10 ways to cancer-proof your home

Dogs are very much like infants and young children — they have small bodies, are closer to the ground, tend to put things in their mouths and are usually more sensitive to toxins in the environment than adults. And, with their shorter lifespans — developing and aging more than seven times faster than children — our pets can develop health problems much more rapidly from exposure to environmental toxins.

Here are 10 ways to help you create a “greener” home for you and your pets and prevent serious health problems such as cancer.

1. Choose “green” household cleaning products or make your own

Currently, manufacturers of household cleaning products are not required to disclose a product’s full list of ingredients on the label. This is problematic because many cleaning products contain chemicals that are known carcinogens, neurotoxins and endocrine disruptors that can have adverse effects in pets and humans.

Carcinogens cause cancer and/or promote the growth of cancer. Neurotoxins affect brain activity and endocrine disruptors mimic hormones and can cause all sorts of developmental, reproductive, growth and behavioural problems.

By choosing non-toxic cleaning products or making your own, you’re taking a big step in creating a healthier home for you and your pets. And you’re keeping those harmful chemicals out of our rivers and lakes. Look for eco-friendly cleaning products that offer a full list of ingredients. Here is a list of some chemical groups present in household cleaning products that are the most troublesome:

  • Pesticides: present in household disinfectants
  • APEs: (alkyl phenol ethoxylate) found in detergents, disinfectants, all-purpose cleaners and laundry cleansers
  • Formaldehyde: household cleaners, disinfectants, personal care products
  • Organochlorines (OCs): present in pesticides, detergents, de-greasers and bleaches
  • Styrene: found in floor waxes, polishes and metal cleaners
  • Phthalates: found in many plastic products as well as perfumes and air fresheners
  • Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs): found in perfumes, air fresheners, disinfectants, deodorizers

If you’re a do-it-yourselfer, you can make virtually all the cleaning products you’ll need for your home from these three ingredients: cider vinegar, baking soda and castile soap. (Recipe book available from Green Calgary’s Eco Store. For details visit www.greencalgary.org.)

2. Choose eco-friendly building materials and furnishings when renovating

Flooring, carpet, paint, wood finishes and furniture, to name a few, all have the potential to off gas — release chemicals into the air through evaporation — especially if they are new. Some of the more harmful toxins include formaldehyde, phthalates and BPA (Bisphenol-A).

Choose building materials and furnishings that are free of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). Change your furnace filter regularly and clean ducts and vents often.

3. Outdoors, keep your pets away from pesticides and herbicides

A recent six-year study, from Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Boston’s Tufts University, revealed that exposure to lawn pesticides raised the risk of canine malignant lymphoma by as much as 70 per cent. Another study, published in 2013 in Science of the Total Environment said that herbicide-treated lawns are linked to a significantly higher risk for bladder cancer in dogs.

Don’t apply pesticides or herbicides to your lawn. Choose a lawn care service that does not use harmful chemicals. Chemicals can “drift” so be aware of any neighbours who treat their lawns and gardens with pesticides or herbicides.

If you think your pet has been exposed to any harmful pesticides or herbicides, bath him as soon as possible. Remember that chemical residues on your pet’s paws can be tracked into the house and contaminate surfaces throughout your home. It’s also a good idea to wash off your pet’s paws — and belly if they are close to the ground — every time you come in from outdoors.

4. Choose grooming products free of harmful ingredients

Just like personal care products and cosmetics for humans, grooming products for pets such as shampoos and conditioners can contain a long list of toxin ingredients, many of which are linked to cancer. Remember that the skin is the largest organ on the body and any toxins used on the skin’s surface are absorbed.

Here is just a short list of ingredients to avoid: Artificial colours such as Yellow 5, D&C or FD&C; formaldehyde; fragrances other than those derived from essential oils or plants; isopropyl alcohol, also known as rubbing alcohol; methylparaben and parabens; phthalates; and sodium and ammonium laureth sulfates.

Make sure you choose a shampoo that’s made specifically for dogs. (Humans and dogs have different pH levels so using human shampoo on a dog will tend to dry the skin and may leave it vulnerable to bacteria and viruses.) Ask the manufacturer for the full ingredient list and ask questions if you would like more information.

5. Avoid bedding that’s been treated with flame retardants

Flame retardants — found in a wide range of products such as children’s cribs, furniture, electronics and insulation — are chemicals that help delay the combustion of products in a fire. Although they are meant to save lives, they do more harm than good.

Some pet beds contain stuffing that’s been treated with a flame retardant, a known carcinogen. Pets who spend a lot of time sleeping in their beds, sometimes as much as 18 hours a day, could develop serious long-term health problems.

