Are chemicals added to new carpets poisoning cats or causing allergies or dermatitis or breathing problems and cancer? I don’t know and neither does anyone else. However, there is often a cocktail of nasty chemicals added to new carpets for commercial reasons and cats frequently spend a lot of time on carpets. They sleep on them, play on them, walk on them and the cat is much closer to the chemicals than the person who bought the carpet. These chemicals “outgas” – give off fumes for years. Plus, cats lick their fur regularly. Doesn’t all of that raise a flag of concern?
There are many potential health consequences. Take for example allergies. The British Society for Allergies has stated that an increase in exposure to synthetic and pollutant chemicals makes a substantial contribution to increases in allergic disease. One of the routinely encountered idiopathic feline diseases is allergies. They are very common and extremely difficult to remedy. Often vets are reduced to treating the symptoms with steroids. If the allergy is caused by chemicals and then treated by chemicals one can only feel very sorry for the cat.
What about pesticides in carpets such as permethrin? Permethrin is a synthetic pyrethroid.
“The synthetic pyrethroids are not safe for use in cats”2
The majority of industrially manufactured carpets contain a range of chemical additives impregnated into the carpet during manufacture of the carpet fiber or they are added later. They protect against mold, dust mites, fungi and bacteria. Sometimes the additives are said to protect the carpet against pests for ten years. These are long-life hazards.
Of course, despite the health risks, these chemicals are said to bring benefits to some people (e.g. allergy sufferers), but I sense that the domestic cat has been totally ignored in an assessment of benefits set against detriments (negative health consequences).
One of the problems is that manufacturers appear to be ahead of the government agencies and as the effect of these chemicals on people and companion animals is incompletely assessed, they remain in products for much longer than should be the case. Also, the legislation regarding what is and what is not permissible varies widely. We can see, therefore, a considerable amount of uncertainty and confusion with respect to human health never mind the cat or dog which are out of the equation, which results in the continued use of potentially hazardous chemicals.
The undeclared and semi-secret potential health hazards contained within carpets is not confined to any one country. It appears to be a potential problem in North America, Europe and indeed anywhere else.
In the USA approximately 50% of domestic cats spend their entire lives indoors. Approximately 54% of US homes have carpets. You can see the potential for health problems caused by these hazardous chemicals in carpets.
It isn’t just about the toxins in carpets. The underlay, the foam sheet padding underneath, also contains nasty chemicals such as flame retardants. In fact, in a test by the International POP’s Elimination Network, 23 out of 26 samples of recycled foam padding from 6 countries (including the US and Canada) found that one or more flame retardant considered toxic was present. PoPs are “Persistent Organic Pollutants”.
So, what sort of hazardous chemicals in carpets am I referring to? Some new carpets contain high levels of organotins, a brominated flame retardant chemical. New carpets can also contain significant levels of permethrin as mentioned. This is a pesticide. 80% of most people’s exposure to pesticides occurs indoors (see Pesticide News 2000)
In summary, in the UK, the following chemicals may be present: organotins, phthalates, permethrin, triclosan, brominated flame retardants and formaldehyde.
In the USA there are, for instance, volatile organic compounds in the latex backing. These are chemicals such as toluene and styrene. Some of these chemicals may cause cancer. It is said that there are over 100 chemicals in carpets in the USA. They can outgas for years as mentioned. 1000 employees of the US Environmental Protection Agency complained of health problems when new carpet was installed in 1987. It was removed 3 years later1.
The domestic cat cannot complain. We are the voice of the cat.
This is a very complicated business. There are a lot of chemicals in carpet underlay and the carpet itself which have a long life. They are present from new. We don’t fully understand the health risks involved to humans. Whatever the risks, they are probably greater for cats because they are much nearer the chemicals and they groom themselves frequently ingesting whatever is on their fur. To me this greatly enhances the risk to cats. Further research is required. More awareness is also required.
In the meantime, I feel that a carpetless floor is best for cats. Handmade carpets or rugs are probably safer. It is up to the buyer to ask questions. Another reason for not having carpets is fleas. Carpets harbor fleas and fleas are a very common feline health problem.
- Home Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook page 37 fourth ed.
- Various but primarily: In the UK, the Greenpeace Research Laboratories working on behalf of the Healthy Flooring Network — http://www.greenpeace.to/publications/carpet.pdf – and – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.
- Photo (words added by Michael): by Kevin Dooley