Wellness: Health Care
The most common dog-park related incidents revealed
The warmer summer weather correlates to an uptick in ER visits, many of which are related to dog park dilemmas. Interestingly, there has been a 34 percent increase in dog park utilization over the past five years, and these designated areas are the fastest growing segment of all city parks in the U.S.
With this increase in use comes the proportional increase in dog injuries. Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI) recently sorted its database of more than 420,000 dogs to determine common dog park-related medical conditions in 2011. Topping off the list are sprains and soft tissue injuries, with lacerations and bite wounds following in second place. My own ER experience supports these statistics, and it wouldn’t be summer in the ER without treating at least a couple of these over the course of a weekend. The remainder of the top list 10 is rounded out as follows: kennel cough, insect bites, head trauma, heat stroke, parasites, and parvovirus.
Each of these conditions can make a fun day at the park a costly one. The most common conditions on the list, sprains and soft tissue injury, carry the price tag of an average of $213 per pet. Insect bites, turn out to be the least expensive, and run an average of $141 per pet. The most expensive medical condition to care for is heat exhaustion or heat stroke, and the reported average cost is $584 per pet. However, if the heat stoke is severe, cost of treatment can easily exceed thousands of dollars.
The majority of medical conditions that occur at the dog park can be avoided by taking necessary precautions, particularly by simply keeping a close eye on your dog at all times. Dog parks have rules just like any other community, and if you follow these tips, it may help prevent an unnecessary trip to your veterinarian or local ER.
Hopefully these tips will make your next visit a walk in the park!
An extra dose of delicious
A homemade vinaigrette on the salad, fresh herbs over a perfect al dente pasta — these are the flourishes that elevate our experience of eating. Everyone who has watched their dogs dig into a flavorful meal knows that they too are gastronomes to the core.
Like us, our dogs occasionally enjoy a little something different, and it’s easy to provide those quick hits of tastiness that make a meal just that much better. This is especially true for dogs with diminished interest in eating, whether due to illness, age or simple boredom. By adding toppings, you have a real opportunity not only to brighten your dog’s day with fragrant, fresh tastes, but also to slip in some supplemental nutrition in the process.
The good news is that you need go no further than your own pantry or the aisles of your local pet-supply or grocery store to discover simple, healthy ways to liven up an otherwise humdrum dinner for your dog.
Some of you may be saying, Wait! We know dogs have only about one-sixth the number of taste buds we do. Why bother dishing up anything out of the ordinary? Ah-ha. You’ve forgotten another widely known fact: When it comes to smell, dogs have 125 million sensory cells to our 5 to 10 million; they can smell each and every ingredient. Imagine that! And research has shown that they are able to distinguish at least four flavor profiles: sweet, sour and salty, which they tend to like, and bitter, which they do not. (Put down that saltshaker; according to Psychology Today, because dogs’ wild ancestors ate primarily meat, they did not develop salt receptors like those of humans, so what we consider perfectly seasoned is likely to be too salty for them.)
In this round-up, The Bark shares three different kinds of toppings: On the Go, or easy toppings that will bring a little surprise and variety to their meals. For the Home Cook, which includes ingredients and recipes that take a bit of preparation and Off the Shelf, commercial additions that often include nutritional enrichments. With a few key harmful foods excepted (see box on left), the only real limits to topping your dog’s food with delicious add-ons are her particular needs and tastes, and your imagination. Of course, each dog is different and it’s best to clear dietary changes with your veterinarian.
On the Go
Even easier? Drizzle some oil. Few supplements are as popular as salmon or fish oil for the canine mealtime — and for good reason. Fish oil is among the most beneficial additives to the canine diet: it is excellent for the treatment of canine allergies, but is now recommended for everything from arthritis to high cholesterol as well. One convention for calculating the amount of fish oil to include in your dog’s diet is to multiply your dog’s weight (in pounds) by 20. For a 60-pound dog, for example, the daily target dose is 1,200 mg. Another top product is flax seed oil, which is credited with healing, strengthening bones and maintaining dog’s energy. Flax seed and olive oil are both great sources of antioxidants, and key for maintaining canine cardiovascular health.
