Cats and dogs are pooping out potentially dangerous levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) after being exposed in a variety of ways, which could have implications for pet owners, according to new research published in Environmental Science & Technology Letters.
PFAS and related PFOS are man-made chemicals that have been manufactured globally since the 1940s in a variety of products, from non-stick cookware to food packaging.
These water- and stain-repelling substances have become ubiquitous in the environment and persistent in the human body, meaning that they do not break down over time and instead accumulate, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. Human exposure has been linked to low infant birth weights, cancer, impacts on the immune system, thyroid hormone disruption but little else is known about how these chemicals impact the human body.
Pets are often “sentinels of human exposure to environmental contaminants,” and analyzing what goes in – and out – of their bodies helps scientists determine which chemicals their owners are being exposed to and how certain compounds might build up.
To determine the occurrence and profile of PFAS in pet feces as a proxy for human levels, scientists collected pet poop from 41 cats and 37 dogs between January and March 2019 from the Albany area of New York State. Feces samples were taken from both pets owned by an individual as well as those in a pet shelter and the animal’s age, gender, and breed were recorded. Immediately after pooping, the feces samples were collected and put in a polypropylene (PP) container. Liquid chromatography and tandem mass spectrometry revealed the “widespread exposure” of PFAS were observed in pets, in particular, 13 of the 15 targeted chemicals.
After ingesting, inhaling, or being exposed to PFAS, the chemicals can be found throughout the body, some of which have been metabolized while some may be accumulated. Levels observed in pets are consistent with what has been previously modeled in humans with the highest concentrations being found in the liver, kidneys, and blood. Furthermore, the amount of PFAS that are excreted in animals suggests that both dogs and cats are at doses that are above the minimum risk level recommended for humans. Because pets share homes with people, the researchers add that monitoring chemical compounds in animals’ feces may be used to monitor human exposure.
“In summary, this study provides evidence that PFASs are present at measurable concentrations in feces of cats and dogs,” write the authors, adding that the “age and gender of pets did not affect concentrations of PFAS in cats and dogs.”
The researchers add that further studies are needed to evaluate the sources and health effects of PFAS in pets.