rigid plastic into more flexible forms, too. (Many plastic dog toys contain phthalates, unfortunately.)
The EWG report found dogs tested positive for phthalate breakdown materials at levels ranging from 1.1 to 4.5 times the average concentrations found in humans. Phthalates are linked to reproductive problems, birth defects and even cancer. These chemicals turn up in soft plastic toys, scented dog shampoo, household air fresheners and scented candles, and even certain enteric-coated pet medications.
3. Dogs are flame-retardant reservoirs.
Brominated flame retardants, often known as PBDEs, are among the top chemicals threatening your health. And these long-persisting chemicals are inside most American dogs, too. Hiding out in pet bedding dust and even food, it’s no surprise dog samples contained 19 different PBDE flame retardants. One type was detected at levels 17 times higher than concentrations typically seen in people.
These chemicals in cats are alarming, too. Average concentrations of flame retardants in cats measured higher than 98 percent of Americans.
4. Watch out for the lymphoma/weedkiller connection.
In 2012, Tuft’s University researchers published a study in the journal Environmental Research that may leave pet owners rethinking their lawn care game. Families who reported hiring a lawn service to apply pesticides to the yard were 70 percent more likely to have dogs stricken with canine malignant lymphoma. (2, 3)
Purdue University has been tracking lawn herbicides’ impact on dogs for years, too. Those findings suggest treated lawns remain potent chemical transmitters to dogs for upward of 48 hours. Worse yet, many dogs living at untreated residences seemed to be exposed, too, likely through drift, treated parks or exposure during walks. (4, 5)
Another study looking at Scottish terriers, a breed 20 times more likely to develop bladder cancer compared to other dogs, suggests lawn and garden weed-killing chemicals like dicamba and 2,4-D have no place in our yards. Scotties exposed to these chemicals faced a four to seven times greater risk of developing bladder cancer compared to Scotties not exposed to lawn and garden chemicals. Beagles, wire hair fox terriers, West Highland white terriers and Shetland sheepdogs are also especially susceptible to bladder cancer. Still, I recommend we protect all dogs from lawn chemicals, since they readily absorb and track these chemicals into the home. (6, 7)
5. The flea collar you should never buy for your pet.
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), not all flea and tick treatments are the same in terms of safety. In fact, organophosphate and carbamate chemicals are associated with learning disabilities and more in children.
Researchers found the fur residues from certain flea collars containing tetrachlorvinphos and propoxur were in doses high enough to harm kids and adults who play with their pets. Some of these hazardous chemicals found in flea collars can harm humans and pets, including brain and nervous system damage and cancer. These chemicals can lurk on our pets’ fur for weeks, with some residues so high they “pose a risk of cancer and damage to the neurological system of children up to 1,000 times higher than the EPA’s acceptable levels,” NRDC notes in its Poison on Pets II report.
Tetrachlorvinphos and propoxuris are on California’s Prop 65 list for causing cancer. (8)
To prevent flea outbreaks on dogs, your first line of defense should be a bath with regular soap and water. (I like to use an unscented castile soap.) Use a flea comb to track down any other unwanted hitchhikers, and drop them to soapy water. Vacuuming the floor and between couch cushions is also key, along with washing your pet’s bedding weekly. (9)
Natural Resource Defense Council’s (NRDC) GreenPaws Flea and Tick Products Directory is an excellent resource to gauge the safety of your pet’s products (and to find safer alternatives).
Best Ways to Avoid Chemicals in Dogs
The good news is many of the tactics to eradicate chemicals in dogs will also help protect you and your family, too.
- Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter to lower exposure to toxic household dust. Dogs lick their paws and play with toys on the ground, which is why their exposure is often higher than humans.
- Avoid carpeting and dog and human furniture labeled “stain-proof.”
- Call your dog food company and ask if it uses any nonstick chemicals in its food packaging. Switch to a brand that doesn’t use it if yours does.
- Keep synthetic fragrances out of your home, whether it’s air fresheners or dog shampoo. If you’re a candle fan, use beeswax instead.
- When it comes to food, flame-retardant PBDEs are most likely to be in contaminated farmed seafood, so it may be wise to opt for a different type of dog food.
- Don’t feed your dog anything off the floor. Treats on the floor tend to soak up pesticides and heavy metals dragged in from people’s shoes.
- Don’t use chemicals on your lawn. It’s not good for you or your pets, and these chemicals are often tracked into the house.
Final Thoughts on Chemicals in Dogs
- Dogs routinely test positive for toxic chemicals, often at levels much higher than what we see in humans.
- Plasticizing and fragrance chemicals known as phthalates, along with flame retardants and nonstick chemicals, are among the most common detected in pets.
- Exposure to lawn chemicals can increase a canine’s risk of lymphoma.
- There are non-chemical ways to avoid flea and tick infestations. However, if you do choose chemical treatments, avoid the most toxic types, warns NRDC, creator of the GreenPaws Flea and Tick Product Directory, where you can check the safety of your pet products and find safer ones.