News and insights from special guests—from experts to enthusiasts.
Keep pets healthy with the right selection of indoor plants
When preparing to adopt our kitty, I learned from the folks at the rescue organization that a few of our houseplants were toxic to cats and dogs — and since this particular furry friend enjoys chomping on plants, it was vital we remove these from our home beforehand. (And even though some pets pay no attention to plants, it’s always better to be on the safe side.) But many of the most popular design-friendly houseplants, including split-leaf philodendron and fiddle-leaf fig, are toxic to cats and dogs. So what’s a design-loving pet owner to do? Live without houseplants? No way. We’ve found 10 cool houseplant options that are all nontoxic to cats and dogs.
1. Tillandsia. Air plants are tailor-made for modern spaces, and they need very little care. Because these petite plants don’t require soil, you can place them just about anywhere — on a piece of driftwood, in a seashell, in a hanging glass vessel. However, their small size can prove problematic if you have a nibbling pet: A lot of damage can be done to the plant in a short amount of time, so watch your pet and be prepared to move the plant out of reach if this becomes an issue.
2. Boston fern. Most true ferns are nontoxic to cats and dogs, including the classic Boston fern. This fern has lush, full foliage, is easy to care for and looks equally at home in traditional and modern spaces.
3. Staghorn fern. This unique plant has sculptural appeal when mounted on the wall and — major bonus for plant-chomping pets — can be kept up high and out of the way of those sharp little teeth. Cluster several on a wall and create your own living art installation.
4. Maidenhair fern. Delicate and romantic, the light-as-air foliage of a maidenhair fern is a beauty to behold. This plant is a bit fussier than most houseplants, preferring a humid environment (or frequent misting) to stay healthy. The ultra-tender leaves may be tempting for pets to nibble — and while it won’t harm your furry friend, the plant itself is quite fragile and can easily be destroyed by a curious cat. If you want to keep a maidenhair fern but it keeps getting chewed up, try placing it in a hanging planter.
5. Dwarf olive tree. Dwarf olive trees can do well indoors in a large pot with good drainage, but they do need a very sunny spot with at least six hours of full sun each day. If you live in a cool, cloudy region, it probably won’t thrive.
6. Rosemary. Like the olive, this is another attractive Mediterranean plant that will look right at home in interiors of any style. Grow a pot of fresh rosemary in a kitchen window and enjoy snipping fragrant sprigs to add to your cooking.
7. Ponytail palm. This wacky plant looks like something out of a Dr. Seuss book. Ponytail palms are well suited to modern interiors — starting with a smaller plant is easier on the budget, and you can always transplant it into a larger pot as it grows. A full-size specimen makes a dramatic statement, as seen here.
8. Echeveria. This succulent has rosettes of leaves in shades that range from green to blue, depending on the variety. They do best in well-drained soil, in a spot that gets morning sun.
9. Orchid. With their elegant, long-lasting blooms, it’s no wonder that orchids are a decorator favorite. Thankfully, according to the ASPCA, phalaenopsis and dendrobium orchids (two of the most popular varieties) are nontoxic to cats and dogs. Plant a single orchid or group several in one large vessel for more drama.
Note: Roses, also pictured here, are nontoxic to furry friends as well. So feel free to treat yourself to that bouquet!
10. Cat grass. Pets nibbling houseplants, even nontoxic varieties, can get tummy aches. For cats, you can encourage healthier green eats by planting a container of cat grass and placing it in an easily accessible spot. Not to be confused with catnip, which is in the mint family, cat grass will not give your cat the crazies. It’s usually grown from oat or wheat seed. If growing your own cat grass from seed, keep the container out of reach of your pet until the grass grows in, to protect the tender sprouts.
Tell us: Do your pets nibble the houseplants? Share your stories in the Comments.
A sport and lifestyle of spotting random dogs
First there was trainspotting, then planespotting, and now…dogspotting! Take an object that interests you – in our case, dogs – and turn it into a hobby by seeking as many different examples as possible, taking photos of them and sharing with other enthusiasts. A Facebook page called Dogspotting has become wildly popular. Members – currently over half a million - post photos of an incredible diversity of dogs in all sorts of situations from around the world. One can easily become lost scrolling through the photos, reading comments, smiling all the while.
