Air Quality Affecting Pets – Canary in a Coal Mine

Jun 29, 2018

We occasionally receive a phone from clients with concerns about indoor air quality affecting pets, especially cats and dogs.  I have heard reports that some pets have developed blindness, neurological diseases, lethargy, etc… One client recently found out that his small dog died of lung cancer, and neither the dog nor the owner were smokers!  These animals could have developed these diseases naturally, or there could have been a contributing indoor environmental cause.

When working with these issues, the old expression “The canary in the coal mine” comes to mind.  Reportedly back in the day, miners would bring caged canaries into a new mining shaft. Early mines were known to have poor ventilation and a dead canary would be an early indication of a possible methane or carbon monoxide buildup.  The loss of a pet can be devastating. However, the loss of a pet may indicate a figurative “canary” and potential health dangers within the home.

In reviewing possible hazards, you may want to check for the following:

Lead Paint and Dust

According to the EPA, when lead paint starts to disintegrate into paint chips and lead dust it is possible that it can be swallowed or breathed in

 This is of special concern for properties that were built before the US ban in 1978. Areas of concern include floors, stairs, doors and window frames. The heavy lead dust settles often settles on the floor at a level that pets and small children will more readily encounter.  If your home was built in 1978 or prior and you see peeling paint, we recommend testing for lead-based paint.

Endocrine Disruptors

In a past blog, I wrote about endocrine disruptors, which includes BPA, pesticides, flame retardants, plasticizers and phthalates.  The fact that endocrine disruptors are found in everyone’s house dust is too unsettling. While I was driving down one of the expressways this week, I saw a billboard that advertised pet bowls that were BPA free.  I hadn’t thought about it before, but it’s true. Our pets are pushing their hungry faces into feeding bowls that can contain harmful chemicals, especially if the pet is pregnant. These chemicals can also be found in new furniture, pesticides and even toys!  Indoor Science is one of the only companies in the country that offers testing for endocrine disruptors in house dust. 

Formaldehyde and VOCs in the flooring

Much has been reported recently regarding volatile organic compounds (VOCs) on laminate flooring, the most concerning of these compounds being formaldehyde. This is not just a concern for small animals that are closer to the floor, but it is also a concern for crawling babies and small children.  Precaution should be made to ensure that flooring should have “low” to “no” VOCs. Look for flooring that meets California formaldehyde standards and if you are refinishing floors, use alternatives to solvent-based polyurethane. If you already have the flooring installed, the next best step would be to increase the amount of outdoor fresh air delivered into the home through open doors and windows.  You could also install an outdoor air intake on your central air ductwork or even an energy recovery ventilator (ERV)

Mold spores and pollen settled onto the carpeting: Air Quality Affecting Pets

You may not realize it, but all one needs to do to bring mold spores and pollen into your home is to take a brief walk through your backyard and then step back in.  Spores and pollen are everywhere (especially outside) and it doesn’t take much to have them embedded into your carpet. Pets can also bring these pesky items into your home and then lie on the carpet to breathe them in.  Proper cleaning of the carpets can be crucial in aiding the air quality affecting pets.


Radon gas is the second leading cause of lung cancer and pets are not immune to this disease.  In fact, it is possible that small pets can be more susceptible to this dangerous gas because they are closer to the floor where radon can enter.  Like the canary in the mine, their respiration rate might be higher too. The only way to determine if elevated levels of radon are in your home is to do proper testing.  

A dead canary does not make for a good pet.  When we practice due diligence in providing good air quality affecting pets, we help to ensure that our homes are safe for both people and our pets.