Reports in the news of unsafe levels of lead in children’s toys made in China, and the resulting recalls, have prompted media investigations of pet toys. Fox News has been out in front, with stories on the subject airing in Miami, Denver, Chicago and other markets. It turns out, lead has been found in pet toys in levels exceeding the safety standard set for children by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). (The CPSC has no safety standards for pets.)
Perhaps the most glaring example found, so far, in a pet toy was shown in a report which aired in Chicago on November 27. The story, “Puppy Poisoning,” was reported by Mark Saxenmeyer. According to testing conducted by Trace Laboratories, based in Palatine, Ill., a tennis ball for dogs " called Paws ‘N Claws " had lead levels of 27,200 parts per million. The standard assumed potentially dangerous by the CPSC is anything more than 600 parts per million.
“This seemed to be very troubling to us,” Saxenmeyer says. He added the lab didn’t find lead throughout the ball, but rather only in the ink used for the Paws ‘N Claws logo.
Veterinary toxicologist Dr. Steven Hansen, director of the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center in Urbana, Ill, added, “Yes, that is a very, very high number. While scary, because the lead is concentrated in the ink, it’s not quite as scary as it could be.”
Mitchell Sas, general manager of Trace Laboratories, agrees the threat is somewhat lessened because the lead is so concentrated. Still, he asks, “What if children pick up this wet tennis ball (wet after being in the dog’s mouth), and then touch their own mouths?” He says it’s an additional cause for concern, aside from the safety to the dog.
The tennis ball was purchased at a dollar-type discount store, and the manufacturer could not be located (by either Fox News or this reporter) for comment.
Lead poisoning does occur in pets, just as it does in people. “We used to see lead poisoning more frequently because of lead paint " either people painting with lead paint (until it was controlled in 1977) or people doing rehab and scraping off the old lead paint,” says Dr. Sheldon Rubin, a Chicago veterinarian. “We still see lead poisoning only occasionally, it’s a sporadic problem. But we’re not looking routinely as I now believe we should.”
Indeed when dogs or cats have seizures, lead poisoning is often ruled out as a cause (among many other possibilities). However, with general symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting and lethargy " lead poisoning is rarely considered. Rubin is saying that it should be.
For the Chicago Fox News report, 15 pet products were chosen at random. Most of the products were toys, however, producers also had a ceramic dish tested. The dish contained 2,890 parts per million of lead, far exceeding the acceptable level according to the CPSC.
However, Hansen points out that measuring lead is quite complex. Just because the lead content in the dish itself is high, it may or may not mean a potentially dangerous amount will leach out into the pet’s food or water " unless this factor is specifically tested for (which it was not, according to Sas).
A glow-in-the-dark flying disc toy was also implicated in the Fox investigation for high lead levels. However, all of the other toys, from a rubber chicken to squeaky toys, tested negative for lead or had trace amounts barely measurable and considered safe.
Rubin has long expressed concern about ceramic bowls for pets made overseas. Sas adds increased lead might actually make the glaze “shinier” and therefore more appealing to consumers, and could lower the cost as well.
Rubin says he assumes if a product is made in the U.S., it’s safe. Hansen agrees this assumption is logical but questionable. Saxenmeyer points out a dose of reality that it’s not always easy to find pet products made in the U.S. Based on his experience, the vast majority of products at most pet stores are made abroad, and most of those in China. However, boutique pet stores do have lots of products made in America.
Rubin says he’s advising clients with dogs who are chewers, and ingest parts of toys, to consider alternatives made in America. Since latex toys are sometimes implicated with having high lead quantities, avoiding latex toys is probably a good idea. Latex toys may be dangerous to dogs under the best of circumstances because they can be so easily shredded and ingested, which can cause an obstruction.
Hansen says while there’s no evidence, so far, to advise avoiding all pet toys made overseas, there’s nothing wrong with consumers being as informed as possible. “Pet owners have the right to ask questions,” he says. “And the right to expect the same standards met which are met for children’s toys. I hope manufacturers offer due diligence and test their products (especially those manufactured overseas) and make the results public. It’s the responsible course of action.”
Even better, according to Sas, pet products should be tested at an independent laboratory (such as his company’s). He says testing independently adds credibility, and the cost is around $1,000 for a lot of 10,000 parts. Once a supplier’s products are deemed safe " in the future spot testing can suffice. He says Trace Laboratories will even test for consumers for around $400, depending on several factors, including how many toys there are.