Environmental Toxins and Pets: Suggestions for Reducing Their Exposure


Over the last couple of decades we have learned much about the wide range of toxic chemicals that people are exposed to at home and elsewhere. These exposures are associated with illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, and disruption of reproductive and other hormonal systems.

Our companion animals are also exposed to many of these toxins in our homes and back yards. Just as studies have shown that we humans are carrying hundreds of chemicals in our bodies,1 recent studies have demonstrated that dogs and cats are also carrying toxic burdens in their bodies, in some cases at higher concentrations than their human companions.2,3

While you can’t protect your pets from all sources of toxic chemicals, here are a few things you can do to reduce their exposure.

 Pesticides and cancer

‘Jack’ (Luke Taylor)

Several studies have shown an association between use of pesticides in lawn care or flea/tick control and cancers in dogs, such as lymphoma and bladder cancer. Here are a few tips to reduce your pet’s exposure to pesticides.

  • Reduce or eliminate use of pesticides to control weeds or insects on lawns where your dog or cat plays. For safer alternatives to these chemicals, check out the following sources: www.ipm.ucdavis.edu or www.panna.org.
  • Visiting a dog park? Ask park officials whether the area has been treated with pesticides and when. Waiting a week or two after application can help reduce the presence of pesticides in the grass and your dog’s exposure.
  • Select safer flea and tick treatments for your pets using the NRDC’s guide: www.simplesteps.org/greenpaws-products.

Cats and hyperthyroidism

Recent studies indicate that high exposure to environmental toxins in canned food and household dust may be linked to the rise of hyperthyroidism in cats. Because cats spend a lot of time on the floor and ingest dust as they bathe, keeping your home’s floors clean and replacing synthetic carpets with hardwood or tile floors and foam furniture with natural fibers (e.g. cotton or wool) can help. Also, try to feed your cat less canned fish, as this source has been found to contain the highest concentrations of contaminants.3 Of course, your cat will determine whether or not they’ll go along with that plan but give it your best shot if you’ve got a fish-loving cat in the home.

Plastics and reproductive health

‘Ellen’ (Laurel Standley)

Chemicals that leach from plastics such as soft vinyl (recycle code 3) or polycarbonates (recycle code 7) have been linked to negative impacts on reproductive health, particularly when exposures occur in the womb. Concerns about these exposures include “feminizing” effects on males and increased risk of breast cancer. As a precaution, especially when your pet is expecting, reduce her exposure to plastics. 

  • Replace plastic food bowls with food-grade stainless steel or ceramic bowls. Just make sure the ceramic is well glazed and lead-free (check the internet or your favorite pet store for sources of lead-free bowls).
  • Find alternatives for plastic chew toys when possible, making sure to avoid toys made from vinyl or recycled plastic bottles.

Teflon and birds

Fumes from heated fluorinated nonstick coatings have long been known to be highly toxic to pet birds. But you might be surprised at how many surfaces in our homes have non-stick coatings. To protect the health of pet birds and to reduce your own exposure to these fumes, make sure you don’t overheat the following products: nonstick pans and utensils, self-cleaning ovens, irons and ironing board covers, and microwave popcorn bags. If you’re not sure whether the product you are using has a nonstick coating, check with the manufacturer.

Water contaminants

Tap water and some bottled waters can contain low levels of many toxins, including disinfection byproducts (DBPs) that are formed when the water is treated to eliminate pathogens. DBPs have been strongly linked to increased risk of bladder cancer in humans. Dogs, especially Scottish terriers, are also vulnerable to this disease. To remove DBPs and most other contaminants from your pet’s drinking water (and your own), filter tap water through carbon systems such as those sold by PUR® or Brita®.

Bottom line: You and your companion animals are exposed to a wide range of toxic chemicals in home and outdoor environments. Removing toxins from your home will protect both you and your pets from illnesses related to these chemicals. To learn about more things you can do to reduce your own and your pet’s toxic burdens, check out my recent book “#Toxins Tweet: 140 Easy Tips to Reduce Your Family’s Exposure to Environmental Toxins”.4


1www.cdc.gov/exposurereport (“National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals”, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2009).

2http://www.ewg.org/PetsfortheEnvironment (“Polluted Pets: High Levels of Toxic Industrial Chemicals Contaminate Cats and Dogs”, Environmental Working Group, 2008).

3“Elevated PBDE Levels in Pet Cats: Sentinels for Humans?” Dye and coauthors (2007), Environmental Science and Technology, Vol. 41, pp 6350–6356.

4Available at: www.clear-current.com/resources.html

2 responses to “Environmental Toxins and Pets: Suggestions for Reducing Their Exposure”

  1. About two years ago Anne and I lost our two dogs, Alley (Rottweiler) and Sarah (Doberman Pincher) to what turned out to be from toxins in their pet beds. We purchased the beds from a local pet chain just like most people do. After that we did a lot of research on the subject. Just to be honest, we do have an online organic pet supply business and you are welcome to visit if you like Paws and Claws Pet Supply, but what we really want you to do is read the article we posted on the subject. We were devastated when we lost our dogs, they were only 4 years old. We don’t want this to happen to anyone else. Please read The Dangers of Cheap Dog Beds. Best to everyone.

    • Hi Bruce,
      So sorry to hear about your loss. My sister, Mom, and I have lost five cats to cancer over the last eight years so I agree about watching out for cheap goods potentially containing toxins that are harmful for our companion animals as well as ourselves. Thanks for commenting and creating a business that offers safer alternatives.

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