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Beware of Couch? Home toxins can harm your pets.

By Robin Tierney

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Is your home poisoning your pet? Here are tips to safeguard all of the smaller members of your household

Tainted pet food made headlines, but most people don't realize what everyday toxins threaten their animal companions' health.

In a recent study, D.C.-based Environmental Working Group (EWG) found the blood and urine of companion cats and dogs contaminated with high levels of synthetic industrial chemicals.

Among culprits lurking at home, said EWG senior scientist Olga Naidenko, are flame retardants chiefly polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) in carpet padding, beds, couches, computers and TVs. Their neurotoxic effects influence brain development, learning, memory, and behavior. PBDEs can decrease thyroid hormone levels and potentially cause cancer.

"Small bits of furniture dust, chipping off the surface, contain PBDEs, which then contaminate indoor air, and can be inhaled and ingested," explained Dr. Naidenko. "Children and pets are especially at risk, since they spend more time near the floor and they inhale and ingest a lot more PBDE-loaded dust than adults."

Since 1970s, the use of PBDEs in furniture has increased greatly as has the incidence of thyroid disorder in cats. "Two decades ago," said Dr. Naidenko, "most veterinarians never saw feline hyperthyroidism in their practice."

As for dogs, lawn pesticide exposure has been linked to higher rates of canine cancer. Dogs and toddlers roam close to the ground.

Like canaries in a coal mine, our animals are sending a message: organic trumps chemical when it comes to health. In turn, we can send a message to manufacturers by buying things with fewer chemicals.

How to reduce toxic pet threats at home:

* Replace older foam pet bedding, and replace or reupholster furniture with exposed or crumbling foam.

* Vacuum often with a HEPA-filter vacuum.

* Say "no" to stain-proof treatments on couches, carpets and car upholstery. Warns Dr. Naidenko: "They're loaded with toxic perfluorochemicals."

* Avoid insecticides, rodent poisons and lawn/workshop chemicals, which may cause nervous system and other damage in pets who walk on, sniff or lick treated areas. Carefully store and don't spill antifreeze; even small amounts can kill pets.

* Beware of nonstick pans. Chemicals released when overheating them can kill birds, and may be bad for other animals. When using self-cleaning ovens, move pets far from the kitchen.

* Use a filtered faucet or pitcher to fill water bowls.

* Use stainless steel food and water bowls; plastic can retain germs and toxins.

* Deck made with arsenic-treated wood? Apply sealant every six months. Wash with soap and water, but never power wash. Don't let pets or children underneath it.

* Get the lead out: Presidential springer spaniel Millie Bush suffered lead poisoning when chewing chipped paint at the White House in 1990.

* Toss the flea collars; there are better, safer alternatives.

More on toxins and animals:

petsfortheenvironment.org

ewg.org/reports/pets

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Last Updated: June 23, 2013 (LET) PawSupport