For the Home Cook
Postins selected these ingredients with a dog’s health in mind. Both cherries and fennel are packed with powerful antioxidants, and fava beans tonify, or maintain the healthy function of, the spleen, liver, kidneys and pancreas. But you don’t need a PhD in animal nutrition to boost your dog’s meals. One more home cooking approach: simply buy a medley of vegetables in bulk (see low-prep list) and oven-roast as many as your dog might eat in four to five days, then store in refrigerator and add at mealtime. A healthy “fast food” your dog will love. You can even just stock up on frozen vegetables — defrost and serve!
Wellness: Health Care
When a good chew turns bad to the bone
An uncanny reason for a visit to the ER is when a playful pup manages to get one of those circular marrow bones caught around its lower jaw and canine teeth. I still remember my first patient that found himself in this very predicament; perplexed, I thought, “How is this even possible?” While it looks like a trick that only David Copperfield should be able to pull off, it can actually happen with surprising ease.
When it comes to marrow mishaps, I have seen the entire breadth of bone bad luck. While some are easily removed with lubrication and gentle manipulation alone, others need to be removed with a cast cutting saw (or other manly tool, depending on the thickness of the bone) while the pet is sedated. I have also seen dogs that have suffered from fractured canine teeth as well as extensive injury to their lower jaw and tongue. Tissue injury occurs when the circulation of blood is cut off to the skin and/or tongue while it is trapped within the bone. The marrow bone literally turns into a tourniquet with the continued and inevitable swelling of the tissues. Major or minor, any of these situations can be painful, distressing, and potentially very costly, depending on the extent of trauma and demeanor of your pet.
Your dog absolutely loves these bones and you love to give them, so what’s a pet parent to do? Here are a few tips to help prevent any misadventures:
As gratifying as these treats can be, one can still find a bone to pick with them because the serious complications happen just as often as the “simple ones.” The marrow of the story: know the risks and let your pet enjoy them only under direct supervision.
Wellness: Healthy Living
Batten Disease, a rare illness, has brought two communities together in a most unusual partnership.
Lorena Ann Johnston was born on Groundhog Day in 1971. Her father remembers that her hair grew in as his was falling out. Her first five years were uncomplicated; sadly, they’d be the only easy years of her short life, which ended in 1993 when she was 22.
Lance Johnston’s daughter had Batten Disease, an inherited genetic defect that leads to a breakdown of the entire nervous system. Lorena’s symptoms began when she was six with vision problems; progressed to trouble concentrating in school; later, seizures; and finally, dementia. Because the disease was so rare and its symptoms easily mistaken for other problems, it took eight long and lonely years for Lorena’s illness to be diagnosed.
Though a diagnosis today may come more quickly, it remains just as tragic. Lorena’s dad, now executive director of the Batten Disease Support and Research Association, is determined that no one will have to go it alone. “I made a commitment to her. I’m not smart enough to go into laboratory and find a cure, so I promised her that I’d do the next best thing and try to help others. And that’s been my focus ever since.”
This dedication led Lance to a family of dogs.
Meet the Family
The caller was Stuart Eckmann, who had a hunch that something powerful might happen if the two communities talked. He invited Lance Johnston and a few parents of children with the disease to the 2003 Tibetan Terrier World Congress. Stuart Eckmann’s hunch paid off.
“All of a sudden, people are thinking, ‘Wow, here’s two very similar things going on and we’re learning from each other.’ It was like two families coming together,” said Johnston. The two communities have been exchanging information ever since, and have even teamed up to fund some of the same research, hoping that by pooling resources, they can accelerate a cure.
At a subsequent Tibetan Terrier conference, sponsored by the Canine Health Foundation, participants gathered to hear scientists discuss the latest inroads into Batten Disease, among them, stem-cell research. Outside the conference hall, parents of both species mingled, as did their children and their dogs.
Catey Allio is a soft-spoken teenager with Batten Disease; she is wheelchair-bound and blind; six-year-old Daniel Kerner is also in a wheelchair, his limbs and language erratic. Daniel’s father, Marcus Kerner, and Catey’s mother, Cathy Allio, are meeting here for the first time, in a difficult but ritualized exchange. With increasing emotion as he tells his son’s story, Marcus Kerner leans into Cathy Allio’s embrace.
