Toy makers were in a panic. In February 2009 the Consumer Product Safety Act of 2008 went into effect. The new law was crafted to make sure that toys would be safe for children to play with. The main concern seemed to be that toys can contain toxic chemicals such as phthalates or lead, which could be a health hazard to small children. The law’s genesis is owed in large part to the 2007 recall of countless toys made in China because they were found to contain lead. The smaller the child, the greater their exposure might be. Pet parents also wondered what exposure their dogs and cats were getting, since just about every pet toy is labeled “Made in China.”
Leave it up to HealthyStuff.org, which is a project of the Ecology Center (EC), a membership-based nonprofit environmental organization based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Healthystuff.org has tested more than 400 dog and cat products, including chew toys, tennis balls, collars, leashes, and beds. More than 90 percent of the pet products tested were made in China. As an Ecology Center’s press release states (Sept. 16, 2009- New Database on Toxic Chemicals in Everyday Products), 45% of the pet products contained detectable levels of one or more hazardous chemicals. Some of the products contained levels of lead higher than the new standard allowed by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) for children’s toys — 300 parts per million (PPM).
There are no government standards for levels of lead or other toxins in pet products.
Veterinarians asked to evaluate the results of the HealthyStuff.org testing reminded us that the size, weight, and general health of a pet must also be taken into account, as well as whether a pet toy has been chewed or eaten, before assessing the probable toxicity of an item. If you’re concerned about a particular toy’s safety for your pet, discuss it with your pet’s veterinarian.
What’s holding manufacturers back from developing a safe standard for the levels of toxins in pet toys? A spokesman for the APPA (American Pet Products Association, Inc.), a non-for-profit trade association representing the interests of the pet products industry, said that APPA members would welcome a benchmark to work from. Pressure from consumers to establish a baseline for pet product safety might give the industry a nudge.
The Ecology Center states that in response to increased consumer demand for safer products, Senator Frank Lautenberg and Representative Bobby Rush are expected to introduce a new bill this Congressional session to reform the outdated Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) – the current federal law for regulating chemicals. These reforms would phase out the most dangerous chemicals from the manufacturing process; require industry to take responsibility for the safety of their products; and use the best science to protect vulnerable groups. To date the EPA has required testing on only about 200 of the more than 80,000 chemicals that have been on the market since the law was passed 33 years ago.
Pet parents are meanwhile urged to read the label before you purchase, and always supervise your pet’s playtime. Never let your pet play with rubber bands, marbles, paper clips, string, or twist ties. Even products which have not shown chemical toxicity can occasionally be a hazard if not properly used. If a pet toy breaks, it can have sharp edges which might harm your pet’s mouth. Any small parts can be a choking hazard.
If it sounds similar to evaluating human baby toys, it’s not a surprise. Just as with children, our pets’ health depends on our looking out for them. So, buyer, beware!