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Sci Total Environ. 2001 Jul 2;274(1-3):161-9.

Pet dogs as sentinels for environmental contamination.

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National Center for Environmental Health, Atlanta, GA 30333, USA.


The presence of environmental contaminants in air, water and food may pose significant health risks to the exposed human population. However, problems associated with assessing chronic exposure to low doses of environmental chemicals, multiple exposure routes, diseases with long latency periods, and non-specific health outcomes make it difficult to conduct the appropriate human epidemiologic studies. It may be useful to complement human epidemiology with animal studies. Animals monitored or evaluated in situ for the appropriate suite of endpoints can provide information about both exposure levels and potential adverse health effects. Animals have served as sentinel indicators for health effects associated with a number of environmental exposures, including pesticides and asbestos. Pet dogs may be particularly valuable sentinels because they share the human environment. In addition, dogs respond to many toxic insults in ways analogous to humans, they have physiologically compressed life spans, and they are free from some important lifestyle risk factors for disease. An example of how pet dogs may be used as sentinels for potential human health hazards involves a study of the genotoxic effects resulting from exposure to a mixture of chemicals from nearby Superfund sites. We conducted a cross-sectional study of exposed dogs (living in the community with the Superfund sites) and controls (living in a nearby community). The pet owners completed a questionnaire, and we collected a blood sample from each dog. The blood samples were analyzed for standard clinical parameters and assays for possible genotoxic effects (peripheral blood lymphocyte micronucleus frequency and lymphocyte subtyping). Pet dogs living near the Superfund sites had a higher micronucleus frequency than control animals, suggesting that the dogs may have been exposed to environmental contaminants from these sites.

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