There are rules for participating. In a nutshell: no photos of your own dog, or a dog you already know; no photos taken at dog parks, vet clinics or other “low hanging fruit” locations; no service dogs (they’re working, so leave them alone); no posing humans in the frame; and be nice to each other. If you have photos that break the rules but still want to share, there’s a sister page called Dogspotting Society where they’re allowed. There’s also a Dogspotting phone app.
The site has generated its own dogspotting lingo. Some common words include: doggo = dog; sploot = dog lying with all legs splayed; pupper = puppy; floof = especially fluffy dog; cloud = white fluffy dog (usually a Samoyed); mlem = dog’s tongue is licking its muzzle in photo. The lingo and photo descriptions (e.g. describing a bulldog puppy as a giant wrinkle) are half the fun. There’s also a point system, with higher points awarded for spots of unusual dogs or situations, for example a dog carrying its own leash, or a wild canid (fox, coyote, or wolf), “the most noble of all spots.” Links for the rules, the points system, and frequently asked questions are available on the page.
This is a hobby most easily indulged in a city or urban area where seeing “strange” dogs on streets or in cafes is common and photographing them easy. For those of us living in the country, spotting a wild canid is a challenge worth embracing. Visit the page, but be warned, it’s a time sink! It’s difficult to avoid scrolling through the photos and reading a few comments for each. Initially, that’s time well-invested before posting your first spot as you’ll see site administrators chiming in on rule-violating posts, gently reminding the poster that sister site Dogspotting Society is the appropriate place for their photo.
The wide variety of dogs and settings in the photos and the accompanying comments are wonderful antidotes to life’s daily stresses. Just don’t forget to take your own dog out for a stroll – maybe a stranger will post a photo of her on Dogspotting.
Playing in a Brooklyn park turned to heartbreak when Laura Stephen’s dog Ziggy was shot twice, and killed by NYPD officers. Ziggy a rescued mixed breed was playing off leash in the Saratoga Park in the Bed-Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn on Sunday as they did every evening. Two officers entered the park, Stephen explained to news outlets that one asked her to leash her dog, and when she called Ziggy he turned towards her and an NYPD officer pulled out his gun and fired two shots. The officer claims that Ziggy lunged at him, and so feeling threatened, he shot the dog. Stephen says Ziggy never lunged, and was more than 10 feet away from the officer on his way back to her when shot. Neighbors told news outlets that Ziggy was very friendly and never aggressive.
Stephen didn’t have her wallet or phone so borrowed another parkgoers phone to call her son. When her son arrived with her belongings he rushed to his mother and her dog but was thrown against a tree, and arrested by NYPD officers for disorderly conduct. Meanwhile Ziggy was bleeding surrounded by 30-40 police officers who arrived on the scene. Stephen used snow and her coat to try and stop the bleeding from the gunshot wounds.
Police on the scene Sunday night (via gothamist.com)
An hour after being shot NYPD transported Stephen and Ziggy to an emergency veterinary hospital. Despite receiving a blood transfusion Ziggy died. NYPD officials arrived at the veterinary clinic and issued a criminal summons to Stephen for having her dog off leash.
Keep your dog (and cat!) feeling safe and in high spirits, and you'll all feel more at peace.
Being around nonthreatening animals, domesticated or otherwise, calms humans. The reason for this seems buried in our prehistory: Back then if we were around other creatures and all was peaceful, that meant predators weren't lurking nearby, about to pounce on us. Plus, the weather was probably fine, too.
When we're less tense, we have more mental energy at our disposal to do whatever we've set out to accomplish, whether that's having a good time hanging out with family members, writing a novel or planning dinners for the next week. But there's a catch: Having animals in our home is good for us psychologically only if those animals are happy and healthy. If they're not, they add to the tension in our lives. (A moping dog or an out-of-sorts cat doesn't enhance anyone's day.)
The good news is that design can make animals happier, just as it can people. You can create a home where your pets feel as good as you do. It's hard to read the minds of pets, but when you learn more about them as they spend time in your home, you'll find ways that you can make your special animal friend feel particularly happy. Here are just a few ways to keep pets in good spirits.
1. Some privacy, please! Make sure your pet has privacy. Cats feel most comfortable in their litter boxes if they're in a space all their own.
