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Toxic Substances in Pet Products: What Are We Getting Into?

Toxic Substances in Pet Products: What Are We Getting Into?

Being a pet owner involves more than just snuggles and walks with our four-legged friend. While previous generations were mostly concerned with food and medical care for their bundle of joy, the needs of a companion animal have expanded over time. Nowadays, we like to provide toys, a dog bed, blankets, and other creature comforts to our furry family members. Unfortunately, doing so can result in toxic chemicals being introduced into their environments. In order to reduce the risks, it is important that we know what these are and how to minimize them. Let us take a look at some of the common toxins found particularly in toys and bedding. We will also include tips on how to avoid them when possible.


Formaldehyde is a well-known preservative. In fact, it is most commonly known as the chemical used for embalming dead bodies and preserving laboratory specimens. This is only one of the uses of formaldehyde in industrial settings. Fabric manufacturers use it for a variety of treatments, such as those designed to reduce creasing. This means that formaldehyde is relatively common in upholstery fabrics, for instance, in curtains, car seats, and dog beds. Other uses include floor finishes and wood furniture.

Small doses are unavoidable because it is naturally occurring in our bodies. As with humans, our animal friends have natural formaldehyde circulating. Living creatures can cope with lower levels of formaldehyde, but as those levels rise, there is a risk of health problems. In large amounts, formaldehyde can cause cancer and other health problems. While this had been suspected for some time, laboratory experiments helped scientists document this effect. In addition, high levels of formaldehyde exposure can result in respiratory distress and skin irritation.

What can you do to avoid exposure to your friend?

When purchasing pet products, carefully inspect labels. There should be an indication on the product label if the manufacturer has stated or even tested for toxin levels in their products. You won’t be finding this information on many items, though, as toys and accessories are not under FDA regulation.

Secondly, consider what type of product you are buying. Exposure is a very important factor. As a matter of fact, there is more of a chance of a toxin reaching problematic levels within a pet’s bloodstream if it’s a product that is meant to be eaten or chewed, or if it is just an accessory that will just come in touch with their skin. For instance, toxins in a water bowl are most likely to leach out.


Most people do not see vinyl as threatening. With so many plastics and other synthetic materials all around us, it is difficult to view most of them as potentially hazardous. Walk down any toy aisle at the local pet store, and there will be vinyl-based products all around you. Vinyl toys are popular for a reason. Many of them are hard-wearing, which can be great for owners of large breed dogs. For smaller dogs and cats, vinyl toys can make that fun “squeak” and enhance the fun.

Unfortunately, vinyl toys also include a myriad of potentially toxic chemicals. One example is chlorine, which is required to produce vinyl. As your cat or dog chews the toy, these chemicals are released into the air. Some residue may also be absorbed into the animals’ mouths, which allows these chemicals to be absorbed into the bloodstream. Although it does not cause cancer, chlorine is irritating to the respiratory tract and can cause asthma.

Avoiding vinyl in pet products is somewhat easier than avoiding formaldehyde. One alternative is to purchase high-quality natural rubber toys. These can include balls, chew toys, and even tug rings. Another way to minimize risk is to choose high-quality toys that are intended for small children. This works because of the high consumer protection standards involved when toys are marketed for that age group. However, owners of large-breed dogs should ensure the toy can withstand extended chewing.


Phthalates are a hazard that nobody thinks about, but that is all over the place. This is a family of chemicals that can be included in vinyl pet toys, but they are also common in other places. In fact, many plastics contain high levels of these toxic chemicals. Older plastic objects tend to have higher levels because the danger posed by phthalates was not recognized for a long time. Now, however, many of these chemicals are banned for use in children’s toys inside the European Union and in the US. They remain legal for use in pet products. You can still find them in many toys, but also bowls and even a dog bed if you are not careful. In short, anything that includes plastic can contain phthalates.

What led regulators in several countries to ban certain phthalates in children’s products? Simply put, some of them are dangerous. Many phthalates cause disruptions in the endocrine system and can cause fertility problems. In addition, there are studies that suggest a wide range of medical problems that can result from using too many phthalates. Some of these studies are based on human blood level measurements. With such a large difference between the typical bodyweight of an adult up against either a child or pet, it is easy to see how chemicals have a disproportionate impact.

How can we avoid giving our dogs too many phthalates? First, we can choose toys and equipment that are not made of plastic. One example is a rope pull/chew toy, which is primarily made up of cotton. We have several models in our shop. Another idea is to use metal bowls instead of plastic ones because the material is free of chemicals. Finally, consider buying from reputable toy suppliers. The more labeling, the higher your chance of having a safer toy or dog bed.


Lead is a scary contaminant even for people parents. Once common in children’s toys, lead for people is mostly a concern with peeling lead paint, vintage toys, and industrial pollution. Unfortunately, a lot of homes built before the 1978 ban still have a ton of lead in them. Your pet can be exposed to lead through household dust, eating lead paint, playing with toys, or even chewing on its dog bed. If it eats enough lead, then the symptoms are similar to those of lead-exposed children. Specifically, it can lead to behavior changes in dogs, as well as digestive issues for both dogs and cats. A wonderful, laid-back dog can become fearful, anxious, or even aggressive. Both cats and dogs can lose their appetite and experience weight loss, among other things.

Since the dangers of lead are so well-known, it is easy to wonder why pet owners should be worried about sources other than lead paint and the local soil. As we have said above, there are few consumer protections for pet supplies in general. For that reason, we often see toys and other accessories with a high level of lead. Tennis balls that are labeled for pet use and made in china are a great example. So are toys that have lead paint as decoration. Fortunately, it is relatively easy to avoid purchasing things that have lead in them. Look for products that are certified lead free or, at a minimum, are made in places where the use of lead is regulated. Another trick: look for a proposition 65 disclosure. This means that the item may contain toxic chemicals.

Recycled Plastic or Foam

These days, recycling is fashionable as demand for sustainable products increases. While recycling can be beneficial, it also has a dark side: the mixing of materials. When polyester and foam are made from recycled plastic, the mixture includes everything that went into it. This means that a lot of old-style baby bottles with now-banned chemicals might end up as part of your dog bed. When they reach your home, these chemicals can affect your pet like they would if used in other products.

Some recycled materials are also dangerous in beds for another reason: anxious dogs chew their beds. When chewing, the material can sometimes be ingested. Even if it is not eaten, they might have those chemicals released in other ways. None of this is healthy for your dog or cat.

Fortunately, there are simple ways to help avoid these problems. First, you can say “no” to recycled plastics in pet products. When you do this, it means that the raw materials used were originally manufactured to current standards. Alternatively, choose recycled cotton or plastics where the contents are certified.

In closing, the best way to avoid most toxic chemicals for a dog bed or toy is to purchase them from a reputable provider. Generally, this means that you should not buy the cheapest bed out there that is going to fall apart quickly. Furthermore, a quality choice such as our donut dog bed range will help keep your pet happy with its deep, comforting pile. This reduces destructive chewing and other behaviors that can cause them to ingest toxic chemicals.














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