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Warning: Toxic Pet Toys

Where are the Watchdogs?

Three studies in the past 9 years found elevated levels of potentially toxic chemicals in pet toys. More research is necessary to determine the long-term health effects of those chemicals on pets. No mandatory manufacturing standards for pet toys exist, and no agency regulates them.

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When two of Nancy Rogers’ beloved 8-year-old Shelties unexpectedly died within weeks of each other in 2007, she wondered what caused their death. At that time, 7 million Mattel children’s toys that were made in China were being recalled for containing excessive amounts of lead, which causes serious developmental and mental-health problems in children who are younger than age 6. Rogers wondered whether lead or other chemicals in her pets’ toys might have contributed to their deaths, so the Illinois nurse hired a laboratory to analyze 24 of her dogs’ chew toys.

The tests revealed that one of her dogs’ “tennis” balls contained 335.7 parts per million (ppm) of lead. That’s more than three times the maximum amount of lead (100 ppm) that’s allowed in children’s toys, according to Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), which is the federal agency that’s charged with protecting the public from unsafe products.

However, no federal limit exists for the amount of lead or any other chemical that’s allowed in pet products. In fact, CPSC doesn’t regulate pet products, period. Neither does Food and Drug Administration. CPSC regulates only pet toys that can put people, not animals, at risk.

“I don’t know of any other agency that does,” CPSC spokesperson Scott Wolfson says.

We found three studies in the past 9 years that found elevated levels of potentially toxic chemicals that are in pet toys (more on those studies later). However, 15 experts tell us that no scientific consensus exists on the potential dangers of chemicals that are in pet products, because no research has been conducted on the long-term adverse effects of chemicals on pets.

In other words, without any standards or guidance on the safe limits of chemicals that are in pet products, Rogers still wonders about the significance of her now 9-year-old test results. The results didn’t solve the mystery of why Rogers’ dogs died, and they didn’t link her pets’ sudden illness to lead poisoning. Rogers just came away with more questions.

“We need standards for what amounts of lead and other chemicals are harmful to dogs and cats,” Rogers says. “Without standards and more clinical research about the effects of toxins in pet toys, we don’t know what the numbers for the test results mean.”

We find it alarming that we don’t know more about what’s in pet toys, considering how much money that’s spent on such toys each year.

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Consumers spent an average of $47 per year in 2015 on dog toys, and 77.8 million pet dogs live in the United States, according to American Pet Products Association (APPA), which is a trade association. Likewise, consumers spent an average of $28 per year in 2015 on cat toys, and 85.8 million pet cats live in the United States, APPA says. No statistics exist on the total amount of money that consumers spend on pet toys, but going by APPA’s numbers, the total amounts to at least $6 billion.

THE STUDIES. APPA receives plenty of complaints about chew bones and breathing obstructions. However, the organization says it hasn’t received reports of pets that had “ill effects from playing with any pet toy” because of toxic chemicals that are in the toy.

Still, three independent studies in the past 9 years found elevated levels of potentially dangerous toxins that are in pet toys, and those studies give the 15 experts with whom we spoke reason for concern.

A 2007 Consumeraffairs.com test on imported Chinese pet toys found that a variety of the toys were tainted with toxic heavy metals, including cadmium, chromium and lead. The chemicals, which are known cancer agents and neurological poisons, are released from toys when pets lick and chew them, says Ernest Lykissa, who is the toxicologist who assessed the toys.

In September 2009, Ecology Center, which is an environmental organization, examined at least 400 pet products—including pet toys and “tennis” balls but also beds, collars and leashes—for toxins. The researchers found that 45 percent of the products contained at least one hazardous toxin that’s linked to cancer, liver and reproductive problems as well as developmental and learning disabilities. The toxins include arsenic, bromine, chlorine and lead. Seven percent of the products had lead levels that were above 300 ppm.

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