The Animal Doctor by Dr. Michael W. Fox

Chemical Pollutants That Harm Us and Our Animal Companions

DEAR READERS: Manufactured since the 1940s by DuPont, 3M and other companies, PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are used to make thousands of products resistant to stains, heat and water. They are also used in firefighting foams. Unfortunately, they have been linked to high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, various cancers, thyroid disease and other health problems in the human population since they contaminate our environment, food and water.

The nonprofit Environmental Working Group calls these “forever chemicals” because they do not break down in nature and they accumulate in our bodies. According to a study by the EWG and Northeastern University’s Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute, more than 100 million Americans in 1,400 communities have been exposed to drinking water tainted with PFAS.

Along with flame-retardant PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers), especially in furniture upholstery and carpets, PFAS have been found at high levels in cats suffering from hyperthyroid disease, an all-too-common affliction of older cats. Indeed, our animal companions serve as bio-sentinels of human exposure to such chemicals. The impacts on aquatic and terrestrial wildlife are probably very considerable.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a sweeping bill Jan. 10 to address this national pollution health crisis, because the government’s Environmental Protection Agency failed to meet a February 2019 deadline to come up with an action plan to address this issue. But even if the bill were to pass the Senate, the White House indicates Trump would veto the bill over ”litigation risk” and “unwarranted” cost concerns (Minneapolis Star Tribune, Jan. 11)

It is notable that scientists have recently linked high levels of PBDEs with lower IQs in American children and it is likely that PFAS are also a factor. The investigators analyzed PBDE, organophosphate, lead and methylmercury exposures in blood samples from women of childbearing age and from 5-year-olds. Everyday contact with these substances during the 16-year study resulted in roughly 1.2 million children affected with some form of intellectual disability.

They estimate such childhood exposure cost the nation $7.5 trillion in lost economic productivity and other societal costs.

”Although people argue against costly regulations, unrestricted use of these chemicals is far more expensive in the long run, with American children bearing the largest burden,” says senior study author Leonardo Trasande, MD, MPP, Professor of Pediatrics at NYU Langone Health.

Published Jan. 14 in the journal Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology, the new study is the only long-term neurological and economic investigation of its kind, the authors say.

DEAR DR. FOX: Thank you for your article about the horrific decision of the Westminster dog show to award an inbred English bulldog with Best in Show.

I am an avid dog rescuer, and delete friends when they buy French bulldogs, Labradoodles etc. My adopted dogs are my life. I’m a semi-pro paddleboarder, and I paddleboard with my rescues and use it to bond with them. They learn to trust me early on, and they always love it. I also pick the neediest, most decrepit ones that no one else wants. I currently have a 150-pound mix rescued from a horrific breeding situation and an 18-year-old pit bull I bought from a homeless man in New York.

My question to you is: Do you think it would ever be possible, in any country, to completely ban the breeding of dogs until the shelter population is culled down? Maybe just for certain breeds that are so horribly overbred?

Anyway, being on the water frequently, I know this administration has wreaked havoc on the water. Locally, jellyfish and nitrates are up exponentially -- I see big jellyfish now, alien-looking red ones with tentacles.

It ain’t right! So, I appreciate your work in trying to enlighten us all. -- J.L., Pine Beach, New Jersey

DEAR J.L.: It is a challenge on many fronts to change public taste, especially when it comes to the issue of various breeds of dogs and cats who suffer from genetic deformities, endure a lower quality of life and mean considerable expense for veterinary treatment for a variety of health issues.

In the U.K., the British Veterinary Association is confronting drug, pet food and other companies about their use of certain breeds with brachycephaly, and related health issues, to advertise products on TV and other media. The group is also discouraging use of these breeds in movies and television shows.

Breed popularity can also be reduced through public education. Indeed, in many communities and circles here in the U.S., it is now considered “cool” to take in a rescued dog from the local shelter rather than purchase a particular breed or “designer” variety. Also, in some communities, pet stores are prohibited from selling pups from commercial puppy mill breeders, and can only sell dogs and puppies who come from local animal shelters.

As for your experience paddleboarding and seeing jellyfish everywhere, this is a sign of ecological dysbiosis (imbalance) in the marine ecosystem, which is spreading globally. For more details, see my articles about the hazards of plastics and other chemical contaminants in the marine environment posted on my website,

The collapse of ocean fisheries harming many communities worldwide, in large part due to pollution and overfishing, is a tragedy that could have been avoided by better stewardship. Also harmed are whales, dolphins and other marine mammals, and birds, whose numbers are plummeting from the consequences of malnutrition, starvation and pollution.

(Send all mail to or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.

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