The chemicals being studied are polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), which were common in many household items until the sole US manufacturer of them stopped making them amid concerns over their toxicity to animals. However, there remains millions of items of furniture and kitchen ware across America that still contains the potentially harmful chemical. And this study suggests that household dust is the key way that PBDEs get into cats.
This study found that older cats that high levels of specific PBDEs tended to have overactive thyroids. Hyperthyroidism is highly treatable in cats, and numbers of cases started soaring in the 1970s and 1980s, soon after the large-scale manufacture of PBDEs. Other studies have demonstrated that PBDEs can damage the nervous system and disrupt hormones in animals. While these results may be worrying, the research was carried out on a very small sample. It also raises the issue of whether keeping cats indoors is necessarily safer than allowing them freedom to roam, since cats spending all of their time indoors will have more exposure to these chemicals.
Researchers hope to use this study to help direct policy regarding flame retardants, and also to help research as to how these chemicals affect human health. After all, if they affect humans to the same extent, children are more likely to be affected than their parents due to the longer periods of time spent in the home.