Cats can’t stage environmental protests, but your household feline might be suffering from exposure to toxins in everyday products.

In a new study that analyzed the blood of 62 domestic cats and 10 feral cats, researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that cats living inside homes had higher blood levels of a class of chemicals called PBDEs, compared with their outdoor-living peers.

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PBDEs, or polybrominated diphenyl ethers, are used as flame retardants in many household products, including furniture and electronics. The chemicals are known endocrine disruptors that have been linked with a variety of health concerns, including cancers, reproductive and developmental issues, and neurological problems.

In cats, PBDE exposure might also affect susceptibility to hyperthyroidism. The new study, published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, found that, compared to cats with healthy thyroids, hyperthyroid cats lived in homes with higher levels of PBDEs in the dust.

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Tests detected the chemicals in all 10 samples of commercially available canned cat food that the researchers looked at as well. But levels suggested that dust was responsible for most of PBDEs that cats were exposed to.

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“Domestic cats could be the proverbial ‘canary in the coal mine’ for PBDE-induced disease” in people, the team wrote, urging further research.

The study included a cat named Midnight, who belongs to Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute.

“Midnight's blood levels were very high and my house dust at 95 micrograms/g was the highest in this Illinois study,” Blum wrote in a press release. “Happily, the level of flame retardants in my house dust went down from 95 ug/g to 3 ug/g three years after I discarded all my toxic furniture.”

Photo credit: Corbis