Dogs and lead poisoning

Dogs and lead poisoning

Health & Safety

Lead poisoning isn’t something that we tend to hear very much about these days, as the dangers of heavy metals like lead are much better understood today than they were historically, and products that contain lead have largely been phased out or banned where they are considered to pose a risk to health and alternative options are available.

However, lead is still something that is present in an awful lot of homes and other locations in various guises – potentially within paint over a certain age, lead acid batteries, fishing weights, and some cladding and roofing materials.

Whilst lead poisoning in dogs isn’t common, it is still something that can pose a threat to the health of our pets, and the fact that lead poisoning is very unusual today also means that achieving a timely diagnosis of lead poisoning when appropriate is often more challenging too.

With this in mind, this article will explain the basics of lead poisoning in dogs, how dogs might develop lead poisoning, its symptoms, and prognosis. Read on to learn more about dogs and lead poisoning.

How might a dog develop lead poisoning?

There are a huge number of things that may potentially contain lead, although lead is far less common in modern materials than it was historically. As well as the few examples of products that may contain lead outlined about (like old paint) lead may also be found in things like ball bearings, solder, ceramic glazes, old petrol from old cars (the fact that today’s petrol is unleaded indicates the previous standard presence of lead in petrol!) and even shot or pellet bullets.

Ingesting lead (such as if your dog chews a toy painted with lead paint) can result in lead poisoning, but this is not the only possible method of transmission. The inhalation of lead dust can also cause lead poisoning – this is often a risk when older houses containing lead-based paints or wallpapers are renovated or knocked down – and so can prolonged skin exposure to lead as well.

Lead crystal glassware used to be considered to be highly desirable and collectible as well, until the lead within it was found to lead to the accumulation of lead in the body – so if you’re using a fancy-looking glass bowl you picked up in a car boot sale for your dog’s food or water, proceed with care.

Ingestion, inhalation and skin contact can all cause lead poisoning in dogs, and the effects of lead in the body tend to be cumulative over time rather than acute. Because dogs are smaller than us and also because they groom their coats by licking them (and so may ingest lead particles on their coats) lead poisoning is more likely to develop in dogs than people that are exposed to the same levels of lead.

What are the symptoms of lead poisoning in dogs?

Lead poisoning in dogs can be really hard to diagnose, because the symptoms tend to develop slowly over time and so can be easy to miss, and also because lead poisoning is quite rare these days and so, is probably not going to be the first thing that occurs to your vet upon examination of your dog.

However, most vets who have a few years of clinical experience will usually have seen at least one case of lead poisoning in a dog, and it is reasonable to be able to expect a timely diagnosis if your dog’s lead poisoning symptoms are fairly typical.

Some of the main symptoms of lead poisoning in dogs include:

  • Loss of appetite.
  • Signs of abdominal pain and discomfort.
  • Weight loss.
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhoea.
  • Seizures or fits.
  • Shaking or tremors.
  • Strange or out of character behaviours.
  • Anaemia.

The symptoms of lead poisoning in any individual dog may be quite variable, and as the condition can take a long time to become acute, can be easy to miss. However, some cases of lead poisoning develop quite quickly, and so do not rule lead poisoning out if the symptoms match but seem to have developed within a relatively short space of time.

In terms of how your vet will confirm or rule out lead poisoning, generally, they will take a blood sample from your dog to perform a broad panel of general tests on it, and which will indicate an abnormal amount of lead in the blood. Additionally, if your dog has eaten something made of lead (such as an antique toy soldier or something painted in lead-based paint) an x-ray examination may make this self-evident!

Can lead poisoning in the dog be treated?

Treating lead poisoning in dogs relies first of all upon an accurate diagnosis in the first instance, and then, usually involves a number of different steps.

A specific type of treatment called “chelation therapy” may be used, which involves using certain substances that bind to lead particles and enable them to be eliminated from the body to be administered to the dog, clearing the lead from the bloodstream.

With early diagnosis and prompt treatment, most cases of lead poisoning in dogs can be cured. However, high levels of exposure, long term exposure, or acute sickness prior to beginning treatment can all compromise your dog’s chances of survival.

One other thing to note of course is that you will need to prevent your dog being exposed to lead again in the future, which means identifying and negating the source of the lead, or preventing the dog’s access to it.

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