Two of Cathy Allio’s six children have Batten Disease, including her youngest, 7-year-old Annie. She admits she was initially conflicted about collaborating with dog owners, feeling there was nothing comparable about a sick child and a sick dog. “But it wasn’t about a dog or a child and which was more important. It was about fighting a disease.”
Collaboration Brings Comfort
“I come from a background of working with rats and mice [in a] laboratory . . . where you could control everything. I thought, ‘This is impossible, there’s no way you can do this type of research depending on the pet population.’ But I’ve learned that it is possible. I was pleasantly surprised,” Dr. Katz noted.
This research is possible in part because of all the new tools now available, in particular, an innovative Tibetan Terrier DNA bank that has allowed him to compare genes in healthy and diseased animals as well as identify this genetic disorder in several other breeds. While his personal priorities remain human well-being, Martin Katz’s approach to his work has been radically—and humanely—changed.
Unfortunately, given the limitations of current research, Dr. Katz could not give Erika Gaspar a definitive diagnosis for her dog. But though she was sad, she seemed to feel perhaps less burdened, less alone. Which is why this extended family, galvanized by a rare disease, believes it’s onto something. Those affected have reached out beyond their respective boundaries to shepherd change and find a cure.
Copyright © 2006; Used by permission of National Public Radio
Wellness: Health Care
Gorging has its consequences—a cautionary tale
Question: Our dog is a notorious chowhound, and she's pretty indiscriminate about what she eats. Should we be worried?
Answer: Let me tell you about Goldie. Goldie is the kind of dog no one can resist for long. She hovers peaceably at barbecues, lays her head lovingly on guests’ laps during Thanksgiving dinner and generally makes a mild nuisance of herself whenever food is involved. Her imploring expression and gentle acceptance of rejection make it easy to forgive her, though.
As everyone who knows Goldie has learned, no degree of meticulous strategizing or human obstruction is enough to thwart a dog with an indefatigable nose for garbage. No matter where her owners stash it in an attempt to foil her canine impulses, Goldie’s a pro at unearthing people-processed trash.
After one now-notorious dinner party, Goldie slipped out the front door (no doubt as some inebriated guest departed) and was missing for hours. As it turned out, she hadn’t gone far. She was a mere few yards away, stealthily working her way through the garbage bin behind her house, gorging on the discarded contents of every diner’s plate. By the time she was discovered, her belly was bigger than a beach ball. Alarmed, her people rushed her to the emergency hospital to see what could be done to avert impending disaster.
An X-ray confirmed that Goldie had consumed a formidable number of carcass remnants and was thus ineligible for the effective—if undignified—emetic. (Vets don’t induce vomiting if sharp shards are present, since they can shred the esophagus on their way up.) Instead, she went home with stomach-protecting drugs and strict instructions to her family to fast her for a day and make sure she got plenty of rest.
She may have been spared nausea that night, but it wasn’t long before Goldie looked as though a truck had hit her—perhaps one loaded with the crustacean husks and Cornish game hen bones of the night before. Another X-ray confirmed that the bony material was in mid-digestion, most of it still in the stomach. The bigger problem, however, was the evidence of severe inflammation surrounding her stomach, upper intestines and pancreas.
Goldie didn’t have a fever and her blood work was normal, but it was obvious that she was in serious pain, and pancreatitis—a painful, life-threatening inflammation of the infamously sensitive pancreas—was high on the list of possibilities. Goldie was hospitalized and given IV fluid therapy, pain relief, antibiotics and more GI-protecting drugs. An ultrasound and consultation with an internal medicine specialist were also ordered.
Typically, vets allow even these extreme cases of garbage-toxicosis to pass—which they almost always do. Occasionally, however, when a dog has gorged to such a degree, more aggressive treatment is in order. This was indisputably the case with Goldie.
As gloomy thoughts of pancreatitis and the undigested matter loomed, Goldie’s vets summoned the surgeon. It was a hard call: gastrotomy or pancreatitis, or the inevitable bout of pancreatitis augmented by surgical pain. A gastrotomy surgically relieves the stomach of its bony burden, but the pancreas knows an insult when it sees one—and rarely veers off course once offended.
