The Dangers of Flame Retardants by Dr. Deborah Shores

Chances are, you have some products in your home that are coated with flame retardants. One of the most common types of flame retardant chemical compound is polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs. These compounds are added to manufactured materials, such as plastics, textiles, surface finishes and coatings, in an effort to increase the temperature it takes to cause them to catch fire. Although a beneficial concept, there have been multiple studies on the health concerns of flame retardants in humans. If these chemicals are having adverse effects on us, it’s probable that your pet is also being ill-effected.



Items in your home that may contain PBDEs include computers, printers, copiers, scanners, TVs, video equipment, blow dryers, cell phones, kitchen appliances, fans, water heaters, carpet padding, and polyurethane foam products (upholstered furniture, pillows, mattresses). PBDEs began to leak from products during use and when the product begins to deteriorate. 


So, what are the effects of PBDEs in animals? A study performed in 2012 by researchers at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, indicated that flame retardant chemicals found in house dust are linked to thyroid disease in cats.(1)  Hyperthyroidism is the most common endocrine disease in cats, but was only discovered relatively recently (1979). Due to the rapid increase in cases, researchers and veterinarians are looking for possible causes. 


In 2007, researchers at Indiana University found significant amounts of flame retardants in the bloodstream of dogs.(2) PBDEs were found at levels 5 to 10 times higher in dogs than humans. 


PBDEs may also found in commercial dry dog food, research found. It is suspected that most of the PBDEs are located in the packaging and not in the actual contents however. It is known that types of fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, and whitefish, are contaminated with PBDEs from chemical build-up in the oceans, lakes, rivers, and other bodies of water.(3) Although the actual dog food may contain PBDEs, it appears that the packaging and processing poses the highest risk of contaminating your pet’s food with PBDEs.


Fortunately, the Environmental Working Group offers some tips to avoid exposing yourself and your pets to PBDEs. 


Be cautious with foam items. If you have any products with exposed or misshapen foam, replace it immediately. 

Consider purchasing a vacuum with HEPA filters — these filters help to catch small dust particles and are helpful in removing contaminants from your home. 

Be cautious when removing old carpet, as the padding may contain PBDEs.

Whenever purchasing a new product, ask the manufacturers what kind of fire retardants are used. If possible, avoid products with BFRs (brominated fire retardants) and choose less flammable fabrics, such as wool and cotton. 


For more information, refer to the Environmental Working Group’s website ( and PBDE Guide. 


Any questions about PBDEs and their effect on your pets? Just ask me



Mensching, D., et al. "The feline thyroid gland: a model for endocrine disruption by polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs)?." Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part A 75.4 (2012): 201-212.

Venier, M., and Hites, R. "Flame retardants in the serum of pet dogs and in their food." Environmental Science & Technology. 45.10 (2011): 4602-4608.

Kakimoto, K., et al. “Detection of Dechlorane Plus and brominated flame retardants in marketed fish in Japan.” Chemosphere. October 2012; 89(4):416-9. 


Dr. Deborah Shores is a graduate of Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine. She has many years of experience working in animal hospitals and clinics from Virginia to South Carolina, treating mainly dogs and cats. She has a special interest in nutrition and holistic veterinary medicine and plans to pursue an acupuncture certificate at the Chi Institute in Florida. 



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