The nationwide health epidemic of chronic diseases afflicting the human population is also showing up among companion animals. According to a 21st-century report by the Environmental Working Group, like the proverbial canary in a coal mine, pets may be the environmental sentinels now signaling a clear connection between disease and man-made chemicals.
In a study that analyzed blood samples of dogs and cats, 48 of 70 industrial chemicals and pollutants were traced, many showing up in concentrations substantially higher than previously reported in national studies of humans. Dogs displayed double the concentration of perfluorochemicals (used in stain- and grease-proof coatings); cats evidenced 23 times the concentration of polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) fire retardants and 5.4 times the amount of mercury. PBDE levels in hyperthyroid cats have been linked to eating canned cat food and to the increased use of PBDEs in consumer products during the past 30 years. In humans, high levels of flame-retardant chemicals are implicated in endocrine disruption, Type 2 diabetes and thyroid disease.
Suggestions for minimizing exposure include avoiding chemical-laden household cleaners, furnishings and carpet; drinking carbon-filtered water; steering clear of food and beverage containers made from or lined with plastic (including cans); and eating organic produce and free-range meat.