From nonstick cookware to clothing and cosmetics, industrial chemicals can be found in many of the items we use every day. One specific class of chemicals, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), has recently been the topic of increased scrutiny as they are used in more and more places, including some food packaging, clothing, cleaning products, and water supplies.
Researchers are starting to understand more about how these PFAs interact with the environment and in the body. Now, scientists have also found these chemicals in household pets (yes, our beloved cats and dogs).
New York State Department of Health researchers tested the feces of cats and dogs for 15 different types of PFAS and found 13 “forever chemicals.” The findings further showed that the pets had been exposed to some PFAS at levels above the accepted minima for humans. Although this study confirmed that pets are being exposed, researchers did not study blood or tissue levels of PFAs, so long-term accumulation rates are not known.
Since 2002, the use of PFAS has declined. However, some PFAS studies suggest that at high concentrations, they may increase the risk of cancer, disrupt hormones including thyroid function, and harm the immune system. While PFAS research is still in its infancy, PFAS exposure may also be harmful for pets. In the study, authors cited research that showed that PFAS had toxic effects on animals’ genes, livers, and brains.
So, what can pet owners do to avoid PFAS? While further investigation into the transmission and effects of PFAS is needed and PFAS are difficult to entirely avoid, there are still ways owners can screen potentially harmful common household items, such as food, polishes, waxes, paints, varnishes, and cleaning products.
Jessica Romine, DVM, DACVIM, Board Certified in Veterinary Internal Medicine, BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital in Southfield, Mich., is offering pet owners a few precautionary tips.
Think of pets like toddlers: they play on the floor and will eagerly put their paws and all sorts of different household items in their mouths. So, their exposures to the chemicals found in waxes and polishes, cleaning products, dust, and so forth, are potentially greater,” explained Dr. Romine. “Although the effects of ‘forever chemicals’ are not yet fully understood, there are some preventative measures owners can take to lessen the risk of exposure, such as avoidance of stain- and/or water-resistant furniture and clothing and opting for natural cleaning products.”
Pets are continuously subjected to chemical exposures in homes, parks, yards, and gardens. While an owner may feel it their obligation to protect their dog or cat, they cannot always prevent exposure to these chemicals and eliminating all contaminants is close to impossible,” explained Dr. Romine. “It’s important to keep in mind that pets use their mouths to clean themselves. Any chemical residue left over from cleaning or personal care products may attach to their coats or paws and be licked off and ingested. Best practice is to refrain from introducing toxic chemicals in your home altogether.”
Our pets breathe and ingest the same industrial chemicals that we breathe and ingest, so it is important we take appropriate steps to keep our furry loved ones and ourselves safe. While many people will feel most comfortable trying to avoid PFAs and similar compounds altogether, it is nearly impossible to completely eliminate them, particularly through water and soil routes. Make sure to thoroughly read the label and educate yourself on the dangers associated with each chemical before use around people and pets.
If you think your pet has ingested a harmful substance and is showing signs of distress, immediately contact your veterinarian and/or the Pet Poison Helpline (855) 764-7661 (incident fee applies).