Dogs may need a place in your home where they can get away from demanding children or loud music, too. A covered kennel, doghouse or bed in a laundry room might be just the thing.
2. Create sheltered spaces for pets to lounge in. Pets need places where they can decompress, just as you do. Those areas don't always need to be completely away from humans, however. Our pets are social but good at self-preservation, just like we are.
Most animals, including humans, feel secure when danger can't sneak up on them. While in today's world that's not as likely as thousands of years ago, we're still hardwired to think that way.
So providing a secure spot where a pet can really let down his or her guard is important. This feline feels at peace because the chair has a high back and is in a corner, assuring the cat that nothing's going to sneak up. Provide that security and you'll have a calm, happy pet.
3. Build in a view. Pets need to survey their territory. Being able to look out the window while relaxing, as dogs and cats can do on this cushioned shelf, is doubly desirable.
If you don't have high windows, consider putting a secure pet gate on an opened door that leads outside.
4. Let in sounds and scents. Animals rely on smells and sounds more than humans do. To let them feel safe, having open windows allows them to hear and smell what's lurking in their surroundings.
5. Include places for exercising. Cats enjoy climbing on cat trees, shelves, furniture, anything that allows movement and elevates them off the floor. Small dogs enjoy being able to run down long halls without slipping and sliding, so add carpeting when possible.
6. Support aging pets. As pets get older, their needs change, just as humans' do. Recognizing those changes will prolong the positive relationship you have with your pet.
Dogs' joints, like ours, stiffen up when they get older. Senior dogs enjoy eating from a bowl placed on a stand or short bench that raises the bowl high enough above the floor so they can eat in a regular standing posture — no need to lower the front part of the body or head too much.
Your turn: What is your pet's favorite place in your house?
Save your sanity and your decorating budget by choosing materials and surfaces that can stand up to the test.
It’s a common situation for pet owners and parents alike: You buy a brand-new couch thinking you’ve purchased a truly indestructible piece of furniture, only to watch it be destroyed within a matter of months by your pet or child. It’s enough to make you feel like you’ll never be able to rectify your love for your family members, furry or not, with your yearning to create a beautiful home. Not to mention the pain it inflicts on your bank account.
There are a few simple things animal lovers can do to keep pets from damaging their homes. Accidents aside, most scratches and bite marks happen because of boredom. Scratching posts, chew toys, basic pet training and plenty of outdoor playtime will go a long way toward keeping your pet happy and your furnishings unscathed. Most dog trainers also recommend creating a comfortable enclosure for young pups, because this helps with house training and keeps them from chewing on dangerous objects.
Still, a surprising amount of damage can occur whenever you turn your back for a few seconds. With that in mind, here are 10 tips for selecting finishes that survive pet- and child-related wear and tear.
Love it: Leather
Accidents and spills wipe up with ease on the only furniture material that looks better with wear. But while leather is great for homes with dogs and children, cat lovers may want to avoid it, as there’s no way to repair a shredded leather couch.
If leather isn’t in your budget, consider microsuede. This ingenious, durable fabric wipes clean with a damp cloth, so you can easily deal with even the muddiest paws.
Leave it: Hide rugs
Not only can spills and pet stains permanently mar it, but some dogs have trouble distinguishing a hide rug from their rawhide chew. It’s also a no-no in high-traffic areas, as the hair thins with wear.
Love it: Concrete paving
Available in just about every size and at many price points, pavers are a great way to create a playspace for kids and pets that always looks neat. Set them flush so kids can enjoy bikes and push toys, or leave a gap of a few inches and add plantings, as in this photo, to create a greener look.
Just be sure to ask your installer about sealing. Pavers can become stained by dirt and standing water over time.
Leave it: Gravel
Unless you’d like to embark upon a second career as a gravel sweeper, this is one to avoid. While gravel certainly goes a long way toward forgoing a pet-stained lawn, even larger pebbles can get kicked up during playtime, dinging your doors, getting caught in the slats of your deck and getting caught in paws and shoes, which inevitably leads to damage to indoor flooring.
Love it: Ceasarstone
This gorgeous quartz countertop has the look and feel of granite without the worry of chipping and scratching, making it perfect for junior sous chefs. Waterfall-edge details are also great in areas that need to be protected against particularly rambunctious pups or aggressive chewers.