In spite of the risks, it was decided that Goldie should have surgery to remove the bulk of her midnight meal. Within 18 hours of its consumption, with the help of a heating blanket, four techs, one doctor and narcotics, she was recovering surprisingly well. Her family was sure she’d learned her lesson, but there’s no doubt in my mind that as she slept, her dreams were filled with visions of overflowing garbage bins and oceans of musty, refuse-ridden poultry carcasses.
The hazards of overindulgence—whether it’s the result of scavenging or human generosity—can be more serious than you might think. Dogs are notorious for the range of foodstuffs they’re willing to eat, and as Bark readers no doubt know, some of these items are dangerous, if not fatal. Chocolate, which is toxic, and high-fat or spoiled foods, which are triggers for pancreatitis, are to be scrupulously avoided. As Halloween and Thanksgiving approach, it’s a good idea to review potential food hazards on the ASPCA’s animal poison control site. Be extra vigilant, as not every dog will be as fortunate as Goldie!
PS: Goldie made a good recovery and continues to live contentedly with her now-vegetarian family.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
This morning, as I watched my partially bald dog Dharma bask in the sun’s rays, I was reminded of the risks that the sun and heat can pose to our pups. It has prompted me to discuss a few sun tips to help keep our dogs safe- while still having fun- this summer season.
Despite all that fur, it’s important to be aware of the risks of sunburn in your pet. Dogs, especially those with short hair, white fur, and pink skin, can easily sunburn, and this can be just as painful for your dog as it is to us. Limit your dog’s exposure during peak sun hours (between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.) and apply sunblock to the ears and nose 30 minutes before going outside. Products available to protect dogs from sunburn include vests that block ultraviolet rays and pet-specific sunscreen made with ingredients repellent to dogs to keep them from licking it. If you are unsure that your sunscreen is pet-safe, double check the label to make sure it doesn’t contain zinc oxide (Desitin) or salicylates (aspirin); these can be toxic if licked off and ingested in large amounts. Stomach irritation can also occur if excessive amounts are ingested, so be careful about putting too much on in an area where they can lick it. If your dog has lupus or pemphigus (a condition that results in a crusty appearance to the nose), consult with a dermatologist before putting sunscreen on his or her nose or before letting outside.
While out at the beach, it is imperative to always have a fresh water source available and offer it frequently. If your dog gets thirsty, he may begin to drink the only available water, which is often salt water, and this can lead to toxicity. A few gulps of salt water won’t harm your dog, but watch for vomiting and early neurological signs of salt poisoning such as dullness and depression.
Scan the water and sand for jellyfish. Be aware of sea lice that can cause itchy red bumps on dogs. Salt can be irritating to paws and skin, too. Rinse salt water and sand from your dog’s coat after swimming. Always clean and dry ears after a swim. Water that remains in ears, especially from a dirty lake, can result in a bacterial ear infection.
Running on the sand is strenuous exercise, and this can easily lead to heat stroke. A dog that is out of shape can also easily pull a tendon or ligament, so keep a check on your dog’s activity. Hot sand (and pavement) can blister delicate pads that are new to these hot surfaces.
For dogs who enjoy the sport of boating, just like people, he or she should always wear a life jacket. Make sure that the life jacket fits properly and let your dog get used to having it on while swimming before going deeper into the water.
If you have a breed that is predisposed to eye problems (such as a Pug or Shepherd), you may want to consider Doggles to help protect their precious peepers.
And finally, never, ever leave a dog unattended in your vehicle in the summer months. Heatstroke and death can occur within minutes in warm temperatures and we have already treated several cases of this in our hospital over the past 2 weeks!! You can read further about heatstroke (what and what NOT to do) here.
I hope these tips help keep your pets safe during these upcoming summer months!
Have a doggy sun-proofing idea? Please share!
News: Guest Posts
I started jogging in 1975. My grandmother told me it was unladylike; my mother was certain it would ruin my knees. Thirty-five years later, I’m still running regularly and my knees are fine. I love it when science finally confirms what I’ve sensed all along, and also proves my mother wrong.
I believe that science about humans can often be extended to our canine companions. If jogging is good for us, it’s probably also good for dogs – with the usual cautions. I have had one or more canine running companion since getting my first Alaskan Malamute in 1985. She lived to be fourteen. My two current Malamutes Maia, 13 and Meadow, 11, are now “retired” from running, but they both ran until they were about nine years old, and still enjoy daily walks and are in excellent health. My current canine running companion is an exuberant four year old rescued Aussie.
