Lead Poisoning in Dogs and Cats

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An image of a dog with a paint bucket and brush in his mouth and information regarding lead poisoning in dogs including signs and symptoms.

It’s Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, so to keep your dogs and cats safe we asked veterinarian Dr. Fiona about lead poisoning in pets.

Can dogs and cats suffer from lead poisoning?

Lead poisoning is more common in dogs than cats, since cats are a little more discretionary in terms of what they chose to eat. But any animal can suffer from lead toxicity if it is ingested.

How/where do pets encounter lead?

Common sources of lead include:

  • Lead paint – paint chips and paint residue (i.e. during a renovation of an old house)
  • Toys with lead paint
  • Fishing tackle (i.e. lead sinkers)
  • Drapery weights
  • Solder
  • Gasoline exhaust
  • Car batteries
  • Plumbing materials and supplies
  • Lubricating compounds
  • Putty or tar paper
  • Lead foil
  • Golf balls
  • Improperly glazed ceramic food or water bowls
  • Lead bullets
    • Lead bullets embedded within the body tissue won’t cause toxicosis, so an animal that has been accidently shot will not be poisoned.  However, a pet that eats a dead animal with lead bullets in its tissues can be poisoned.  For example, a hunting dog that eats a bird that was shot with lead bullets could be at risk.

How does lead poison pets?

Lead causes the oxygen carrying red blood cells to break, decreasing their lifespan and thus compromising their ability to deliver oxygen to the tissues. Lead can damage the neuron and the nerve covering–called myelin–which decreases nerves’ ability to deliver messages to the body’s muscles  from the brain. Lead can also cause the brain to swell and cause kidney damage.

What are the signs and symptoms of lead poisoning in dogs and cats?

Related Article:  How to Brush Your Pet's Teeth

Because much of the damage is targeted to the brain and nerves, clinical signs are primarily neurologic in nature, including:

  • Seizures
  • Blindness
  • Paralysis
  • Abnormal body posture called opisthotonus

Other symptoms of lead poisoning are a bit more vague and include:

  • Anorexia
  • Vomtiting
  • Irritability
  • Abnormal vocalizing

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