Our pets have a tendency to chew on things that we wouldn’t expect them to. As a result, they may ingest substances that lead to poisonings and toxicities that can make them quite unwell. Lead is one such toxic material, which is most commonly found in household items such as paint, linoleum and plumbing supplies. Many materials used in the construction of old houses such as paint can contain lead.
Lead is also found in car batteries, golf balls and fishing weights. Lead poisoning most often occurs in puppies and kittens under a year of age, but can occur in any pets. It occurs more commonly during the warmer months. One scenario in which it can occur is if the animal lives in an old home that is being renovated. Lead poisoning can cause gastro-intestinal signs such as vomiting, diarrhoea, reduced appetite and abdominal pain. You may also see neurological signs such as lethargy, hysteria, seizures and blindness. Lead can play havoc with the body’s blood cells as well as cause damage to the kidneys, but there may not be any signs associated with this.
Our feathered friends can also ingest lead in much the same way. Lead poisoning in parrots causes depression and lethargy as well as neurological signs such as head-pressing, apparent blindness, lack of co-ordination and seizures. You may also see a greenish diarrhoea in the cage. If your pet is exhibiting any of these signs, it is important to try to find out what he or she might have been chewing on or might have ingested in the recent past. This information will help your vet decide what the cause of these signs is especially as some of these signs can be common in other disease processes and toxicities. If you catch your pet swallowing lead-containing substances, it is a good idea to contact the vet immediately as induction of vomiting to remove the substance from the stomach may be indicated.
If the vet suspects lead poisoning, they will initially run some blood tests and may want to take some X-rays. They will need to hospitalise and control seizures in your pet if these are occurring. Lead ‘chelators’ may be given to bind the lead and minimise its absorption into the bloodstream. Your pet will need to stay in hospital on a drip and medications until the signs resolve. As long as the poisoning is not severe, affected dogs or cats should start to improve about two days after commencing treatment. Prevention involves making sure your pet does not have access to anything that may contain lead.