Forty-eight percent of the “tennis” balls contained lead, while none of the tennis balls that are made specifically for sports contain lead. The lettering that was on one pet tennis ball contained a staggering 2,696 ppm of lead, which is about 27 times the amount of lead that’s allowed in children’s toys. The lettering also contained 262 ppm of arsenic, which is a known human carcinogen.
Jeff Gearhart, who is the research director at Ecology Center, says the results show the necessity of more research into federal safety guidelines that limit lead and other chemicals that are in pet products that are made for cats and dogs. He says such standards would protect pets and young children, who might put a pet’s toy in their mouth. Every expert whom we interviewed agrees.
“Pets, like children, have higher exposure to chemical hazards, and our data show that pet products are far more likely to have hazardous chemicals than children’s toys,” Gearhart says.
Most scientists and veterinary toxicologists agree that a limit should exist for lead that’s in pet products, because a limit exists for lead that’s in children’s toys, says Tina Wismer, who is the medical director of American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) Poison Control Center.
Although she hasn’t seen a case of lead toxicity that was linked to a pet toy, Wismer says long-term exposure to lead can jeopardize a pet’s health. According to Merck Manual for Pet Health, which is considered to be a comprehensive manual on animal health, lead poisoning in dogs can cause bleeding and swelling of the brain, damage kidneys and suppress the immune system. The manual says lead toxicity leads to anemia, gastrointestinal problems, neurological damage, seizures, vomiting, weight loss and even death. Old wall paint, metallic toys and fishing weights are the most common causes of lead poisoning in pets, experts say.
APPA says most pet-product manufacturers voluntarily follow the federal limits for lead that’s in children’s toys. We found 15 pet-toy manufacturers that claim in their marketing that their products have less than 100 ppm of lead. However, no independent third-party laboratory certifies those toys for meeting that level. In other words, you have to take the 15 pet-toy manufacturers at their word. Furthermore, obviously, many more manufacturers and marketers of pet toys exist. We searched the exhibitor list for the SuperZoo pet-products trade show, which convened in August 2016 on the keyword “toy.” Sixty-three companies came up.
In another study, a 2012 Texas Tech University team found high concentrations of bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates in cylindrical-shape fetching sticks that are used to train dogs how to retrieve. Texas Tech researchers also detected lower levels of those chemicals in plastic chew toys. BPA and phthalates are used to make plastic and vinyl more elastic and have been linked to reproductive problems in humans and rodents.
In the study, Phil Smith, who is an associate professor of terrestrial ecotoxicology at Texas Tech, and graduate student Kimberly Wooten analyzed 48 fetching sticks and 12 chew toys. They created fake dog saliva and then, to simulate a chewing motion, squeezed those fetching sticks and toys with stainless steel salad tongs. The researchers discovered that BPA and phthalates leached from the fetching sticks in concentrations that would be considered on the high end of what one might find in children’s toys but still under levels that are considered to be safe for adults. However, the same study found that the chew toys had high levels of BPA and phthalates but were on the lower end of what one might find in children’s toys. In other words, the results from the fetching sticks were more problematic than were the results from the chew toys, but both sets of results still were concerning.
“The chemicals leaked out of those products at high concentrations, but it’s hard to say what high means,” Smith says. “It would be great to have more research and data that suggest what levels are harmful to pets.”
Smith and Wooten stop short of saying that their study proves that the fetching sticks and chew toys are toxic to dogs, because they don’t know what concentrations of BPA and phthalates might cause health problems in dogs.
“We don’t have enough data,” Wooten says. “This is an area where a lot more research is left to be done.”
In July 2012, the United States banned BPA in baby bottles and children’s sipping cups, but it still is allowed in children’s toys. Some phthalates aren’t allowed in children’s toys, either. However, no ban or restrictions exist of BPA or phthalates from pet toys. That’s unfortunate.