When you toss your dog a plastic ball to fetch, or a chew toy to gnaw on, should you be worried about the levels of toxins they’re ingesting? The answer is yes.

University of Texas toxicologist Dr. Phil Smith tested a variety of dog toys and he discovered they leeched out more of the dangerous chemical BPA than would be acceptable in something meant for children. There’s been almost no research on how BPA affects animals. But most vets agree that the chemical is just as hazardous to pets as it is to humans.

Dr. Smith also found high levels of compounds called phthalates, which are linked to liver and kidney damage in humans. And while he didn’t test toys specifically designed for cats, birds, and other animals, Dr. Smith believes they’re equally as dangerous, because they’re made from many of the same plastics as the dog toys.

Unfortunately, there’s no easy fix. The Consumer Product Safety Commission doesn’t regulate pet toys unless they pose a risk to people. So, it’s your responsibility to sniff out trouble – literally. Pet safety expert Pattie Bowden offers this advice:

  • Pass on any toy that has a strong chemical smell.
  • Avoid toys that are dyed, or treated with stain repellants.
  • Skip the toys made from recycled plastics – unless they’re certified BPA and phthalate free.
  • Replace toys often. As plastics age, sit out in the sun, and get gnawed on, they begin to break down and release more toxic chemicals.