A recent study out of Denmark makes a very convincing case that even moderate amounts of regular jogging improve and extend our lives. What’s impressive about this study is that it started in 1976; approximately 20,000 men and women ranging in age from 20 to 93 have been followed since that time, reporting their levels of activity, including jogging, as well as other factors related to cardio health and longevity.
At a 35 year follow-up, there were 10,158 deaths among non-joggers and only 122 among joggers. Jogging reduced the risk of death by 44% for both men and women. Jogging extended life expectancy 6.2 years in men and 5.6 years in women. An investment of one to two and a half hours per week, spread over two or three sessions, provided the most benefit, according to researcher Peter Schnohr, chief cardiologist of the Copenhagen City Heart Study.
Wow! Jog to live longer. So elegantly simple. And you get to enjoy runner’s high as a bonus!
Learning about the benefits of regular jogging from my own experience, I try to apply the same lessons to my dogs’ lives. From Schnohr’s study and others like it, we know that jogging improves our oxygen uptake, improves lipid profiles (raising HDL and lowering triglycerides), lowers blood pressure, improves cardiac function, bone density, immune function, reduces inflammation markers, prevents obesity, and improves psychological function.
Why wouldn’t this also be true for dogs? I’m convinced it is. I once made a guesstimate of the miles my Malamutes ran with me before I started noticing the signs that it was time to retire them to a walking regimen. The number surprised even me: 10,000 miles.* Observing the joy on my dogs’ faces when they run and their overall excellent health throughout their lives is my proof that running is beneficial for dogs. My vet is pleased that both of my Malamutes are lean in their old age, which benefits their joints. It’s a result of a lifetime of exercise. And we all know that “a tired dog is a good dog.” My regular runs with my Aussie mellow him right out.
Some people focus their efforts on making sure their dogs eat an optimal diet. That’s great, but if you forget the exercise component, you’re missing the chance to further extend your canine companion’s life and sense of wellbeing. Good diet alone isn’t enough. Humans and canines are designed to move. If your dog isn’t a good candidate for even an easy jogging routine, at least get her outside walking briskly and romping playfully every day. Regular weight-bearing movement in the key.
What about my mother’s long-ago warning that I’d ruin my knees by jogging? More to the point here, what about concerns that running will cause knee injuries in dogs?
Lauren Cox, MyHealthNewsDaily.com Contributor, asked several experts whether jogging causes arthritis in human knees. “That’s an old wives tale,” says Dr. Lewis Maharam, fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine. “Your parents decide if you're going to have arthritis or not — it's genetic. Jogging, or running, itself will not cause the arthritis.”
Dr. Michelle Wolcott, Associate Professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine adds that if you’ve never had a broken bone or ligament injury that would predispose you to arthritis, then the chances that jogging will cause arthritis in the knee are minimal. “We know that weight-bearing exercise, such as running, helps prevent osteoporosis and osteoarthritis. Repetitive weight bearing and motion are good for the joints, and running essentially does that,” she says. “If you are not predisposed to osteoarthritis, and have healthy knees and are of healthy weight, then running doesn't affect your risk for knee arthritis. That's a huge misconception and one that I fight all the time.”
Again: If it’s true for humans – that jogging doesn’t damage healthy knees—then I bet it’s also true for canines. In fact, I believe that my dogs’ knees are better off running than doing activities like jumping to catch a Frisbee or chasing a ball with short bursts of speed. A lifetime of weight-bearing exercise allows for strong joints late in life.
In sum: What better excuse to get yourself out the door and jogging through the neighborhood than taking your dog on the same journey with you to a longer, healthier life? I have yet to meet a dog who won’t enthusiastically lead you out the door at the start of your jog, no matter the weather or time of day. It’s never too late to start. Just be sure to consult your medical and veterinary caregivers, start easy and build from there. Have fun with it. Motivate yourself by training for a local dog-friendly event, like Seattle’s Furry 5K, a run/walk that encourages bringing your dog. Your dog will thank you. You’ll both live longer and be better able to enjoy those bonus years.
