Dogs and lead toxicity

Dogs and lead toxicity

Health & Safety

Lead is one of the more serious toxins that can affect a wide range of animals, including people, because lead is present in such a wide range of different things, and long-term exposure to lead can make both people, and other animals such as dogs too, very ill.

Whilst lead is not so ubiquitous these days in terms of the amount of different things that it is found in-for instance, lead used to be found in virtually every type of paint, yet today, modern paints are generally lead-free-it can still be widely found in a huge range of different materials, particularly within older houses, and so, is something that all dog owners should be aware of.

Ingestion of lead tends to affect dogs more than people and other animals that live within the same environment, as dogs tend to be very curious about things and explore the world with their mouths, which increases the risk of them ingesting lead toxins, and becoming sick.

Ingestion of lead harms the liver, which cannot process the heavy metals present within it, and can ultimately lead to liver failure, which often proves fatal. For this reason, it is important for all dog owners to gain a basic understanding of the sort of products that contain lead, how lead can affect dogs, and the signs of lead toxicity to be aware of. Read on to learn more about dogs and lead toxicity.

What is lead toxicity?

Lead toxicity or lead poisoning may also be known as colica pictorum, and is classed as a form of metal poisoning that occurs when lead builds up within the body. Ingestion of lead builds up within the bloodstream and organs as it cannot be processed fully by the liver like other toxins, and so generally, lead toxicity is something that develops in dogs slowly over time, as the result of long-term exposure to lead, rather than as a sudden, acute condition.

Lead toxicity can affect not only the liver, but also the kidneys and heart, and also the bones, where lead is stored in the marrow. Lead can affect the brain too, leading to problems such as anaemia, severe headache, seizures, and confusion.

What are the symptoms of lead toxicity in dogs, and can it be treated?

As mentioned, the level of lead in the body is something that accrues gradually, and so the symptoms of lead toxicity tend to develop slowly over time, rather than all of a sudden. However, because you may not always be aware of the problem in the making, in some cases, dog owners will not become aware that something is wrong until the problem is very pronounced, and causing clear signs of ill health.

Learning to recognise the signs of lead toxicity in the dogs in the early stages can be challenging, but the earlier that you can identify a problem, the sooner you can get help for your dog.

During the very early stages of lead toxicity, your dog may display the following symptoms:

  • Foul breath, despite having healthy-looking teeth and gums.
  • A slight loss of appetite.
  • Lethargy and depression.
  • Anaemia.
  • Apparent minor memory loss, or an inability to follow previously learned commands.

As lead toxicity becomes more pronounced and begins to affect your dog more and more, the following symptoms may become apparent:

  • Significant loss of appetite and disinterest in food.
  • Drooling or uncontrolled slobbering in dogs that previously did not have this problem.
  • Potentially, vomiting and/or diarrhoea.

As lead toxicity becomes acute and enters the more serious and so, obvious stages of its progression, the following symptoms may present:

  • Involuntary muscle spasms, particularly during sleep.
  • Your dog appearing to zone out, or lose their awareness of their surroundings for a few seconds at a time.
  • Either petit mal or grand mal seizures.
  • Collapse and potentially unconsciousness.

If you spot any of the above symptoms in your dog, particularly the more severe and acute presentations, your dog must visit the vet ASAP; whether lead toxicity is confirmed or ruled out, the more serious symptoms mentioned above should never be ignored, as they indicate that something serious is amiss with your dog.

Once you go to your vet, they will run a physical examination of your dog, and take a blood and urine sample too, to test for the presence of toxins. This will help them to identify lead toxicity, which must then be treated by identifying how the dog is coming into contact with lead and removing the source, and also, potentially using chelation therapy to remove the lead build-up from the body.

Because lead toxicity also interferes with the body’s ability to absorb essential elements such as iron and calcium, your vet may also need to boost these by means of supplemental administration. If the level of toxicity present is affecting the liver and other organs, supportive care will be needed to help the organs to function normally as well.

What type of things contain lead?

Lead used to be a ubiquitous ingredient in a whole range of common substances, including most interior and exterior paints, which was historically one of the most common sources of lead toxicity in dogs. Whilst modern paints are no longer made with lead, old paint that contains lead can still be found within many homes and buildings, and so if there is old paint on the walls, particularly if this is flaking or peeling off, this is one of the most common sources of lead ingestion for dogs, particularly among dogs that like to chew things and investigate with their teeth!

Lead is also sometimes used as a roofing material, although again, this is much less common in modern buildings, and lead is also present in lead acid batteries of various types, and in some antique toys and ornaments, such as lead soldiers, which were once a common and popular children’s toy.

If your dog is of a type that is never happy unless they have something in their mouths, as is often the case with retriever breeds such as the Golden retriever and the flat coated retriever, you should of course pay special attention to what they are holding at all times!

Soil and water supplies can also potentially become contaminated with lead, such as historically in industrial areas that discharged their waste into the nearby water supplies; whilst this process is now illegal, lead can remain in the soil and environment for many years, and so may pose a source of toxicity in dogs that are walked or exercised in such areas.



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