According to the National Cancer Institute, each type of cancer has its own known or suspected risk factors, and all cancers are almost always caused by a combination of factors that interact in ways “not yet fully understood.”
Obviously, some of these factors are environmental, and many come to us and our pets through what we ingest--our diet and our drinking water. These two topics will be covered in chapter 6, Drinking Water, and chapter 8, Nutrition. But there are also many other risks involved with daily life that affect and may cause disease--or even death--in both human and nonhuman animals.
Toys and Treats
Let’s consider the toys you so thoughtfully buy your dog or cat, some of which are actually quite dangerous. At the top of the list for dogs are most rawhide chews. Even though they give pooches a long-lasting treat, keep them amused when you are too busy to take a walk, and can help in reducing dental problems, they have latent dangers as well. Dogs can choke on rawhide ends and can sustain intestinal blockage; if you do give your dogs these toys, you should supervise their happy chewing.
There are also problems with the rawhide material itself. How are these things made? Fresh hides must be preserved, the hair removed, and the hides cured to prevent them from spoiling. Many of the least-expensive chews come from Asia, where uncontrolled chemical usage has caused massive pollution in rivers and aquifers. (According to an investigative article on this topic, one company, IPSD of San Diego, California, sold rawhide products from Argentina, Canada, China, Ecuador, and Thailand, where cheap hides could be had.) Some of the residues found in poorly processed animal hides are lead, arsenic, mercury, chromium salts, and formaldehyde. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has jurisdiction over animal products imported into this country but requires only an import license and a certificate of origin. Perhaps U.S. rawhides are safer, but chemical processing happens in all these products. Some U.S. companies claim that no chemical treatment or preservatives are needed to prevent rawhide spoilage, because everything is done here--that is, more quickly. But many skeptics disagree, and many people no longer buy these chewies. If you do decide to give a rawhide chew to your dog, buy a high-grade product made in your own country.
Along with rawhide, three other dog treats are potentially dangerous. Smoked products are baked in giant ovens and preserved with a liquid smoke distillate that makes the bones smell “barbecued.” Wood smoke contains some two hundred compounds, some of which are carcinogenic. Even for humans, keeping smoked meats to a minimum is sane advice. Second, plastic chew toys are made of petrochemical polymers like polyurethane and nylon. No studies have been conducted to show long-term health risks for dogs, but as writer Roger Govier asks, why does one of the products include chicken if it is not meant to be eaten? On another plastic chew product, he found the words, “No added plastic, salt, sugar, color additives or preservatives.” So does the product contain plastic or not? Read those labels closely, always. Finally, items such as pig’s ears and noses are processed with chemicals and are dyed. Many are sold in unmarked bins at big stores, which is technically illegal: According to the Food and Drug Administration, these products ought to be identified by brand, contents, and maker’s address.
So what should you do when your dog gets that doggy urge to chew? Govier recommends real raw bones, carefully monitored. A few commercial chews are better than others. Try products from Doctors Foster and Smith, New England Serum Company, Pet Factory, and Ecology Rawhide Treats, made from free-range, hormone- and toxin-free cattle hides.
The FDA recently issued an alert on the potential presence of salmonella in meat-based dog chews. Canadian authorities traced approximately thirty cases of salmonella to pork- or beef-based dog chews such as pig’s ears and chew hooves. As a result, the big chain store PETsMART is currently investigating all the suppliers of its 570-plus superstores and will purchase only from manufacturers “that pass inspection, and test and certify that each lot is free of salmonella before shipping.” The megacompany also advises you to handle the meat-based dog chews safely, treating them as if you were “preparing a chicken dinner for your family.”