Leave it: Hardwood
I know, I know. This is a tough one. But with pets and kids, you’re almost guaranteed to have to resand hardwood floors at some point.
If hardwood floors are a must in your home, be sure to keep your dog’s nails short and to clean up spilled liquids and pet accidents promptly. This can go a long way toward extending your hardwood floor’s longevity.
Love it: Ornamental grass
Hardy grasses are a great way to incorporate greenery without worrying about Fido staining it or digging it up. And as a bonus, you’ll never spend another Saturday mowing the lawn.
Looking for a more traditional alternative? Wide-leaved fescue and rye hold up better to traffic and are more resistant to the chemicals in dog urine that can cause spotting.
Leave it: Cedar decking
While it can be absolutely stunning, cedar can be easily marred by dog nails, snow shovels and active children.
Love it: Faux turf
Gone are the days when installing synthetic grass meant transforming your lawn into something resembling a hokey mini golf course. The new turfs are more realistic and just as durable.
This homeowner made the synthetic grass look even more realistic by keeping the turf area small and breaking it up with other finishes.
Leave it: Microtopped concrete
The luster and depth of a concrete microtopping is surely covetable, but it’s not great in houses with big dogs or rambunctious children. Daily traffic can create deep scratches that aren’t erased by the regular resealing this finish requires.
It just got much harder to know what's going on in U.S. animal research labs.
The field of human-animal studies is growing rapidly, as is public interest and awareness about animal welfare and animal abuse. My email inbox has been "ringing" constantly for the past few hours about an unprecedented and reprehensible move toward censorship, specifically because animal welfare reports and animal abuse data have been wiped from the United States Department of Agriculture website.
Below are some updates from major science journals, global media, prestigious organizations, and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. It's not only animal welfare or animal rights organizations that are incredibly upset. Indeed, people around the world are extremely put off and deeply concerned about this reprehensible censorship. You can find many more reports and outcries here. And, the number is rapidly growing.
The animals need all the help they can get.
Having your dog’s attention is one of the most important and underrated aspects of positive dog training. It’s obvious when you think about it – how can you train your dog, if your dog doesn’t pay attention to you? Luckily, we’ve come up with three simple and fun exercises designed to help get your dog’s attention, making training your dog a little easier.
TEACHING YOUR DOG TO BE A GOOD STUDENT
Training your dog to pay attention teaches them to be a good student, ensuring that they will sit quietly and wait for instructions – once these foundations are in place, training your dog will become a great deal easier. Later on, we will cover two of the best attention exercises available, which are centred on being a good student, paying attention and awaiting instructions.
Although it is often underemphasised by dog training experts, ensuring your dog is capable of paying attention is one of the core principles in positive reinforcement training, and an absolutely necessity if you are to ensure your training is a success. This post aims to rectify this issue, by providing you with the mind-set and training exercises required to train your dog to be pay attention – eventually leaving you with a happy, well-trained and trusting member of the family!
HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOU HAVE YOUR DOG’S ATTENTION?
The easiest way to see if your dog is paying attention to you is to observe whether or not he is looking at you and following everything you do closely. Once you have an attentive dog, this will be very obvious, especially to other family members or friends, who will note that your dog seems to follow you around and work for your attention – particularly at feeding time!
However, it is worth remembering that some dogs are discrete – they might not seem interested in where you are or what you’re up to, but the moment you disappear, they’ll appear right next to you – my dog can even be upstairs while I’m working downstairs, but the moment he can no longer hear the sound of me typing on my computer, he’ll come down to check that I haven’t nipped out without him. This is attention in a nutshell - when your dog is aware of your movements and what you are doing at any time of day.
IS HAVING YOUR DOG’S ATTENTION REALLY NECESSARY?
You might wonder if all this talk about attention is overrated – this outlook is typical of more traditional or ‘old school’ trainers, who believe you can get better results by forcing your dog to pay attention when you demand it. In my experience, though, this approach doesn’t work anywhere near as well – there’s a notable difference between a dog who focuses on you because he has to, and one who focuses on you because he wants to please you. The goal of this post is to help you reach a point where your dog is focused on pleasing you, as this is the easiest way of training him successfully.
