The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

April 24, 2008

My cats are not canaries! (Are they?)

The Environmental Working Group just released a study of toxic chemicals in cats and dogs. Turns out, they are loaded with them. In samples from 20 dogs and 40 cats, they found “48 of the 70 chemicals they looked for, including PCBs, PBDEs, phthalates, and heavy metals….” Levels of some of these chemicals were higher than in humans. So EWG has created a new organization called Pets For The Environment to “create a healthy environment for pets and people by demanding toxic chemical reform legislation in the U.S.”

According to Jane Houlihan, VP for Research at EWG, “The presence of chemicals in dogs and cats sounds a cautionary warning for the present and future health of children as well. This study demonstrating the chemical body burden of dogs and cats is a wake-up call for stronger safety standards from industrial chemical exposures that will protect all members of our families, including our pets.” In other words, our pets are like the canaries in the coal mines.

So where do these chemicals come from? Outdoor pets can be exposed to pesticides on a daily basis. But so can indoor animals when we track those pesticides into our homes on our shoes. Fortunately, Michael and I maintain a shoe-free home. Our shoes make it only as far as the shelf inside the back door. So how else might our indoor kitties be in danger?

We don’t cook in Teflon anymore, one of the sources of Perfluorochemicals that poison our pets. But did we opt for the stain-proof treatment when we had our carpet cleaned a few years ago? I can’t remember, but that would be another source of PFCs.

We avoided buying them scratching posts or kitty climbing trees covered in synthetic carpet, but what about the floor carpet that they roll around on on a daily basis? I have no idea what this carpet is made from. We are renters and can’t just pull it up and replace it. Is it dangerous for them? I don’t know.

Flame retardants in furniture are another source of toxins for pets. What is our blue chair covered in? Our futon cover? The cushions on the foot rests? The foamy cat bed that was given to us by our friends who delivered the cats in the first place? How can we know?

We haven’t bought them new plastic toys because, as you know, I’m avoiding new plastic. But what about the few plastic toys we already had? They love this blue ball that came from who knows where. What’s it made of? I don’t know. But it’s now hidden in my Freecycle bag. I don’t think they’ll miss it.

Soots and Arya love the window blinds. Love them so much that I think we’re going to have to replace them (the blinds, not the cats) when we move from here some day. But fortunately, our blinds are made from metal, not PVC as many are. And we don’t have any PVC flooring or doors or shades.

But I’ve written before about the cords they love to chew. Electrical cords are covered in PVC. A few nights ago, I went around and coated some of them with Vaseline sprinked with cayenne pepper as a deterrent. Yeah, gross. Hopefully gross to Soots and Arya too. And we keep them locked out of the room where our computers live.

I’ve also written about the cans of food we feed them, undoubtedly lined with BPA. I am now more motivated than ever to make their food from scratch. I just have to find an affordable source of whole un-plastic-wrapped, free-range chicken. The organic chickens at Enzo’s at Market Hall are $2.89/lb. That’s a lot for chicken, right? We eat so little meat ourselves that we really don’t worry about the price. But these kitties are obligate carnivores. They require much more meat than we do. And we don’t want to go broke feeding them. So I’m committed to taking the time to figure this out within the next two weeks. Please hold me to it!

Environmental Working Group has a whole list of healthy pet tips. They are worth checking out. But still, how can we be sure that we are keeping them as safe as possible? This must be how parents feel about protecting their children. We do the best we can.

But is it enough?

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13 years ago

I too have recently looked into switching my cat to an all natural meat diet. Both to cut down on the fossil fuels it takes to ship her food, and to cut down on the badness that goes into her cute little self.
I posted about my research on my blog here:
I included links from quality websites with good information. Maybe they’ll help you in your searching. :-) I’m still sourcing meats, trying to decide between shipping it in bulk or buying locally. I’ll be keeping tabs to see what you decide. Good luck!

13 years ago

oh yes – there are so many scary things that are toxins to our pets. have you ever check out the article about “what’s really in pet food” – it’s SCARY stuff:

thanks for another great post, Beth! :D

eco 'burban mom
13 years ago

Hi Beth,

My cat is so well behaved (maybe because he is 13 and we have 4 boys and 2 dogs so he has just thrown in the towel!) but I have a 9 month old Dalmatian that makes up for him every minute of every day! I have posted about him on my blog before because we are thinking of petitioning the doggie court for a doggie name change. We think the name Tahoe should be changed to DIGGER! We too have tried Cayenne – LOTS OF CAYENNE – like $10 worth (more than I have probably ever used for cooking in my entire life!) in the holes. Now digger has a lovely orange tint around the nozzle-nose and some red rimmed doggie eyes, while my landscaping smells like a taco and I still have HOLES! So, best of luck with the cord-loving kitties and the cayenne. If you find something that works, please share! My yard looks like swiss cheese…

Condo Blues
13 years ago

I always considered myself fairly eco-aware, but when my rescue dog Blitzkrieg came into my life, I ramped up the enviro practises more for his sake than my own. Blitzkrieg was severaly abused and it took me years of positive behavioral training to get him as mentally healthy as is physically healthy. After all we’ve been through to get him a mentally happy healthy dog, I don’t want to endanger his physical health by using a ton of toxtic chemical cleaners. I started using natural gardening techniques. I make a lot of Blitzkrieg’s treats (poor guy has food and seasonal allergies) because I can’t find treats that aren’t full of junk. Blitzkrieg’s also helped me clear out my DIY/craft stash. I had too many of those too-big-to-toss-but-too-small-to-do-much-with items for too long. I put them to good reuse making dog toys, blankets, and pillows for my small dog.

