But, as time went on, we began to find his appetite for flaying his toys a little worrisome. If he was chewing, and possibly even ingesting, bits and pieces of his mostly plastic toys, what were those materials doing to his developing digesting system, not to mention the rest of his body? Could those less-than-natural ingredients cause him issues down the road?
According to insight from studies around the world, some plastics and their additives can harm our pets. But despite this, no regulatory body in the U.S. is responsible for safeguarding the levels of known toxins in pet products. There are some places you can look to find out if your pet’s toys have been tested for safety, but no one is watching what companies are putting into their products. Instead the government prefers to let manufacturers regulate themselves.
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The result is that pet toys purchased today could contain a cocktail of chemicals, many of which you’ve likely heard about because they’ve been banned from appearing in products that come into contact with children. But while these products have been under increasing scrutiny for use in children’s toys, pet toys are still flying under the radar—even though many of the tests used to draw these conclusions were performed on animals.
Here are some of the plastics and plastic additives that have been found in pet toys over the last decade.
Dangerous Plastics and Plastic Additives Found in Pet Toys
PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride)
PVC has been called the ‘poison plastic’ because so many of its ingredients are known to leach out throughout its life cycle. These same ingredients also prevent it from being used again. Less than 1% of PVC—otherwise known simply as ‘vinyl’—is suitable for recycling.
The ingredients used to soften PVC can also be harmful to your pet, especially when chewed up, licked, nosed, and inhaled. And this is behaviour your pet engages in regularly. These same ingredients have been proven to interfere with child development, so avoiding them in toys given to puppies is even more important.
If you’re ever wondering if your new dog toy contains phthalates, give it a sniff. Phthalates give vinyl its characteristic smell. If your dog or cat toys continue to smell over time, they contain a high level of phthalates.
This ingredient is known to cause problems to the kidneys, liver, and reproductive systems. Dogs most easily absorb phthalates because they bite, chew, lick, and nose whatever they play with. The Whole Dog Journal previously identified six different types of phthalates that have been banned by the EU for use in children’s toys, but which are still present in many pet toys.
Added to phthalates to stop them from breaking down, Bisphenol-A (BPA) comes with a list of harms all its own. Linked to forms of cancer and endocrine disruption, BPA is a controversial substance currently under review in a variety of circles.
Long known as a neurotoxin that interferes with development and cognitive functions, lead is more of an issue in older products, but it is still used in some new imported, painted toys. In a study conducted by The Ecology Centre between 2008 and 2010, 48% percent of products tested contained lead. About half the products had lead levels above the standards set for children’s toys.
This family of organic compounds is often used in conjunction with phthalates or PVC plastics. One member, the nonyphenols, is restricted by the European Union due to its persistence and toxicity.
But if they’re harmful, why are they being sold?
That’s the question of the hour. Do pet toy manufacturers know about the test results, or do they just not care?
Some certainly do. Years before the most recent statistics came to light, the Colorado pet company Honest Pet Products created plastic-free pet toys to meet the needs of health-conscious pet owners. “I always say that people do what’s best for their animals, but really, they do what they know to be the best for their animals,” says Rob Ryan, owner of the company. “And when we know better, we do better.”
From Ryan’s perspective, the lack of industry regulations make it hard to know what you’re buying. Just because it says “eco-friendly” doesn’t mean a product won’t harm your pet. He points to the greenwashing that can take place when standards aren’t in place.
“When I see eco pet beds that have recycled bottle filling, I think to myself, wow, that’s amazing, we’ve found another purpose for these plastic bottles. And on the other hand I think, there’s no way I would ever let my dog sleep all the time on the chemicals that made this plastic.”
In the absence of informed customers Ryan is not necessarily for more regulation, but he does see a need for standards in pet products. “Regulation always helps where education is lacking,” he says. “Governments can go in and say, for example, ‘we define these minimum safety standards in baby toys or clothes,’ because every mom and dad might not know that fire retardants are toxic. That’s what regulation is good for.”
But since there are no maximum exposure levels set for pet products currently, Ryan opts for the next logical choice: making products entirely from natural materials.
Today Honest Pet Products produces toys made from hemp and wool. Wool, Ryan says, is antimicrobial, anti-dust mite, and it floats—a nice benefit when you’re making fetching toys that often end up in the lake.
Hemp is one of the strongest, cleanest, most earth-friendly textile crops available today. At Honest Pets, the products are often layered up to make them durable and long lasting.
“Our fetch-it stick is a heavy hemp rope wrapped with a felt wool liner, wrapped in hemp canvas,” Ryan says. “We take a lot of pride in the clever construction of our toys. It’s like really good French cooking: it’s a deceptively simple. I’d say that our toys are like that.”
The importance of safe play
Pet toys are an important part of your pet’s life. For both dogs and cats, toys can help fight boredom when you’re apart and prevent problem behaviours from developing (chewed shoes anyone?).
They can also provide comfort when your pet is feeling anxious, and help stimulate the brains of growing pets who are developing a variety of social behaviours when interacting with you and their toys. Using them is also a great way to bond with your pets.
Then there’s the benefit of the physical exercise that pet toys provide. Fetching, tugging, hiding, and finding toys: this all keeps your pet up and active. That’s why more and more people are demanding changes to the pet product industry. And more information is available than ever before.
Where can I check my pet products?
The Ecology Center’s Healthy Stuff Project has an online list of sample pet products tested between 2008 and 2010. Look here for brand name products that you might have in your house.
But what if your product wasn’t manufactured back then? What are your options?
Pay attention to numbers
Watch for the #3 recycling symbol on the bottom of your products. This symbol indicates vinyl, and that’s something you want to avoid. Not having a number doesn’t guarantee your pet’s safety, however, since toys without a recycling symbol can also be made from vinyl.
Purchase pet toys with ingredients that are clearly labeled and avoid those ingredients listed above. If you can’t find ingredients on your product’s label, call the product manufacturer and ask. Watch also for formaldehyde, bromine, and melamine, which are equally harmful.
Stick with untreated
“Untreated material is the most important thing,” says Ryan. “Think of the way the entire toy is created, the way it’s dyed, or if the making of its materials involves some sort of chemical extraction or cleansing process. All of that is important.”
Check out the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS)
Many products or their ingredients have a Material Safety Data Sheet. This is a document that identifies any potential hazards associated with a product or ingredient. Ask your toy manufacturer what they have available.
Natural hard rubber, latex (if your dog doesn’t have a latex allergy), hemp, and wool are all good choices for pet products that won’t introduce toxins to your pet. You can also get creative and use old T-shirts or pillowcases. The Humane Society recommends giving your dog safe toys to shake, carry, roll, and for comfort.
Grow your own
Most pet owners know that pets love grass. They roll on it, play in it, chew it up…Fresh, organic grass is an all-natural treat that can satisfy your pet’s need to chew something green while inside at home. It’s also a great detoxifier. Try growing some for your dog (barley) or cat (wheatgrass) and see if they don’t love it.
A member of the family
Until regulations are in place to safeguard what pet stores and online retailers offer pet owners, it’s up to you to make sure the products you choose are as safe as possible. With a little information in hand, you can make informed decisions and vote with your wallet, the same way you would for any cherished member of your family.
Does your pet have a favorite non-toxic toy? Let us know!
If you’re in the market for natural pet toys, Honest Pets is offering Eartheasy readers a discount. Take 15% off on honestpetproducts.com with the code EARTHEASY15