DON'T TAKE YOUR DOG'S ATTENTION FOR GRANTED
In my experience, dog owners take a lot of things for granted – too many, in fact. When a dog first comes into the home, he relies on us completely, and we have his full attention at all times. After a few weeks, however, your dog will relax into the environment and encounter new, fresh and exciting experiences which are more interesting than you – and that’s not good news for your relationship, particularly where training is concerned. By remaining at the centre of your dog’s world, you’ll not only enjoy a stronger bond with your dog, but stand a much better chance of being able to train him successfully.
So how do we accomplish this? With consistent training – every day, all year. By making training a habit, you’ll make it second nature for both you and your dog, ensuring you’ll have the basics – sit, come here, down etc. - covered quickly and efficiently, allowing you to move onto more complicated routines.
Now that we understand what it means to have your dog’s attention and why having your dog’s attention is so important, we can move onto the frameworks we use for teaching attention, along with a few simple exercises you can undertake to ensure your dog is always paying attention to you.
YOUR DOG KNOW WHEN YOU'RE NOT PAYING ATTENTION
First things first - when training your dog to pay attention to you, you have to really be present with your dog, not just physically but mentally; remember, your dog can feel you! He knows when you’re sad and when you’re happy, and certainly knows when you are lying and when you are not. By taking an active role in training your dog, you can make the framework very simple, rewarding your dog not only with treats but praise and happiness. Here are three of my favourite ways to train your dog to pay attention to you:
DOG ATTENTION EXERCISE #1 – EYE CONTACT
The first exercise is based around eye contact, and is the exercise that teaches your dog to sit quietly and pay attention to the teacher. Grab some treats and then sit beside your dog, waiting for them to look at you. This requires a bit of patience the first time you train this, but hang in there – it’s worth the wait! Once your dog lifts its eyes to meet yours, praise them warmly (or use your clicker) and reward your dog with his favorite treat. Then simply keep still and wait for them to meet your gaze again - keep doing this until your dog understands that he will be rewarded for looking into your eyes, and he will be more than happy to do it whenever necessary.
DOG ATTENTION EXERCISE #2 – HAND TARGETING
Sometimes, you’ll need get your dog’s attention in order to protect them from something that might harm, scare or upset them. Occasionally dogs will become fearful and, naturally, will look to either run away or attack – neither of which are desirable outcomes. However, it is possible to interrupt this natural response by training your dog to keep attention on you even in stressful situations. Try putting your hand in front of your dog’s face, the palm of your hand right in front his nose. Say nothing, as it is important that your dog learns to make these associations for himself. Once your dog touches the palm of your hand, give him a reward in the form of praise or a treat. Repeat this exercise, and eventually your dog will come to understand that when your hand is down, he can receive a reward by touching it – and while he’s focused on you, he will be unable to focus on whatever might be scaring him, allowing you to avoid conflict with others and protecting him from harm!
See the below video for an example of how to do this.
DOG ATTENTION EXERCISE #3 – IMPULSE CONTROL
This exercise is called impulse control, and is really more of a concept that an exercise, because there are so many variations to work with.
Once your dog knows that he should be looking at you (see exercise #1) you can use this when training him. For example, you can ‘drop’ something from the kitchen table and if your dog tries to grab it, simply cover it with your foot. When your dog then sits and eventually looks at you, make sure to praise him and then allow him to eat the dropped food. Once more, your dog will learn to associate looking at you with praise and a reward – and over time will begin to realise that everything he wants can be channelled through you. As far as your dog is concerned, you are the origin of everything that is good in life. Clever, right? See the following video for more information.
As you can see from the video above, treats are often used as a reward for behaviour we wish to encourage. With this in mind, I usually retain around half of my dog’s rations, which I distribute throughout the day during training sessions. If treats are not withheld, your dog will either lose motivation to be rewarded or simply end up overweight – by rationing them and associating them with good behaviour, you can ensure your dog is healthy and well-behaved.
In summary, the most important, fundamental principle of dog training is attention – both your dog’s and your own. This element of training is sadly underutilised by most dog training experts, so make sure you don’t make the same mistake – ensure your dog associates paying you attention with rewards and praise, and you can ensure your training exercises are easy and successful. Good luck with your training!
Meet Addie, a pup who loves to help her owner on the job. It’s not all work; Addie has plenty of fun.