There are many eco-friendly pet beds on the market. Look for those made from durable, high-quality, natural and/or organic, or recycled materials. Make sure they have not been treated with flame retardants or other “stain-proofing” chemicals that can be harmful to your pet.

6. Choose natural tick and flea protection

Problems with fleas and ticks vary across Canada, due to climate variations. Check in your area if a problem exists. Those dogs most at risk for getting fleas or ticks spend a lot of time outdoors and/or are part of a multi-pet household.

Conventional tick and flea treatments, especially “spot-on” products, contain harmful chemicals that pose a serious health threat to your pet as well as young children and toddlers.

In 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency in the U.S., received 44,000 complaints of adverse reactions to spot-on flea and tick products, which was a significant jump from 28,000 the previous year and included 600 deaths. In response, the EPA issued an advisory about these products.

Keep your pet safe by choosing natural flea and tick protection. There are many good natural products on the market you can purchase online or at your specialty pet supply retailer. These products may take a little more effort but are well worth it.

7. Be aware of toxins in food and food packaging

Besides making sure that you’re feeding your pet a nutritious pet food — low in simple carbohydrates and high in quality protein — stay away from pet foods that contain food additives such as artificial colours and preservatives that can be harmful to your pet. Some of the usual suspects are:

  • BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene): two petroleum-based preservatives used in some pet foods. These preservatives are banned in many countries throughout the world.
  • Ethoxyquin, a known carcinogen, is a food preservative typically found in meat and fish-based ingredients.
  • Propyl gallate is a preservative used in foods and is also found in personal care products, adhesives and lubricants.
  • Propylene glycol is used as a flavour enhancer in many pet foods and treats.

Look for pet foods with natural preservatives such as tocopherols (Vitamin E) and citric acid or rosemary extract that prevent fats from going rancid.

8. Buy safe toys

When purchasing toys for your dog remember that nothing is ever 100 per cent safe. Many toys pose a choking hazard and digestive problems caused by small parts and ingestible materials. Of equal concern are the chemicals and other additives used in the manufacturing of dog toys that may be ingested when your pet licks or chews them.

There are many harmful chemicals that can go into the manufacturing of all kinds of dog toys, from squeaky stuffed animals to plastic chew toys and simple tennis balls. These include dyes, preservatives, toxic heavy metals such as lead, cadmium and chromium and phthalates.

Look for dog toys that are thick and durable, non-toxic and free of heavy metals, phthalates and preservatives. Stay away from toys with a strong chemical smell, which means there may be a chemical residue left on the product; those with brightly dyed fabric that may leach dye when wet; and those treated with fire retardants or stain protectors that contain harmful chemicals.

Choose toys that are appropriate for your dog’s size and play style. Toys that show wear or have been ripped open need to be thrown out. And it’s always a good idea to supervise your dog whenever he is playing or chewing on a toy.

9. Provide clean, fresh drinking water

Good quality water, and plenty of it, is necessary to ensure that all the systems in your pet’s body work effectively. Water aids in digestion and delivering nutrients to cells, helps to eliminate waste, helps dogs to cool down in hot weather and makes all vital organs function properly.

The quality of your tap water will depend on where you live, but most places in Canada have good drinking water. However, additives such as chlorine and fluoride along with other pollutants such as lead, cadmium, arsenic and nitrates that have been linked to cancer may be present in your tap water.

Many vets do not recommend distilled or reverse osmosis water because they pull minerals from the body. They suggest filtered water instead. Always have clean, fresh water available for your pet. Use glass, ceramics, stoneware or stainless steel for your pet’s water bowl and stay away from plastic.

And make sure that your dog is getting enough water daily — about one ounce per pound of body weight.

10. Know the dangers of second-hand smoke

Many cancers in pets, including squamous cell carcinoma or mouth cancer, malignant lymphoma, lung cancer and cancer of the nose and sinus, are directly linked to second-hand smoke. More immediately, it can also cause excessive salivation, diarrhea, vomiting, asthma-like symptoms, respiratory problems and cardiac abnormalities.

And there is also, third-hand smoke — residue remaining on furniture, carpet, lampshades, clothing, human skin, animal fur and other surfaces — that can cause problems for pets. Poisoning can also result if your pet ingests tobacco, cigarettes and nicotine gum or patches.

If you are a smoker, NEVER smoke around your pet. Be cognizant of third-hand smoke and minimize your pet’s contact with smoke residue. After smoking, wash your hands before handling your pets. Don’t leave ashtrays and tobacco products out where your pets can get at them.



This page has been reviewed by our Panel of Experts for accuracy. Our Panel of Experts is comprised of practitioners with varying specialities and perspectives. As such, the views expressed here may not be shared by all members of our Panel.

The content on this website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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