Fire retardants, mercury and stain-proof coatings are just some of the chemicals found in the bodies of live dogs and cats in a new study by an environmental group pushing for more regulation.

The chemicals could point to an increase in cancer and hyperthyroidism in cats and dogs, according to The Environmental Working Group, which released the study at a press conference in Berkeley Thursday.

The group tested blood and urine on 20 dogs and 37 cats in a Virginia veterinary clinic. It found 48 different industrial chemicals were present.

The pets likely ingested the chemicals because they live close to floors and lick the ground and their paws, the group said. Infants and toddlers also are close to the ground and put things in their mouths which puts them at the same kind of risk as cats and dogs, the group said.

That scenario underscores the need for state and federal legislation requiring proof that chemicals are safe before putting them in consumer products, said Bill Walker, vice president of the group's West Coast operations.

"We need a better system of regulating toxic chemicals in this country," Walker said. "We need to test the chemicals before they are allowed on the market. Our animals are trying to tell us something here."

Gary Richter, a veterinarian at Montclair Veterinary Hospital in Oakland who attended the press conference, said he is worried about household chemicals and their effects on pets.

"There's been an increase in cancer in dogs and cats and hyperthyroidism in cats," said Richter. "Household toxins are concerning. We hope the research community can determine if the causes are environmental."

Richter said the high number of cases of cancer and hyperthyroidism in pets can be attributed to better diagnosing of the illnesses. The fact that cats and dogs are living longer means they get more diseases as a result, he added.

Kendra Borja, a spokeswoman for the American Chemistry Council which represents chemical manufacturers, said she had not seen the animal study, but said tests of chemicals in humans can be misleading without some context.

She said if you don't consider the source of a chemical exposure, or how long a substance has been in a body "unnecessary fears can arise."

"The public should not be led do believe that the products of chemistry are inherently dangerous," Borja said in an e-mailed statement. "In fact, Americans are living longer, safer and healthier lives through the essential benefits provided by the chemistry industry."

But Arlene Blum of Berkeley who is a visiting scholar in the UC Berkeley chemistry department, said chemicals are killing our pets and our people.

About 18 months ago she noticed her cat Midnight dropped about half of his 14 pounds in just six months. Midnight was later diagnosed with hyperthyroidism and now she must give the feline fluids through a needle because his kidneys are failing. The cat also gets daily medicine for the hyperthyroidism, medicine for urinary tract infections and anti-vomiting medicine. All that costs about $200 a month.

"In lab animals, fire retardant was shown to cause hyperthyroidism, and quite likely that is the cause of Midnight's problems - the fire retardant in the furniture," Blum said.

Blum tested her cat, furniture and household dust and found high levels of fire retardant.

"What goes into our furniture goes into our dust, cats and our children," Blum said. "These unnecessary toxic chemicals were banned in children's clothes but not furniture."

Blum also is pushing for more regulation of toxic chemicals.

"Right now it's regulation by lawsuit," Blum said. "We need to test chemicals before they enter the environment. And companies have no incentive to do that."

E-mail Doug Oakley at doakley@bayareanewsgroup.com