Pet at a Glance
On the job: Addie’s owner works from home and out of the Ethan Allen showroom, so her day looks different depending on what’s on Sluppick’s schedule. At home, Addie sits right next to her owner as she works on floor plans or emails clients. She’s also known for getting into fabric samples from time to time. At the showroom, Addie gravitates toward all the new faces. She likes to walk right up to clients, tail wagging. She loves clients, Sluppick says, and the clients love her back. A few have even brought Addie treats, toys and a doggy Christmas ornament.
Favorite part of the workday: Before each workday begins, Addie likes to join her owner as she has her morning coffee.
Break time: When Sluppick needs a mental break, she takes Addie on a walk in the neighborhood. Addie also enjoys watching the squirrels run around outside, Sluppick says.
Payment method: Treats! If Sluppick is on the road, Addie loves when they stop by Dairy Queen for a Pup Cup.
From her owner: “Having Addie around on calm days or busy days makes for a better day overall. She loves to always be in the action and where I am. She’s a ‘momma’s girl,’ and I love it.”
SHARE YOUR SMILING DOG!
There’s a briskness in the air. That means it’s time to cozy up your home for the pets. Sure, the human household members are important, but we can’t deny our furry housemates those same creature comforts we enjoy. Here are some ideas for getting your pets’ hangouts and bedding ready for the cooler temperatures in ways that are attractive to humans.
Build them their own nook. Cutouts like this circular one make the pet part of the decor. While cats may split from the family fun, dogs usually prefer to lie right in the heart of it. Encourage Buddy to not be a tripping hazard, especially in the kitchen, where it can be a serious hazard. Instead, give him a safer hangout all his own from which he can monitor the action. Wherever you find the space for such a pet nook, fill it with plush materials that can be washed easily and often.
Create a cave. Dogs generally crave a cave-like bed (when they aren't sprawled out in everyone's way). This undercounter crate provides that same atmosphere. A fitted cozy inside offers added warmth on frigid nights.
Instead of trying to hide the kennel, turn it into furniture. This dog's kennel acts as a table base that sits smack dab between his esteemed pack leaders' chairs.
Give them matching furniture. Not into showing off the kennel? Create an elegant bed that resembles the rest of the room's decor. Find pet furniture or pillows that share similar properties with other facets of the room, such as color, finish, shape or texture. This dog bed blends in nicely with the living room, thanks to its library-like qualities.
This little Brussels Griffon gets to make himself at home on a loveseat under his portrait when he's not hanging out in his own room. With something like this, just make sure guests know not to sit in the no-human zone. If there is no delineation between pet and people furniture, lining furniture with stylish throws offers extra cush to cushions while keeping fur off them. Just make sure your throws (and any nearby pillows) are as washable as they are attractive.
Keeping Things Clean and Other Considerations Washability.
Washability is an important factor for any fabric that your pet sleeps on, especially during the rainy season, when muddy paws are a constant.
This guy's easy; he doesn't need his own bed. He'd much rather sleep in between his human companions. Good thing the comforter washes well.
Time apart at night. Just because your pets want to sleep next to you doesn't mean there's room for everybody. If you enjoy having your love bugs close to you at night, consider offering them a bench at the foot of the bed as their own. This way they can still see and hear you without sandbagging your feet.
Style. For larger breeds or multiple pets who enjoy one another's company at night, choose a bed that complements your own. There are no rules about what a pet's bed should look like. As long as the bed is comfortable for the animal, take liberties to make its design work with your room.
Color. It's believed that animals can't see color like we humans can. But that doesn't mean their bedding can't offer color in abundance to please our tastes. Pet pillows and upholstered cushions can be opportunities to add shots of seasonal color or pull from the existing room palette.
Outdoor shelter. Not all pets are allowed — or wish — to sleep indoors. It's especially important to make sure they're sheltered from the elements. This customized wine barrel is a stylish covered bed that doubles as a planter box.
Endocrine-disrupting chemical raises red flags
A study by researchers at the University of Missouri finds that eating canned dog food may increase a pet’s exposure to the endocrine-disrupting chemical, Bisphenol A (BPA).
While the study was short-term, the results were “very revealing,” says investigator Dr. Cheryl Rosenfeld, an associate professor of biomedical sciences in the MU College of Veterinary Medicine. Fourteen healthy pets were switched from their usual diet of kibble to canned food. Could a two-week menu change raise the dogs’ BPA levels?
