Here’s a simple question: why has every single dog I’ve known in the last 15 years died of cancer? Because it wasn’t like this when I was a kid. Dogs grew up. Lived a long time. Died of old age. Now the ones I know seem not to ever make it to retirement, and it’s always cancer cutting things short. Cats, too. It turns out there’s a good reason. Our pets carry around far more toxins inside their bodies than us humans.
That’s according to Pets for the Environment, a new project from the Environmental Working Group. Their research finds that dogs and cats have much higher body burdens of 43 different chemicals. (A body burden is the total amount of a chemical or chemicals that has built up over time in our tissues as a result of repeated, often minor exposures.) And since our pets are people, too, this internal pollution is making them sick just like it makes us sick.
There are three chemicals of particular concern: flame retardants, perfluorochemicals (the stuff in Teflon and stain-proof fabrics), and our old friends phthalates. Tests for these three classes of chemicals showed that dogs and cats had 80-100% higher levels than humans. And that’s on top of all the other chemicals the EWG found hiding in pets.
It’s all pretty alarming, but I guess none of it is surprising when you think about it. I’ve written many times about how kids are much more vulnerable to toxin exposures than adults for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that they spend the first part of their life crawling around on the floor (where many toxins in our homes tend to settle) putting just about everything in their mouths. Dogs and cats do much the same. Except that unlike our kids, they never grow up and stop. So it makes sense that they would experience significantly more exposures to many chemical hazards over their lifetimes.
The good news is that we all know the drill by now. With a few notable exceptions like keeping flea collars away and avoiding mainstream commercial pet foods, which I personally think serve death for dinner and wouldn’t recommend feeding to my worst enemy, the steps we need to take to protect our pets are the same ones we should take to protect ourselves and our families. The normal rules of healthy living apply.
The Pets for the Environment website has all the facts and figures and how-to plus e-mail alerts, downloads, and a blog. It’s a little too cutesy for my tastes, but like all EWG efforts, the info is more than solid, and if you’ve got a pet, you need to know what it says.