Washington - Chemical contamination, recently identified as a concern for humans, is an even more serious threat to pets, which are showing much higher exposure levels than their owners, according to a study by the Environmental Working Group (EWG).
Washington — Chemical contamination, recently identified as a concern for humans, is an even more serious threat to pets, which are showing much higher exposure levels than their owners, according to a study by the Environmental Working Group (EWG).
Acting as involuntary sentinels, animals support scientists' contention that greater synthetic-chemical exposure is leading to health problems across the country. Evaluating sickness and disease in dogs and cats can help researchers better understand the risks to humans, says the National Research Council.
Aiming to identify pets' exposure rates to chemicals in both indoor and outdoor environments, EWG examined 20 dogs and 37 cats from Hanover Animal Hospital, Mechanicsville, Va., for the study. Blood and urine analysis revealed contamination from 48 out of a total of 70 chemicals for which the animals were tested. Their exposure rates surpassed those of humans in 90 percent of the chemicals found.
"This study is valuable in that it used pets that live in nearly 50 percent of all U.S. households as environmental sentinels to measure the level of contamination from a wide variety of industrial chemicals also shown to be present in human tissue," says Dr. Larry Glickman, DVM and distinguished veterinary epidemiology scientist.
"This study shows that our pets are susceptible to the absorption of potentially harmful chemicals from our environment, just as we are. Perhaps even more troubling is that these chemicals have been found in higher levels in pets than in humans, implying potential harmful consequences for their health and well-being and the need for further study," says John Billeter, DVM who conducted the blood and urine tests.
The study revealed that stain- and grease-proof coatings contamination was 2.4 times higher in dogs than in humans, that 23 times more flame retardants were found in cats and overall more than five times the amounts of mercury was present in pets, compared to average human levels identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Plastics, food-packaging and other heavy metals also were found in the participants, backing the conclusion "that pets' unique behaviors may place them at risk for elevated exposures and health risks from chemical pollutants in the home and outdoors, in air, water, food, soil and consumer products for people and pets," says the EWG.
People, especially children, ingest pollutants through numerous sources, including tap water, indoor contaminants and contact with items that have been on the floor. With a limited diet, often playing and sleeping close to the ground and frequently licking their paws and bodies, animals' exposure to chemicals found in household products, dust and the air is magnified. And because animals age about seven times faster than humans, their health problems develop much quicker than in people, according to EWG.
"Because pet animals tend to have similar or higher concentrations of these chemicals in their bodies than humans, epidemiological studies of pets can be used to identify potential adverse health effects at a lower cost and in a much shorter period of time than it would take to perform similar studies in humans," Glickman says.
Major gaps in the public health protection system have allowed unsafe and harmful chemicals to be present in daily life with little or no restriction, says EWG. Under current federal law, companies do not have to show that chemicals are safe or nontoxic before they are added to products.
Change is vital, EWG concludes.
"The presence of chemicals in dogs and cats sounds a cautionary warning for the present and future health of children as well," says Jane Houlihan, EWG's vice president of research. "This study demonstrating the chemical body burden of dogs and cats is a wake-up call for stronger safety standards from industrial chemical exposures that will protect all members of our families, including our pets."