“The potential issues of toxicity associated with pet toys should be an issue not only for pets but also for any young infants or children who are crawling and walking around and contacting pets,” says veterinarian Dr. Jean Dobbs.
WHAT TO DO. No standards or regulations in pet products exist, but pet owners can avoid potential toxins.
Almost all of the experts whom we interviewed tell us that you should avoid buying plastic chew toys. If you buy plastic chew toys, Mike Schade of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, which is a consumer-advocacy group that campaigns against toxic chemicals, urges pet owners to avoid pet toys that are made of polyvinyl chloride or vinyl plastic. These products contain harmful phthalates and often are chewed or sucked on, which increases the chances that phthalates are released and absorbed or ingested. Instead, Schade says, you should look for products that are made of polypropylene, which is considered to be a safe plastic.
Almost all of the experts whom we interviewed also tell us that you should feed your pet from a stainless steel—rather than a ceramic—bottle, bowl or plate. Ceramic products can leach chemicals into food and water, while stainless steel products don’t leach any chemicals. Experts agree that it’s wise to avoid ceramics altogether, because some products have been found to have elevated levels of BPA.
“I tell pet owners to be careful with any product that their dog’s or cat’s food and water come in contact with,” says veterinary toxicologist Dr. Justine Lee of ASPCA.
PetSmart, which is one of the largest pet retailers in the United States, is the only retailer that we found that claims to use an independent third-party laboratory to test the pet products that it contracts for manufacture and sells under its own brands, including Top Paw, regardless of the product’s origin, for lead and phthalates.
“We choose to hold our private-label pet toys to the same strict chemical standards that the federal government requires for children’s toys,” the company tells us.
PetSmart also uses a third-party laboratory to test its private-label pet products for antimony, arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, mercury and selenium, which are chemicals that aren’t banned federally but are regulated in children’s products in some states.
“As new information becomes available, we update our standards and guidelines,” the company says.
In July 2016, Wal-Mart Stores announced that it asked its suppliers to remove eight “high-priority” chemicals, including phthalates, from products that are sold in U.S. stores. Wal-Mart Stores’ program affects 90,000 items, including pet products.
“This underscores the need for suppliers to take steps and eliminate chemicals, like phthalates and lead and BPA, which have been identified in pet toys over the years,” Schade says.
We found 15 companies that claim to make “natural” or “toxic-free” pet products out of natural cotton, hemp and rubber, but no consensus exists on what constitutes a toxic pet product or what the word “natural” means. Most of the 15 companies state on their website that their products are free of BPA, lead, phthalates or other potentially toxic materials. We found that the companies typically use polypropylene instead of potentially toxic plastics.
As of press time, New York State Senate’s Environmental Conservation Committee was considering amending its environmental conservation law, which regulates toxic chemicals that are in children’s products, to include pet products. The amended law would forbid the sale in New York of any pet product that contains 10 chemicals, including lead, and their associated compounds. At press time, no one could tell us when or whether the law would advance beyond committee. It’s the only legislative call to action that we found for pet-toy regulations as of press time.
“We’re all animals,” Schade says. “We often look at animal studies to see how chemicals might be harmful to humans. If there are safe alternatives to chemicals, such as phthalates and lead, why take an unnecessary risk with our beloved companions?”
We completely agree, and we urge CPSC and FDA to wake up and take the health and safety of our furry friends seriously.
Lisa McCormick is an investigative producer for WDAF-TV in Kansas City, Missouri, and has spent 22 years as an investigative journalist. She has written about pet issues for Bark and Dog Fancy.