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Lead Poisoning

Old homes and buildings, especially those undergoing renovation, are good sources of lead.

Many old paints contain lead and if it is eaten, including paint residue or dust from sanding, it will cause problems.

Also, be aware that lead poisoning can be a danger not only to your pets, but to your family as well.

What is lead poisoning? 
Lead poisoning is intoxication due to the acute (sudden and severe) or chronic (occurring over time) ingestion of some form of lead. Lead adversely affects the red blood cells (RBCs) and can damage the gastrointestinal tract, the nervous system, and the kidneys.

What causes lead poisoning? 
Lead poisoning occurs when a dog or cat eats something containing lead. Common sources of lead include:

  • Paint and paint residue or paint dust from sanding
  • Car battery
  • Linoleum
  • Solder
  • Plumbing materials and supplies
  • Lubricating compound
  • Putty
  • Tar paper
  • Lead foil
  • Golf ball
  • Improperly glazed ceramic food or water bowel
  • Lead objects, such as shot, fishing sinkers, curtain weights
  • Old homes and buildings, especially those undergoing renovation, are good sources of lead.

    What are the signs of lead poisoning?
    Signs of lead poisoning vary, depending on the organ system affected. Gastrointestinal signs include vomiting, diarrheoa, lack of appetite, and abdominal pain. Signs indicating that the nervous system has been affected are lethargy, seizures, hysteria (extreme fright and agitation), and blindness.

    Diagnosis and Treatment

    How is lead poioning diagnosed?
    Lead poisoning is diagnosed by a good history of the pet's environment and eating habits, physical examination, and laboratory analysis. Complete blood counts will indicate changes in the red blood cells (RBCs). Blood chemistries and urinalysis will show damage to the kidneys. Specialized tests analyzing urine collected over 24 hours may be done. X-rays can reveal lead objects or paint chips in the stomach, but the presence or absence of these objects does not confirm or eliminate the possibility lead poisoning.

    What is the treatment for lead poisoning?
    Animals with lead poisoning are treated with a medication that combines with lead so that it can be excreted. Pets usually are hospitalized for the first course of medication. If indicated, the veterinarian will empty the stomach by inserting a tube down the nose or throat into the stomach and flushing it with fluid. Fluids are administered intravenously (through a vein) and medications given by injection or intravenously.

    Medications can relieve signs, such as seizures, as well as reduce the amount of lead in the body. Medication can be given by mouth when the animal goes home. The pet may need multiple treatments with medication. Surgery may be indicated to remove lead from the stomach or intestines. After 10 to 14 days of treatment, the animal's blood should be analyzed for lead.



    What is the prognosis for animals with lead poisoning?
    The animal should improve dramatically within 24 to 48 hours of initiating medication. The prognosis (outcome) often is favourable in treated animals. However, if seizures are present and uncontrolled, the pet may not survive or may have permanent damage (such as blindness).


    Public health officials should be notified of the source of lead because it can cause lead poisoning in people. The source of lead should be removed from the animal's environment to prevent further poisoning.