How monitoring environmental exposures in dogs could help humans

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environmental exposures in dogs
Photo: Trendsetter Images – 123rf

Man’s best friend may also be man’s best bet for figuring out how environmental chemicals could impact our health, according to US researchers.

A team from North Carolina State University and Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment used silicone dog tags as passive environmental samplers to collect information about everyday chemical exposures, and found that dogs could be an important sentinel species for the long-term effects of environmental chemicals.

Their work is published in Evironmental Science & Technology.

“Silicone monitoring devices are still relatively new, but they represent an inexpensive and effective way to measure exposure to the chemicals we encounter in daily life—from pesticides to flame retardants,” lead author Catherine Wise said.

“And we know that many human diseases caused by environmental exposure are similar clinically and biologically to those found in dogs.”

Wise and colleagues recruited 30 dogs and their owners to wear silicone monitors for a five-day period in July 2018. Humans wore wristbands, while the dogs wore tags on their collars.

The researchers analysed the wristbands and tags for exposures to chemicals within three classes of environmental toxicants that are often found in human blood and urine: pesticides, flame retardants, and phthalates (which are found in plastic food packaging and personal care products). 

They found high correlations between exposure levels for owners and their pets. Urinalysis also revealed the presence of organophosphate esters (found in some flame retardants) in both owners and dogs.

“What was remarkable about these results were the similar patterns of exposure between people and their pets,” co-author Heather Stapleton said.

“It’s quite clear that the home environment contributes strongly to our daily exposure to chemical contaminants.”

However, while dogs and humans may share similar exposures, the health effects do not follow similar timelines—a fact that could aid researchers in teasing out relationships between chemical exposure and human health.

“Dogs are special when it comes to linking exposures and disease outcomes because effects that may take decades to show up in humans can occur in one to two years in a dog,” Wise said.

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