Recently, I was forwarded an article about the potential negatives enrichment items had on pets due to plastic toxicity. The article, while I believe well-meaning, left many holes in the narrative, causing panic in dog owners who use toys to enrich their dog's lives.
While there is much to be discussed when it comes to plastic and pets, I do believe that the article helped raise awareness on the importance of conscious buying. While many of us believe in making conscious choices when purchasing products for ourselves, it's also extremely important to think about when purchasing items for our pets.
Let's talk about it!
“Toys are an important part of a pet's life,” explains Dr. Rory Lubold, Paion Veterinarian. “They serve as an enrichment tool and source of mental stimulation to keep our pets active and engaged.”
While toys offer our dogs joy, mental stimulation, and a sense of variety in their routines, on occasion they can still pose hidden dangers to our pets. As a result, Lubold advises that you should “always monitor your pets after giving them a new toy.”
So, let's look at the whole picture (with studies).
Toxic. A fiery buzzword often used to get our attention - and get our attention it does!
While the word "toxic" can send the general public into a panic, we must remember that when it comes to toxins, it’s all about the exposure and dosage (much like we discussed in our Plants & Pets article). For example, many human foods contain some level of arsenic, but at low enough levels where we can eat them without harm. Essentially, the dose makes the poison; there’s a big difference between a toxic dose and the presence of a potential toxin.
In the case of toxins and dog toys, there’s still so much that we don’t know about certain chemicals. As a result, it’s best to err on the side of caution and be aware of what you're buying for your pets.
“As a general rule, it would be good to avoid the additional chemicals and plasticizers whenever possible,” Dr. Lubold says, but he notes that the likelihood of pet health issues from these chemicals is fairly low.
“Most dogs will chew toys occasionally and not ingest enough of the chemicals to be significant,” he says. “However, the chemicals used can mimic estrogens and have far-reaching environmental impact.”
The Biggest Offenders
With the explosion of the pet industry over last decade, one may assume that all dog toys on the market have been vetted by a federal agency. Unfortunately, unlike many of the products we use for Human Consumption, there are no safety regulations in place for pet toys and products as of December 2021.
As a result, researchers have discovered that some dog toys contain dangerous chemicals, such as lead, Bisphenol A (BPA), or phthalates. The good news? Many fantastic dog brands have stepped up to the plate to ensure that the products we give to our pets remain non-toxic.
Making Conscious Choices
While one may think that dog toys are the biggest cause of alarm when it comes to plastic and pets, science suggests that the BPA levels in our pets is likely attributed to food packaging (though we still need many, many more studies done on this).
A study conducted in 2017 showed that BPA in canned dog food had an impact on pets’ BPA levels, which mirrors what we see in human studies done on food and drink packaging. Most people get their BPA dose through diet, since BPA is often found in packaging like aluminum cans and drink bottles. As for phthalates (a group of chemicals used to soften plastics), they can be found hiding in every day items such as flooring, cosmetics, detergents, and more.
“The amount of BPA in canned dog food is likely more significant than the amount in toys,” Dr. Lubold says, adding that “There is not a lot of data on health concerns with BPA and phthalates or other toxins when it comes to their inclusion in toys.”
That being said, this doesn't mean that toys are a write off when it comes to chemical concerns.
For example, a study done in 2013 tested BPA and phthalate levels in toys and training devices (specifically bumpers used to teach dogs how to retrieve). The study showed that toys leached substantially lower concentrations of phthalates and BPA compared to the bumpers, but that toys were still considered potential sources of exposure to BPA and phthalates.
It's important to note that the levels of BPA leaching from toys to pets is largely unreported, and has not been tested enough to be listed as a major health concern in pet dogs. Despite this, it's still in your best interest to avoid products with BPA.
The Solution? Know Where Your Dog Toys Come From.
Here's a list of some of the biggest enrichment brands in the industry, and how they ensure their products are safe for our canine companions (you may be surprised at the lengths some of these suppliers go!)
This U.S. based company maintains some of the highest quality dog toys that I've seen personally. West Paw is known for their unique designs, emphasis on sustainable manufacturing, and use of safe materials (read about them, here). West Paw is also the first enrichment brand I know of to create a toy recycling loop dedicated to eliminating waste, and an entire line dedicated to repurposing sea plastics. Click here to read more on how they're making pet toys safe, manufacturing them responsibly, and with the environment in mind.
A newer brand in the enrichment world, Soda Pup prides themselves on durability. However, they've also taken the steps necessary to ensure that their toys are safe for our canine companions. Not only do their toys have high tear strength to resist destruction, but all SodaPup toys are also FDA-compliant, BPA free, phthalate free, and pass Prop 65 testing.
What is Prop 65 testing? It's a California consumer “right-to-know law", stating that your product is free of over 800 chemicals “known to the state to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive toxicity”. This list is updated annually.
Perhaps one of the most popular enrichment brands, KONG has provided pets all over the world with a wide variety of toys and enrichment feeders. Even though there are no regulations in place for dog toys, Kong created a baseline quality by following other standards - specifically, the high standards for children's toys. Kong follows the standards for children’s toys created by American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) F963 and EN-71 when performing chemical testing on their toys. Most of their products are made in the U.S., having only three specific toy designs manufactured offshore and imported. However, the company assured Consumer Affairs that all products “undergo rigorous testing,” adding, that “Imported KONG product lines are tested by independent laboratories, once in China and again in the U.S. to prove they are safe and non-toxic.”
With some knowledge on labeling practices, chemicals (such as BPA and phthalates) and other potentially dangerous materials, you should find selecting a safe and environmentally friendly dog toy a bit easier!
What to do if you're unsure about your current toys:
Check the brand's website for information on how and where their products are manufactured, as well as what the products are made out of.
Search individual toy styles. Some enrichment brands have a multitude of toys made out of different materials; so best to narrow your search down in those cases.
When in doubt, reach out! Any reputable company will always be happy to tell you where and how their products are made, and what lengths they're going to to ensure their products are safe to use.
Skip plastic toys altogether (when able). For example, try this 100% natural Java Wood Dog Chew in lieu of something plastic.
SOURCES & FURTHER READINGS