Lead Poisoning and your Pet
Lead poisoning in your pet. Uncommon but it can happen.
Although the highest number of lead poisoning cases are seen during the warmer months of the year, there are a wide variety of sources of lead. Older buildings and homes are common sources of lead poisonings, as they can be riddled with lead dust or chips from lead paint. Lead was allowed to be in paint until 1978. This is a rarely seen condition at our hospital but always on the list when certain symptoms are exhibited by animals that are presented ill.
Symptoms of lead ingestion:
The symptoms for lead poisoning mostly relate with the gastrointestinal and central nervous system. Gastrointestinal systems being affected are seen with chronic(long term) and low-level exposure. Nervous systems being affected leading to symptoms are more common in acute (recent) exposure in young animals.
Where do they ingest lead?
Animals can come into contact with lead in a variety of ways-the causes:
Using improperly glazed ceramic food or water bowls
Eating or licking paint chips
Eating lead, like bullets, sinkers and golf balls
This can be a tricky one to diagnose initially. History is important. This is not a common toxin exposure to consider and unless you saw the dog chewing on the house (thus the old paint) it is not one that pops to the surface easily in the diagnostic tree. Physical exam may show nothing or could expose some neurological signs but signs can be subtle. Laboratory test results may reveal important information for initial diagnosis but again it may show nothing. History of recent remodeling of the house may be the clue.
A complete blood count, specifically looking at the red blood cells under a microscope may reveal cells of unequal size, abnormally shaped red blood cells, variations in red blood cell coloring, and increased number of neutrophils which is a type of white blood cells. Urinalysis results are often non-specific and in some patients abnormal concentrations of glucose may be seen in urine.
If your dog is showing the appearances of lead poisoning or the suspicion is high your doctor will use more specific tests available which will help your veterinarian to determine the levels of lead in both blood and body tissues. Those tests are not done in house but need to be sent off to specific labs to be conducted. Simple test, easy to understand just needs to be done.
Certain areas of the country tend to have a higher rate of this problem in pets and children thus it would be higher on the radar of the attending veterinarian-or physician-if it is a human. Old houses where the paint is falling off or certain water systems are the biggest culprits.
Treatment is aimed at removing any remaining lead from the GI tract by inducing vomiting if the exposure is very recent and is demonstrated that the lead is still in the stomach. Symptoms such as seizures and vomiting are also treated as necessary. The specific therapy for lead poisoning is chelation therapy with Ca2Na2EDTA. Other treatments include penicillamine or thiamine. After treatment, another blood lead level should be taken to verify that the level has returned to the normal range.
What to do if the water source is contaminated with lead:
Give your pet bottled or filtered water to drink.
Use bottled or filtered water when making your pet’s food.
Keep the toilet seat down.
Do not allow pets to drink out of an unflitered water source.
Remember, this applies to all types of animals. Birds are very susceptible and often show signs sooner than other animals or people in the house.
Prevention is aimed at keeping the dog from ingesting lead. If you are remodeling and the paint contains lead, the dog should not be allowed in the area, and appropriate precautions should be taken to prevent human exposure (contact your local public health agency for more information). Lead paint chips and dust can be ingested by the dog if he licks his haircoat that has the dust on it. Any lead-containing item that may be ingested should be out of reach of pets (and children). If one pet in the house develops lead poisoning, it is a good idea to test the blood lead level in all pets and people in the household, especially small children.
Since the government banned the use of lead in paint the incidence has definitely gone down but many houses have leaded paint under layers of non lead paint and can be a source in addition to other, more obvious causes such as a swallowed lead bullet. Just be aware as you remodel or deal with old plumbing as we have read in the newspapers quite a bit lately.