Updated: Sep 10
Plus, my top 5 tips for reducing your pet's toxic load!
Your cat or dog is exposed to toxins every day. No matter how focussed you are on using only natural products, if at all, it is impossible to escape toxins. These toxins can have a negative impact on your health but the impact on your pet's health can be greater.
What is "toxic load"?
Toxins occur naturally as a natural by-product of your pet's everyday functions. But toxins can accumulate through exposure to external sources (ie harmful substances, usually of chemical or other artificial origin), whether they are absorbed through the skin and airways or through digestion.
The higher the toxic load, the increased chance your pet will have of experiencing health issues. So it makes sense that a low toxic load is important for optimum health and longevity.
Common toxins that cats and dogs are exposed to
Sources of toxin exposure for cats and dogs include their food, water, medications, household chemicals and products, artificial fibres, plastics and garden chemicals.
Food can be contaminated for a number of reasons and it starts right back at the growing stage.
Chemicals are used in the growing and manufacturing of foods contained in pet food that can be toxic ie:
sprays used on crops; and
chemicals given to the animals that have provided the protein content of your pet's food eg antibiotics, anti-parasite drugs, veterinary medications and in some localities for some species, growth hormones.
Residues of these chemicals may be found in pet food.
It's important that I touch briefly on the impacts of glyphosate on cats and dogs. Glyphosate is the main ingredient in Roundup, a commonly used herbicide in crop production.
A study being undertaken by HRI Labs on sources of glyphosate exposure in cats, dogs and horses has revealed that cats on average have glyphosate levels 16 times higher than humans and dogs on average have levels 32 times higher than humans!
Interestingly the data on dogs shows that:
dogs who eat raw food have virtually no detectable glyphosate;
those who eat canned food have detectable glyphosate levels; and
those who eat grain-free kibble have the highest levels.
Following on from the growing and manufacturing stages, you've also got the chemicals and heavy metals in the food packaging, which can leach into your pet's food. For example:
plasticisers like the endocrine disruptor bisphenol-A (BPA);
phthalates found in plastic packaging; and
lead, arsenic, aluminium, tin, mercury and cadmium and perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs).
Unfortunately our water supply can contain a variety of contaminants including bacteria, chemicals (such as chlorine, fluoride, arsenic, heavy metals, PCBs, pesticides etc) and even parasites. Your animals need water, just as much as you do. But consuming unfiltered water can have negative health impacts for humans and animals alike.
Think parasite medications, vaccinations and any other type of veterinary medication. These all contain chemicals and heavy metals, with some including neurotoxins. Possible side effects of the toxins in these medications include seizures, kidney failure, liver disease, DNA damage and even cancer.
Household products can be a cesspit of chemicals. Think make up, skin care, hair products, cleaning products, air fresheners etc. Now your animal probably isn't using your make up or skin care (!) but they will be exposed to cleaning products, air fresheners and the like via inhalation or direct contact eg the floors after they've been cleaned. And if you bathe them, they will be exposed to any toxins in their shampoos and/or conditioners.
Synthetic and semi-synthetic fibres are everywhere in our homes - our linens, our furniture, our floor coverings, our clothes and so on. Even in our pet's bedding.
The process of making synthetic fibres involves a lot of highly toxic chemicals. Exposure to these chemicals (the fibres can leach the chemicals which then can be absorbed by your pet), can result in negative health effects over time.
Plastics can leach a variety of toxic elements (including phthalates, endocrine disruptors like BPA and nonylphenol, antimony, styrene), which may harm your animals. Commonly plastics are found in pet food packaging, pet toys, pet bedding, pet grooming products, home construction materials, carpet, flooring, piping and so on.
Check out this great resource for more info.
I touched on things like pesticides and fertilisers in the food topic above. But food is not the only exposure route for your pet. Other sources include your garden (what sprays do you use?), public parks, council areas eg nature strips, dog parks. The last two are more of an issue for dogs than cats, unless you allow your cat to roam the neighbourhood (which I don't recommend for a variety of reasons).
I don't expect you to stop taking your dog to these places, and realistically, most of them can't be avoided. But, there are things you can do to decrease your dog's absorption of the chemicals found in these areas.
Of course, limit or eliminate your use of chemical garden sprays. For public space exposure, one of my favourite things is to store natural cleaning wipes at your front door and wipe your dog's feet when you bring him home from a public space. This will reduce toxin absorption when they lick their feet later on AND it will reduce the spread of toxins through your home. (Take your shoes off at the front door too).
Why toxins can have a greater negative impact on cats and dogs
In 2008, the Environmental Working Group found that:
"pets are polluted with even higher levels of many of the same synthetic industrial
chemicals that researchers have recently found in people, including newborns."
This was based in part due to research findings that showed that:
"Dogs and cats were contaminated with 48 of 70 industrial chemicals tested, including 43 chemicals at levels higher than those typically found in people, according to our study of plastics and food packaging chemicals, heavy metals, fire retardants, and stain-proofing chemicals."
Read these statements again to let them sink in. This is some scary stuff!
There are several reasons why the exposure risk and health impacts of cats and dogs is so much higher than humans. Some of them include that:
they're smaller in size
they have compressed lifespans, developing and ageing seven or more times faster than children
they develop health problems from toxin exposure much more rapidly
they don't have a protective layer of clothing
they lie on and lick surfaces (floors, bench tops)
All of these factors combined mean that the risk of your animals getting sick from toxin exposure is so much higher than it is for you.
It's the accumulation of time of all these toxins that is the issue. If it was just one toxin, or several for a short period, the side effects probably wouldn't be so bad. But unfortunately, your pet is exposed to a multitude of toxins over multiple years, if not most of their life (all of their life if you don't make any changes). This means they are accumulating more and more toxins with each passing year, unless you start taking action to reduce their toxic load now.
You owe it to your animals to provide them with the safest home that you can.
What can you do to reduce your pet's toxic load?
There is an awful lot you can do and to adequately explain all that, I would need to write a separate blog, or two (or create a whole course - which I've done here!). So that you can get started with reducing your pet's toxic load, here are my top 5 tips:
Feed a clean, whole food, species appropriate diet. Or at least replace some of the processed/packaged food you currently feed with fresh, clean foods. For guidance on this, check out my Real Food Diet eBooks for cats and dogs.
Provide filtered water for your cat and dog. One of my favourite water filtration brands is Waters Co.
Look at natural alternatives to the medications you're giving your cat or dog. For some guidance on natural parasite prevention to replace the chemical parasite medications you're giving, check out my eBook "The Guide to Natural Parasite Prevention".
Source natural sprays for your garden or pull the weeds the old fashioned way - on your hands and knees.