It did, three-fold, and that could really be an issue for dogs that eat the same diet every day.
Over 300 studies have linked BPA to health problems from reproductive disorders to cancer, and now research is shedding light on how people and animals are exposed to the plastic-hardening chemical. While the FDA has reviewed the studies, they still consider BPA “safe at the current levels occurring in foods.”
By measuring BPA’s escape from packaging, scientists are narrowing the focus. One study settled the debate over whether BPA—banned in baby bottles but used in many other items—seeps from metal can linings and taints human foods. (It does).
And in August, a long-term study in the UK found a sharp decline in canine fertility associated with exposure to other endocrine-disrupting chemicals. The researchers considered food packaging a possible source, finding the chemicals in a range of dry and wet foods.
Some plastic dog toys have also been found to leach the chemical. A study at Texas Tech by environmental toxicologists Phil Smith and Kimberly Wooten found that BPA and phthalates leached from plastic bumpers into dishes filled with artificial dog saliva.
Wooten, who wasn’t involved in the present study, says that while it isn’t clear if dog health is being harmed long-term, “it’s still important information to have since there’s so little data on canine exposure to these types of chemicals.” She knows of no other studies that have looked at the effects of a specific BPA source on the concentrations in the blood.
“I’d say a 3-fold increase suggests that for dogs that eat canned food, their diet is the most important contributor to their total BPA levels.”
The current study highlights another concern; with the pet food industry being held by about five companies, it seems commercial foods aren’t as diverse as packaging suggests. Of the two (unnamed) brands in the study, one was declared “BPA-free” by the manufacturer.
So, skip the can and spare your dog? It turned out, the dogs already had a small amount of BPA circulating in their blood, shown by initial baseline samples. The researchers then analyzed both the cans and the food for BPA. They also checked for any disturbances in gut bacteria and metabolic changes.
Although one of the diets was presumed to be BPA-free, feeding either brand for two weeks resulted in a three-fold increase of BPA levels in the animals. At the same time, the dogs showed gut microbiome and metabolic changes, with potential health consequences. Increased BPA may also reduce one bacterium known to metabolize BPA and related environmental chemicals, according to the study.
Bagged kibble might also contain BPA, since the dogs had some BPA in their blood before the study, possibly from their dry diets.
“This is the point that it is not clear,” Rosenfeld says. “It could be that the food already contains BPA. However, we saw minimal levels when the dogs were on kibble.” In some cases, very low amounts can lead to equally if not greater harmful effects as high doses, she says. The greatest concerns may be at the low and high doses.
“The doses we found in the dogs after being on canned food though were comparable to what has been linked to health problems in humans and rodents,” a list that includes diabetes and obesity, among others.
If the dogs continued to eat the canned food, would BPA keep building up in their bodies?
“We did not see what would happen if we took the dogs off the canned food or kept them on it longer,” Rosenfeld says. “These are definite follow-up studies.” Ideally, based on the results of this one, she says they would pursue long term studies to test BPA concentrations after long term feeding of canned food, examining the dogs for metabolic disorders—such as obesity and diabetes—and neurological ones, using MRI and behavioral testing.
In a previous rodent study, they did find that the longer mice were on a diet containing BPA, even though it was being metabolized, it would start accumulating in their system so that greater amounts would persist over time, she says.
In humans and primates, BPA is excreted through urine. “It is not clear how it is cleared in dogs.”
While BPA affects the reproductive system, Rosenfeld says they did not find any gender differences in this initial study—“but we would need to test more dogs to confirm.”
The main concern about the gut microbiome changes is that they have been linked with various diseases, including neurological, metabolic, immunological, gastrointestinal, and possibly even cancer, she says. “Thus, by affecting the gut microbiome, BPA could induce such secondary effects.”
Unfortunately, a supposedly safe substitute for BPA, BPS, didn’t fulfill its goal. Rosenfeld says that in rodents and fish, BPS has already been shown to lead to similar health concerns as BPA. Their study didn’t test BPS in the cans. “It is not clear if some dog foods are using this substitute,” she says.
“By feeding fresh food, dry food, and minimizing canned food, it will reduce exposure to BPA and BPS.”
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