A HealthLink initiative to protect our furry and feathered

friends from toxic exposures

Are our pets canaries in the coal mine?

    Dogs, cats and other pets may be more vulnerable to environmental toxins than their human companions. After all they live closer to the ground where many toxins are found. They nose around in the lawn, where garden pesticides linger, and lick their paws and fur clean. We inadvertently expose them to toxic cleaning products we use around the house or toxins found in their toys, bedding and food.

    The lifespan of our pets is speeded up compared to ours, in cats and dogs - seven times as fast, and they develop health problems from exposures more rapidly. Cancer in pets, once rare, is now a common occurrence.

    Just like us, our furry and feathered friends are subject to the adverse effects of second hand smoke, chemical additives in food and water, as well as the more insidious commonplace household toxins such as flame retardants in their bedding, phthalates in their shampoos, and Bisphenol-A and lead in their toys and additives in their food. With a pet owner's diligence, your pet can be safe and avoid these exposures.

  • When buying products for your pet, take the same precautions that you do for your family and yourself. Read the labels and be familiar which ingredients are likely to be unhealthy and undesirable.

  • Understand flea and tick products and internal medications containing pesticides. Follow the directions closely.

  • When walking your dog, heed the warnings of the yellow pesticide lawn flags to stay off the lawn.

  • Avoid the temptation to walk your dog on golf courses, town fields/lawns which may be regularly treated with mixtures of herbicides, pesticides and fungicides.

  • If you drink filtered tap water, be sure your pets do too.

  • Use safer, gentler alternatives to caustic cleaning products in your home and avoid lawn and garden pesticides.

  • Be aware that soft rubber and plastic toys may contain Bisphenol-A, a toxic hormone disruptor which is easily absorbed or may contain lead, a neurotoxin. Use stainless steel water bowls versus plastic and natural chew toys. Avoid toxic flame retardants in bedding.

  • Provide your pet good quality food which is less likely to contain harmful additives.

  • Talk to your pet's vet about your concerns.

Resources and Info

The Truth about Cats and Dogs and Lawn Chemicals  - A DVD on  the whys and hows to

provide a safe lawn for your pets and family.

Lawn herbicide called cancer risk to dogs - New York Times

EPA Evaluation of spot-on products: Analysis and mitigation

Pesticides and Preventative Poisoning Pets - Jan Rasmussen, award winning author

A dog is Man's Best Friend in more ways than one

 by Linda Weltner, Marblehead Reporter

Petlink, an offshoot of the local environmental organization Healthlink, insists that a dog (or a cat) may also be Man's Best Warning of the dangers to human health lurking in our environment.

That is the association Petlink is setting out to explore in a two-day event, which begins with a Pet Walk along Lynn Shore Drive on Monday morning, Columbus Day, complete with gift tote bags and doggie bandannas, and ends with a free Forum, "Our pets, Canaries in the Coal Mine?" at the Marblehead High School auditorium on Tuesday night. Rodney L. Page, Director of the Comparative Cancer Program and professor of clinical sciences in Cornell's College of Veterinary Medicine, will be presenting his recent research on the links between animal and human cancer. Two local veterinarians will also address the issue.

"In speaking with local veterinarians, I've been made aware that in recent years there has been a great increase in cancer in pets," says Lori Ehrlich, a local activist who has been named to serve on Governor Romney's environmental team. "People take it for granted, but these levels of illness haven't always been the case. Cancer in animals was once fairly rare. So I began to question whether this was related to the rise we're seeing in cancer in humans. Could our pets be like canaries in the coal mines, alerting us to danger? Can we learn something from them because their shortened life spans make them more vulnerable to environmental insults? I decided that we ought to try to find the answer to those questions."

Community activists soon joined Ehrlich in her quest, and a new group called Petlink was formed. One of the members thought that a Columbus Day Dog Walk was a good way to call attention to the problem.

"We thought a Parade of Pets would raise consciousness about our concerns," says Cindy Keegan, who is co-leader of the group. "We're inviting animal lovers to bring their dogs on a leash and walk Lynn Shore Drive with us on Monday, starting at Nahant Circle at ten in the morning. For a $20 contribution, people can celebrate how much their pets mean to them. They can wrap bandannas around their pets' necks so that people will discuss them around town, and they can honor the pets they've lost by adding their names to a memorial banner."

Kathleen Klett, who has been co-ordinating sponsors and donations for the walk, explains. "We're trying to create a community of animal lovers who will pay attention to the poisonous habitat our pets are growing up in. We're hoping those who have fun at the walk bring all their friends to the Forum so that we can all learn how to better protect their pets and themselves."

"Scientists are beginning to realize that cancer in companion animals may provide a vastly underutilized resource for cancer risk assessment in humans," says Dr. Page, who will be presenting the results of his research on Tuesday night at 7 PM at the high school. Dr. Arthur Freedman, from the Hawthorne Veterinary Clinic in Salem, and Dr. Nancy Crowley from Beverly will also be speaking, along with Diana Post, Executive Director of the Rachael Carson Council in Maryland, an organization designed to inform and advise the public about the effects of pesticides on all living organisms. There will
be testimonials from local residents who have struggled with these same issues with their own pets. The presentations will be followed by a question and answer period. Sorry, no pets allowed.

"Naturally occurring cancers in pets have similar pathological features and biological behaviors as tumors in humans but with two important differences that can work to our advantage in this project," says Suzanne Snedeker, associate director of the Breast Cancer and Environmental Risk Factors program in Cornell's Center for the Environment. "Cancers in pets often progress more rapidly, thus reducing the time required to make conclusions about causal associations, and in contrast to human cancers, cancer development in companion animals is not subject to confounding risks such as smoking and alcohol consumption."

"It is always unfortunate when a family pet develops cancer, as 50 percent over age 10 will during their later years," adds Dr. Page. "But there are two sources of consolation for their human companions. Advanced treatments are becoming available and many of these pets can be cured. Secondly, knowing where these animals lived when they developed cancer can improve our understanding of the causes of cancer in all kinds of animals, including humans, and help to prevent their occurrence."

Dr. Page's Companion Animal Tumor Registry, a geographic database of cancers in dogs and cats in two areas of New York state, tracks pets' cancers and collects and analyzes tissue, blood and urine samples from pets diagnosed with cancer. This data base is being merged with human cancer incidence data in New York state. ##