*For skeptics, I calculated that number as follows: 8 years x 25/mls per week average x 50 weeks/year = 10,000 miles, a low estimate based on my own running logs. Many weeks we ran more miles, a few weeks we ran less. I suspect the real number is at least 10-20% higher.
Seattle Furry 5K: http://www.furry5k.com/
Wellness: Healthy Living
Heartworms and hookworms and fleas, oh my!! Get ready- the forecast is that this year’s combination of unseasonably warm winter temperatures and plenty of springtime precipitation is going to produce a deluge of parasite problems for our pets including: heartworm disease, fleas, ticks, and intestinal parasites (roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, tapeworms).
The Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) predicts a substantial nationwide rise in parasites above normal levels. Hardest hit will be the southern portion of the United States (West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and Louisiana). The CAPC anticipates that 2012 will be a “banner year” for heartworm disease, and that even the slightest deviations from administering heartworm preventive as recommended could pose significant health threats for pets.
The CAPC is also predicting a jump in parasite populations within the Northeast (Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, the District of Columbia) and the Midwest (Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska), particularly in areas with above-average temperatures and rainfall. During the past five to ten years, the incidence of heartworm disease has been on the rise in both the Northeast and the Midwest.
Washington, Oregon, and Northern California are expected to experience moderate increases in companion animal parasite populations this year. The parasite forecast for Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho is moderate compared to other regions in the country.
Sounds like there will be no hiding from parasites this year! In order to protect your dogs and cats from these pesky varmints I suggest the following:
1. Talk with your veterinarian about the products best suited for protecting your dogs and cats against heartworm disease, intestinal parasites, fleas, and ticks. There are a variety of products to choose from and their effectiveness can change from year to year. Your veterinarian will be “in the know” about which preventive medications have the current best track record. Be reminded, animals with thick hair coats or those who are housed mostly indoors remain susceptible to heartworm disease.
2. Be downright religious in adhering to a schedule for administration of your pet’s heartworm prevention medication. This year in particular, missing the mark by even a week or two could have dire consequences.
3. Set up a schedule for routine testing for parasites. Your veterinarian can advise you on how frequently your pets should be screened for intestinal parasites and heartworm disease.
4. Check out the CAPC website to have a look at parasite prevalence maps (updated monthly) and get information about your specific geographic area.
5. Visit the American Heartworm Society website to catch up on the most current information pertaining to heartworm prevention for dogs and cats.
Are you “good to go” with a parasite prevention plan for your dogs and cats? What will your strategy be?
Dog's Life: Home & Garden
A few sticky points
My pal Joplin is a canine lint trap. Dust and dirt and bits of fluff leap at her from sidewalk and sofa as though her cushy black coat were exerting an irresistible gravitational pull. I don’t mind a little dirt, myself, but Joplin does. She plops herself down to apply that prehensile pink paint roller tongue to all of her coat within reach, and then she licks her little doggy wrists and squeegees her face with them. I hate to see it. All this hygiene might have made sense in pre-industrial days, but dust just ain’t what it used to be.
Environmental health experts learned in the 1980s that house dust can be a significant source of exposure to hazardous pollutants such as lead and pesticides, especially for dogs, cats and human toddlers, mouthy denizens of the indoor dust zone.Now it turns out that relatively new toxic synthetic compounds widely used in consumer products are blowing around in your dust bunnies, too—among them, flame-retardants called polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, and stain, water and grease repellants called perfluorochemicals, or PFCs.
These latter chemicals, the PFCs, are better known by their trademarked names—Teflon® and Gore-Tex®, to name two. Flame-retardant PBDEs are more anonymous but equally ubiquitous in the household. They are commonly used in foam cushions, synthetic fabrics, and in the plastic housing of electric and electronic equipment such as coffeemakers and laptops. PBDEs can make up as much as 30 percent by weight of your stereo or television’s plastic housing, according to a 2005 article in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.
Both types of chemicals get into house dust in more or less the same ways. When the television or nonstick pan heats up, the compounds volatilize and then settle on surfaces, and as treated foam and fabrics degrade, flame-retardant and stain-repellant particles crumble into your dust. Not just into your dust but also into your dog, new research shows. Earlier this year, toxicologists at the Environmental Working Group, a Washington, D.C.– based nonprofit, collected blood samples from 20 pet dogs and 37 pet cats. The researchers pooled dog samples into one batch and cat samples into another and found high levels of PBDEs and PFCs in both.
