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Spoiling pets is fun. But before you order a surprise dog toy online or head to the pet store to let him or her pick out a new chew, beware of these hazardous materials. These chemicals can show up in common pet products, particularly cat and dog toys and dog beds.

Toxins found in dog chews and pet toys

1. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC)

PVC is more commonly known as vinyl and is sometimes used to make dog toys.

On the surface, PVC isn’t dangerous. However, it’s really hard material. In order to make toys more soft and flexible for dogs to play with and chew on, manufacturers add phthalates, which are a group of toxic chemicals.

Additionally, PVC contains chlorine. As dogs chew toys made of PVC, the chlorine is released over time.

Why it’s dangerous

Chlorine produces dioxins, which are dangerous pollutants. They cause cancer and immune system damage in animals.

They’re also associated with reproductive and developmental problems, so it’s especially important to avoid giving vinyl toys to growing puppies and kittens.

2. Phthalates

As mentioned above, phthalates are a group of toxic chemicals. They’re the additive that makes PVC pet toys flexible and inviting for dogs to gnaw.

Phthalates smell like vinyl. You know the smell? It’s pretty distinct. The stronger that scent is on dog toys made with PVC, the more phthalates it contains. And the more toxic.

Why they’re dangerous

The more your dogs play and chew on vinyl, the more phthalates seep out. These toxins move freely and can be absorbed into your dog’s gums or skin. The result is damage to their liver and kidneys.

3. Bisphenol A (BPA)

BPA is all around us. It’s a chemical used to manufacture polycarbonate plastics and found in everything from beverage bottles to cosmetic packaging to cashier receipts to car parts.

Most important to be aware of for your dog’s sake is that BPA can be found in the lining of their canned dog food.

Why it’s dangerous

One study showed that BPA upsets the canine endocrine system. In other words, it causes disruptions to the gut microbiome and metabolism of dogs.

4. Lead

Lead is a commonly known toxin. Since lead paint wasn’t banned until 1978 in the U.S., it’s still possible for dogs and cats to paw at, lick, and ingest lead paint chips. Other possible sources of lead  include:

Why it’s dangerous

Puppies and kittens are most susceptible to lead poisoning. But any animal in contact with lead can get poisoned. It can damage multiple organs, including the nervous system and the gastrointestinal tract. 

Here are signs of lead poisoning to watch for in your dog or cat:

  • Lack of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Hysteria and anxiety, which could show as hysterical barking in dogs
  • Jaw champing (rapid clenching)
  • Salivation
  • Blindness
  • Seizures
  • Lack of coordination
  • Muscle spasms

5. Chromium

Chromium in trace amounts is an essential dietary mineral. A deficiency causes insulin resistance and symptoms similar to diabetes. Veterinarians may use it in microdoses as an insulin supplement for dogs.

However, high levels of chromium can be toxic.

Dog and cat toys made in China and sold at Walmart were tested by a forensic toxicologist for The results showed elevated levels of chromium.

Why it’s dangerous

Chromium is a known cancer-producing agent. It can also have adverse effects on the respiratory system, GI system, immune system, liver, and kidney.

6. Formaldehyde

Rawhide chews are often preserved with formaldehyde.

Why it’s dangerous

If your dog chews rawhides with formaldehyde over an extended amount of time or in high doses, he or should may experience respiratory or digestive irritation.

According to the American Cancer Society, any type of exposure to formaldehyde—whether ingested, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin—can cause cancer.

7. Cadmium

The same toxicology testing performed for ConsumerAffairs that discovered high levels of chromium in imported cat and dog toys also turned up high levels of cadmium. Additionally, a cloth catnip toy made in China tested positive for massive levels of cadmium.

Why it’s dangerous

Cadmium destroys the joints, kidneys, and lungs.

8. Bromine

Bromine compounds are used as a type of flame retardant. These flame retardants can be found in furniture foam, which includes foam in dog beds. Toxic chemical testing performed by EcologyCenter has detected bromine in some dog beds.

Why it’s dangerous

Toxic levels of bromine in your pet may cause stomach upset, vomiting, constipation, loss of appetite, pancreatitis, muscle spasms, and tremors.

How to avoid toxins in pet products

There are ways to check for toxins in the items you already purchased and the ones you’re thinking about buying.

You can also choose to get your dog and cat goodies from hazard-free manufacturers.

How to check for safety

Choose hazard-free manufacturers

Certain pet companies have more stringent production protocols, safety practices, and a general commitment to quality. Descriptors like “natural” aren’t scientific or specific enough to tell you whether the product is safe, but details like “BPA-free” or “organic” (which is regulated by third-party certification) are good clues as to a product’s quality.

Look for company statements about production and quality control on labels and websites. When in doubt, calling or emailing a company is the most reliable method for finding out the latest on their materials.

When it comes to our pets, we can never be too safe. Or have too much fun!

Further reading


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