puppies sleeping with baby

50% of toys from China contain toxins, study reveals

A Chinese consumer organization recently warned Chinese parents to not to let children put toys in their mouths after many were found to contain a toxic agent that could cause liver or kidney damage.

This stunning advice came after the Consumer Council found phthalates at concentrations up to 300 times above what U.S. and European Union standards allow in over half the toys it tested.

The chemicals found are used to make plastic flexible and more durable are banned by the U.S. and E.U. at concentrations over 0.1% in children’s toys, bedding and teething devices.  Of the Chinese toys tested, most contained phthalates and several had concentrations of 28% to 38%.

China has no regulations on the use of plasticizers (phthalates) in children’s products, or for that matter in pet products either.

Junior – don’t you dare put that phthalate in your mouth

While the council warned parents not to let young children play with toys alone, they also cautioned they should make sure “they do not put the toys in their mouths.”

The council explained that although the toxicity levels are not high enough to pose a direct health threat to adults, young children are at risk because of their tendency to chew or suck on toys.

Much like children, pets chew and suck on toys. Because pets almost exclusively use their mouths to play with toys, the advice given to human parents would be not only impractical, but impossible for a pet parent to heed.

Phooey on phthalates 

It is important to realize that when warnings about toxic chemicals such phthalates are mentioned, they are based on tests conducted on animals that linked chronic exposure to phthalates to liver and kidney problems.

Ironically, the very chemicals that induced serious health problems in laboratory animals, pet toys, unlike toys for children, are not regulated for toxic chemicals.

Since there are no U.S. government standards for hazardous chemicals in pet products, it would be not be surprising if the same test were to be conducted on pet toys that toxic chemicals would be found; likely with many at higher concentrations than in toys for children.

What a difference a ball makes

For example, a study comparing tennis balls for sport and tennis balls sold as pet toys found that the tennis balls intended for pets were much more likely to contain lead, while sports tennis balls contained no lead at all.

In 2009, the largest study ever conducted on toxins in pet products, found shockingly high levels of toxic chemicals; they found that 45% had detectable levels of one or more hazardous chemicals, including:

  • One-quarter had detectable levels of lead;
  • 7% had lead levels greater than 300 ppm;
  • Nearly half of pet collars had detectable levels of lead (nearly 30% exceeding 300 ppm);
  • One-half of tennis balls tested had detectable levels of lead.

Oh Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree, why did you burn my house down?

Meanwhile, the council also warned consumers of a series of safety hazards in unbranded Christmas lights made in China which had such defect that could lead to overheating, melting, fire or electric shock, saying some were “probably too good a bargain to be true”.

Wise advice, not just cheap Chinese Christmas lights, but,  for most, if not all, inexpensive pet toys and pet related merchandise sold in U.S. stores today.

Find out more: Plastic toys may be harmful to young children

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Mollie Morrissette

Mollie Morrissette, the author of Poisoned Pets, is an animal food safety expert and consumer advisor. Help support her work by making a donation today.

Comments (18) Write a comment

  1. Do the AK KYC parrot chew toys have lead in them? I purchased one for my grand daughter’s parrot and she claims it has lead in the paint. The description said they are colored with food coloring.


    • That depends. Was it made in the US or China? If it was made in the latter, you may want to consider buying only Made in the USA products in future. As far as claims are concerned, they are dubious. Ask the manufacturer where the product was made and what assurances can they give you that the food colorings were tested and approved for human (or animal) consumption. There answers – other that just trust us – should tell how reputable the company is. I hope this helps Lyn.


  2. I am going to remove most of my kitty’s plastic toys. She doesn’t usually play with them, they consume space & are probably toxic. Thanks for the article.


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  4. Given the onset of people spending increasingly more money on their pets, pet shops have vastly expanded their squeaky toy offerings for dogs. There are many different styles and colors to choose from. The type of toy chosen depends on the nature of a person’s pet. To illustrate this, chewable toys are available for dogs who are aggressive chewers. On the other hand, there are squeaky dog toys which are attractive, and these are suitable for dogs who just enjoy playing and hunting.


  5. Thank you for keeping this issue in the spotlight, especially at this time of year: many stores are crammed with cheap toys for dogs and cats in “holiday” colors and are doubtless crammed with these chemicals.


  6. You state that imports on these items are banned for humans, if they have more than .1% of this chemical in an item. Are there enough inspectors to cover this situation, either in China or the US?? Is there any enforcement?? Kids, esp babies, are always putting stuff in their mouths, including the dog’s toys. I went to the link you provided for “banned in the US”, it says that NOT ALL PRODUCTS need to be tested. [Loophole #1.] AND it only applies to items 5cm or 2″ in diameter, [Loophole #2.]. Licking doesn’t count, [Loophole #3.] As usual there is wiggle room for the supplier and the government.

    Sad to say much about the pet toy business. I just nag my vet, who has toys displayed or anyone that will listen at the supermarket, not to buy sh*t from China, where 99% of it comes. Fultile, but I feel that the word will get around eventually. People are hip to China now – unless they live under a rock. They might put 2+2 together. If not, they, their kids, and pets are doomed.


    • People need to understand that regulations however weak or strong are useless if not enforced. Also add to that if there are not enough inspectors or inspections to uncover the violators that might require enforcement, then the whole situation is FUBAR.

      Simple message: Avoid plastic.



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