What are the health effects of these indoor pollutants? “We’re really just starting to generate data,” says Linda Birnbaum, of the EPA’s Experimental Toxicology Division in Raleigh, N.C., and an expert in indoor exposures to PBDE. “But we know that flame-retardant PBDEs have been linked to developmental, reproductive and neurological defects in lab animals; poor immune function in marine mammals; thyroid and liver tumors in rodents; and low sperm counts and poor sperm quality in humans. One study found an association between high PBDE levels in women and undescended testicles in their sons.” For their part, stain and grease repellants—PFCs— have been shown to cause tumors at multiple sites in rats and mice and to damage their reproduction, growth and immune systems, Birnbaum says.
Only a few studies have focused specifically on the health impacts of synthetic chemicals on dogs. One shows a link between applications of the lawn herbicide 2,4-D and bladder cancer in Scotties and several associate formaldehyde emissions from carpeting with seizures and other disorders. But many environmental health and veterinary experts believe that chronic exposure to synthetic industrial pollutants in house dust may be at least partially responsible for skyrocketing cancer rates in dogs these days, and, Birnbaum believes, for the extraordinary rise in feline hyperthyroidism in the last 30 years. “The cat sits on that nice warm TV or sits on the sofa and grooms, grooms, grooms,” Birnbaum says.
Since World War II, the chemical industry has been churning out supremely useful, long-lasting, synthetic chemicals by the tens of thousands—as many as 80,000 compounds, most that could never occur naturally. Manufacturers have put billions of tons of them to use in myriad ways—preventing your mattress or sofa from bursting into flames when you fall asleep with a cigarette; keeping your coffeemaker, television, laptop and stereo from overheating and becoming fire hazards; helping your raincoat shed rain and your upholstery shrug off spills; providing lightweight, unbreakable jugs for your milk and squeezable tubes for your toothpaste; grease-proofing the liners of oily, bagged dog food, and keeping the kibble from turning rancid during the long months it may sit in that bag. The list is endless.
Only a very few of these chemicals are adequately tested for safety before being put into general use. Indeed, the free market system for judging new compounds seems to be “innocent until proven guilty.” Thirty years after they first went into use, PBDEs are finally receiving appropriate scrutiny. The European Union has phased out the use of two of the three commercial mixtures of PBDEs in new products, and limited use of the third formulation. Manufacturers in the U.S. have voluntarily stopped producing those two and use is being phased out nationwide as stocks are used up. Unfortunately, manufacture and use of a third PBDE mixture is still completely unregulated in all states except Washington and Maine. And because sofas and televisions aren’t something one replaces frequently, products containing PBDEs will be sitting around in our houses for many years to come.
The sad truth is that the typical American household is awash in synthetic industrial chemicals—as are you, and as is your dog. It’s enough to make you want to bury your head in the sand. But who knows what’s in sand these days? And pessimism won’t get us far. Better to roll up your sleeves and apply a little elbow grease to the problem.
There’s a lot you can do to reduce your household’s burden of indoor pollutants. As you replace furniture and rugs, choose new ones made of wool, hemp, cotton and other naturally more flame-resistant materials, and check manufacturers’ websites to find out whether these products have been made or treated with flame retardants and stain repellants. Frankly, this won’t always be easy, but it should become increasingly more so as the market for such products develops.
Ditto electronic equipment: Some manufacturers’ websites claim their products don’t use PBDEs; consider these when shopping for electronics.
Here are a few more tips.
•Don’t use pans with non-stick coatings. There’s still a lot of controversy about this, but old-fashioned cast iron is looking better and better.
Because this isn’t just about our dogs and cats—it’s about all of us.
Wellness: Food & Nutrition
Surprises from the grocery shelf
In part one of this article, we asked the rhetorical question: “If you’re going to feed your dogs ‘people’ food, shouldn’t you feed them something that’s actually good for them?” and answered it with a list of 10 healthy, easily obtainable options straight from the shelves of your local market. As promised, here are 10 more “easy pieces” for your consideration. (Part One can be found here.)
8. Wheat Grass
9. Turnip Greens
10. Nutritional Yeast
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