13 years ago


Take a look at this site for cat food.


13 years ago

I haven’t gone to making the pet food yet. LOL I used to for my little passed away yorkie Max, because I thought he liked brazed chicken livers and hearts so much better than canned food. We recently had an experience with our LAB that I thought you could relate to- she habeen puking and puking for days- her vet said to give her a gentle diet (cottage cheese, egg whites, canned pumpkin- Then all of a sudden she quit vomiting. Turns out she ate a plastic bag- and when roomate was walking her he saw it in her poop. So don’t anyone tell me plastic is not harmful.

13 years ago

I looked online and got more confused. One site said that if magnets stuck to it then it was good. Another talked about 18/10 stainless. I am confused and have recently purchased lots of stainless to replace my plastic. The glass water bottles look nice. With 4 kids I think they won’t work for me.

Christy B
13 years ago

Cindy24: If I remember (and can explain!) correctly the other ingredients (chromium, nickel, etc…) – the content is allowed to be too high which poses a danger.

I think I remember reading that the best best is to find old stainless bowls (from an antique shop) as they are more likely to have been manufactured in the US with stricter standards. The standards in the US have now been relaxed and the best place to get stainless is from Europe.

Here’s an alternative to Kleen Kanteen or Sigg:

13 years ago

christy b.
What is the issue with stainless from china and India?? I have been trying to switch over. Even Kleen Kanteen in made in china.

13 years ago

Indoor air is worse than outside. I really think the reason so many pets get cancer is the cleaning products. They absorb right into their pads and get licked off their skin. They make the air inside the house unclean.
My dogs eat high quality food that comes in plastic bags. Hoping the blueberries outweigh the plastic. In one year I had 2 pets die of cancer. My 4 year old dog got cancer a year ago and thanks to chemo is OK for now. I didn’t switch to all non toxic until the last cancer in such a young animals.
I have 3 dogs, 2 cats and a varying number of foster cats. I don’t make their own food. Gonna try to make the homemade litter to replace the pine I am using. Just have to find old newspapers.

Anarres Natural Health
13 years ago

I don;t know about the US, but a few years ago in Canada everyone was throwing out their metal blinds because the mystery metal they are made from contains, and apparently can shed, lead and this was identified as a danger to children and pets and a possible contributor to indoor air pollution.

Apparently, vacuuming makes a big difference in indoor air quality. Homes that are vaccuumed more often have less pollutants. Mopping also makes a diffence, and if you can eliminate floor covering except for rugs, you’re much safer. As you know, the next biggest thing you can do is eliminate new textiles and wash these periodically.

My cat has no toys. Maybe I’m a mean cat mother. She plays outside a lot and hunts. I’m pretty sure she’s been exposed to a lot of pesticides and poisons through her passion for eating rodents.

I’m lucky that I can buy a local alternative brand of cat food in bulk at my coop.

Yesterday I was approached by a dog spa to provide healthy shampoos and conditioners for dogs. I was surprised, because I thought that people would just use people shampoo, and if they had healthy shampoo, they’d use it on their pets. So I’m about to create a line of body products for pets, apparently! Yay, research!

13 years ago

This really bothers me as well and I was glad to hear about EWG. I live in Los Angeles and have kept rats as pets for years. My rats eat as well as I do because they eat exactly the same things I do (yes this means my rats are eating tons of veggies, fruits, grains, beans, nuts and minimal cheese and eggs. If it isn’t good for my rats, I know I shouldn’t be eating it either.) They drink the same filtered water I do and they don’t go outside/wander around my apartment unattended.

Despite that fact, all 3 of them died in the last year from tumors. They ranged in age from 1.5 to 3.5 years old and were from different litters. Considering how much research exists on rats and what is optimal for their survival in labs, this disturbs me greatly and makes me wonder what is wrong. Why did they all die in such a short period of time when they varied so much in age? Is it their water bottle made from number 7 plastic? The fact that I keep the windows open in my apartment most of the year and the nearby freeway pours in smoggy air and black dust? Was it the new carpet in my apartment when I moved in? The food I gave them? The roach treatment the apartment manager insisted on? The ink on the newspaper they love using a bedding? How will this affect me since I am living in the same apartment?

