A study presented at a recent Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry conference is sure to make dog owners think twice about the kinds of toys they put under the tree for their dogs this Christmas.
Research is showing that some dog toys, especially ones made of certain plastics, contain harmful and potentially deadly chemicals. Phthalates and bisphenol A, more commonly known as BPA, are endocrine disruptors.
These same chemicals, which often mimic the hormone estrogen, have been a part of countless human studies. Phthalates and BPA have adverse effects on development in humans—which is why the use of these substances have been banned in the production of products for humans, like water canteens and baby bottles.
“Well, lots of attention has been given to chemicals in plastics lately regarding their effects on humans,” said Texas Tech University Associate Professor of Terrestrial Ecotoxicology and study co-author Phil Smith.
Smith hopes that the study he helped to conduct will open up a conversation about the dangers of phthalates and BPA in dog toys as well. “Since we all care about our dogs, and we want them to be as healthy and smart and well-behaved as possible, we decided to look into this,” Smith said.
To accomplish their study, Smith and colleague Kimberly Wooten mimicked a dog’s chewing by squeezing dog toys with stainless steel salad tongs. The researchers created simulated dog saliva to achieve a realistic drooly effect. To determine the affect of wear and tear on the levels of chemicals in the toys, Smith and Wooten tested toys that were weathered outdoors for different lengths of time.
The pair suspected that when dogs lick and chew on their plastic, latex, and vinyl toys, it had the potential to release dangerous chemicals into the dogs’ mouths and bodies. These compounds are often added to dog toys during their production to give these toys elasticity and pliability, but they could also prove toxic.
The researchers found that the older and more worn a toy, the higher the concentration of phthalates and BPA. Researchers also discovered that the type of dog toy with the highest amount of phthalates and BPA is a type of plastic fetching baton called a bumper, often used to teach dogs how to retrieve.
“In the process of training a Lab, you do a lot of work with these plastic bumpers,” said Smith. The study was especially relevant for Smith, who trains and hunts with his Labrador Retrievers. “I have a lot of bumpers in my garage, and they spend a lot of time in the mouths of my Retrievers,” Smith explained.
The bumpers tested contained the highest concentration of these potentially toxic chemicals when compared to the traditional dog toys, according to Smith. But the other dog toys tested definitely weren’t chemical-free, the researcher explained.
“They also had some other chemicals that mimicked estrogen,” Smith told Discovery News. “We need to find out what those are.”
Smith and Wooten’s findings indicate a need for further research into the dangers that these chemicals pose to the health of our canine companions.
“The interaction of pet health and environmental chemicals is understudied,” explained study co-author Kimberly Wooten. “What may be a safe dose for one species isn’t always a good measure for another species. But the amount of BPA and phthalates we found from the bumpers would be considered on the high end of what you might find in children’s toys.”
When choosing the best toys for your dog, experts recommend avoiding any toys with strong chemical smells. Avoid any toys that are treated with stain resistant compounds or fire retardant chemicals. And, perhaps, most importantly, do your research before purchasing a new toy for your dog. Visit the company websites for dog toy manufacturers and study toy labels. Chances are the more transparent a manufacturer is about their product, the safer the dog toy they produce.