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Pet Toys and Toxicity

Spoiling a dog or cat with fun toys is one of the joys of pet parenthood. But according to information released by Healthy Stuff, a nonprofit environmental research organization, many pet products are literally spoiling pets to death, shortening animals’ lives by exposing them to killer levels of toxic substances.

Using an X-ray fluorescence analyzer, researchers at Michigan’s Ecology Center examined more than 400 pet products for hazardous chemicals, including lead, cadmium, mercury, bromine, chlorine (PVC) and arsenic. These have been linked to reproductive and endocrine problems, developmental and learning disabilities, liver toxicity and cancer.

One-quarter of pet products tested — and all tennis balls made just for pets — were found to have detectable levels of lead, including 7 percent with levels higher than 300 parts per million, the current Consumer Product Safety Commission standard for lead in children’s products. There are currently no government standards for hazardous chemicals in pet products.

For example, Coleman dog beds and cat toys by Kitty Hoots contain brominated flame retardants, which a 2007 EPA study linked to hyperthyroidism in cats.

In a bi-pawtisan effort, Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg and Republican Rep. Bobby Rush are expected to introduce a new bill to reform the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, phasing out most hazardous substances in “worst first” order of priority, and requiring manufacturers to take responsibility for their products’ safety. To make your voice heard, go to and click on “Take Action: Support Federal Regulatory Reform.”

In the meantime, protect pets and other family members by carefully checking the pet list, where products are ranked by concern level. A Classic Kong, for instance, is safely nontoxic, while the Air Kong Squeaker Football contains lead and arsenic. Nylabone Puppy Teething Keys have arsenic, but the Nylabone Double Action Chew is harmless.

Buying from pet product manufacturers that use recycled, organic and fair-trade materials is a safe bet; three good resources are, and

“The more we test, the more we find that the presence of toxic chemicals is widespread in everyday consumer products,” concludes The Ecology Center’s Jeff Gearhart. “It should not be the responsibility of public health advocates to test these products. Product manufacturers and legislators must take the lead and replace dangerous substances with safe alternatives.”

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