When it comes down to it my rats have been large motivating factors in me changing my diet and trying to get a handle on some of the crazy, unknown things I am bringing into my home. It frustrates me that we live in a world that is sick, which is making us sick and our friends sick and and we still aren’t fixing the root cause!

13 years ago

Hmmm… in regard to the Vaseline on the cords– hopefully, the cayenne pepper will help but cats love the taste of Vaseline. The main ingredient of a lot of hairball remedies is petroleum jelly. I usually put a gob of Vaseline on my finger for the cats to lick.

I haven’t had much success with cayenne as a deterrent but I sprinkled it along the baseboards to try and deter and unrequited tom cat (he’s been fixed but he doesn’t know it) from marking. General moisture in the air made the cayenne cake into a solid mass so it wasn’t inhaled, which I had hoped would deter said cat.

You could wrap cords in aluminum foil… think of biting into one of those pieces of foil you miss on a Hershey’s kiss! Or masking tape, rolled with the sticky side out.

I spin wool and other fibers (including cat hair *s*) into yarns that I use to knit with. I take scraps of wool and felt them into balls and the cats go NUTS for them. They can still smell sheep on the wool… I made one tennis-ball sized ball for another cat nearly ten years ago. It’s eroded a bit but my current 11 month old kitten LOVES that ball. When I spin on the drop spindle, she goes crazy, chasing the twirling spindle.

BTW, I am now famous at my local big-chain grocery store… I like the rotisserie chicken and will not allow them to put it in the plastic shell carry-out things, only paper bags. And I bring my own (yeah, but I’ve had it for years) plastic tub and have them slice deli meats for me and put those in the tub and slap the scan code on my own container. I often have other customers ask what I’m doing and I tell them why. It’s not much… but if everyone did it, the stores would take note it WOULD make a difference.

Lauri in L.A. (former Bay Area-ite who is in the minority of people who remembers when waxed paper was the material to use in lunch bags, not plastic baggies! I still used waxed paper but it’s hard to find at big grocery chains)

13 years ago

I am so excited about Pets for the Environment! I just put a post up about them too.

After everything we went through with our dog recently (cancer, possibly microchip induced) it’s so nice to know there are people out there fighting for our pets’ health and safety and ultimately ours.

My cat will only eat dry food (weird, I know) so I feed her Newmans Own, and feel pretty good about it.

We used to cook for our dog, but he has such a sensitive stomach that he needs an absolutely consistent diet, so we feed him Newmans now too (mix of canned and dry). I’m concerned about the levels of BPA in his canned food though. It’s something to look into further.

Christy B
13 years ago

Feeding your cats homemade should not be expensive since they are small and don’t eat too much. I am feeding a 50+ pound dog pastured, hormone, antibiotic and vaccine free meat. It’s not cheap but way less expensive than vet visits!

Check to see if this San Francisco Co-Op can fulfill your needs.

Also, don’t forget to try Local Harvest for other possibilities.

GREAT plastic free toys, Purrfect Play.

Another possibility for chemical exposure: water, food bowls (should not be using plastic at all or stainless from China or India), vaccines, flea/tick “preventative”, treats, shampoo.

13 years ago

I think most of your concerns stem from the food we feed our pets. (Though I am not belittling your other concerns, they are very, very real, too.) Before we went to homemade food for our dog, we researched food and were alarmed at what they put in it. Pet food is not human grade, therefore it is filled with “fillers” that are not even food! I believe that sawdust is a common ingredient as a filler, and some of the dyes and perfumes put into the food to please the palette of the owner, thinking they are feeding something yummy to their pet. Remember that toxic stuff that was put into pet foods last fall that resulted in so many recalls? That was just one example. Good for you for taking all of the steps that you are taking for your beloved kitties. I am curious to see how events unfold with your pet food making. It was extremely challenging to do it plastic-free (you will have to make your batches a week or two ahead of time and store it in a freezer – better check freecycle for some sort of containers to put it in!) I also recommend Dr Pitcairn’s book about healthy pets. Good luck!
~Molly in NH

13 years ago

Try looking for “day old” meat, or for cheaper parts to mix together (legs and such are cheaper and better for them than breasts). Just don’t forget the organs. :) Talk to a butcher and see what they have an overabundance of or is cheap! (I know this from dogs).

You are really making me glad we are ripping up our vinyl tile floor and synthetic carpet this summer in favor of 100 year old (and will be naturally refinished) hardwood! I never thought of all of those things.

I’m lucky… we’ve been using Kong dog toys since we got them since they are super chewers… I just looked, and Kongs are made out of natural rubber. Yeah!

They make cat toys, too (though not EVERYTHING is plastic free)… just go to The DOG toys come packaged exclusively in cardboard… no plastic in the packaging. Hopefully the cat toys are, too!

I didn’t really think about this… I mean, I’ve thought about cleaning supplies, and now I try to use homemade ones since their little bare feet (that they chew on) touch the ground. But that’s a lot more to think about replacing!