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What is Lead Poisoning?

Lead poisoning, also known as plumbism, is toxicity due to ingestion or inhalation of the heavy metal lead. Toxicity is due to the lead taking the place of the body’s essential calcium and zinc. The central nervous system and gastrointestinal tracts are effected by the mineral depletion. Lead ingested by pregnant females will also affect unborn and nursing pups. Common sources of lead include paint chips, paint dust, ceramic dishes, fishing weights, gun pellets/shot, and lead-contaminated water. Lead poisoning is life-threatening and requires immediate care. Lead poisoning is on the decrease, thanks for U.S. government regulations to remove lead from house paint in 1978. However, dogs can still be exposed to lead through roofing materials, rug padding, linoleum, and other aged household materials. If you believe your dog has been exposed, an immediate veterinarian appointment is suggested.

Lead Poisoning Average Cost

From 27 quotes ranging from $200 - $7,500

Average Cost

$3,200

Symptoms of Lead Poisoning in Dogs

Anytime a pet shows symptoms related to both the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and the central nervous system, lead poisoning is a possibility. Common symptoms of lead toxicity include:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Abdominal pain
  • Regurgitation
  • Chomping (the jaws)
  • Vomiting
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Diarrhea
  • Weakness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lethargy
  • Circling
  • Anxiety
  • Aggression
  • Muscle Tremors
  • Incoordination
  • Deafness
  • Blindness
  • Seizures
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Causes of Lead Poisoning in Dogs

Lead poisoning is caused by the ingestion or inhalation of lead-containing substances. Several common items in the household or on construction sites can contain lead, including:

  • Pre-1977 paint chips or paint dust
  • Roofing materials
  • Soldering supplies and materials
  • Pre-1977 dishes
  • Curtain/shower curtain weights
  • Rug padding
  • Linoleum/tile
  • Wine bottle foil
  • Lead fishing weights
  • Lead gun pellets and shot
  • Lead caulking
  • Lead lubricants
  • Lead pipes (and water from)
  • Lead-contaminated water
  • Auto batteries
  • Leaded gasoline
  • Used automobile oil
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Diagnosis of Lead Poisoning in Dogs

If you suspect your pet is showing symptoms of lead poisoning or know that she has gotten into a lead-containing substance, seek veterinary care immediately. There are no home treatments for lead poisoning.

The veterinarian will take a thorough history to determine the source of the lead poisoning. You will need to inform her of symptoms observed, when the symptoms started, and any sources of lead the pet may have gotten into or any uncommon locations the pet has visited recently. A complete physical exam will help determine extent of poisoning and useful diagnostics.

A complete blood cell count will indicate decreased red blood cells (anemia) and increased white blood cells (both seen with lead poisoning). Blood morphology will look for abnormal shapes, sizes and colors of red blood cells under the microscope (poikilocytosis, anicytosis and hypochromasia/polychromasia), all of which accompany lead poisoning. Blood biochemistry will detect any elevated liver enzymes, determine kidney function, and identify other systemic issues.

Radiographs of the chest and abdomen can allow visualization for lead objects in the stomach or intestines. Megaesophagus (an enlarged esophagus) is often seen accompanying lead toxicity and can be seen using x-ray.

Identification of and quantification of lead in the blood is the definitive diagnosis. Lead concentrations greater than 0.5ppm are diagnostic of lead poisoning.

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Treatment of Lead Poisoning in Dogs

If you suspect your pet has gotten into a lead-containing substance or he is exhibiting symptoms of lead poisoning, transport your pet to the veterinarian immediately. There are no home treatments for lead poisoning. The faster the pet receives treatment, the better the prognosis.

The goal in treating lead toxicity is to identify and remove the lead source, bind up any available lead in the body, and provide the pet with supportive care.

Lead-Source Removal

Gastric lavage removes stomach contents and is particularly useful if used within 1-2 hours of lead ingestion. Water is used to clean and rinse the stomach several times. Enema may also be used if the lower GI tract is considered to be involved. Surgery may be required to remove larger lead objects from the body.

Chelation Therapy

Chelation refers to the binding of one substance to another. Various chelating agents bind lead particles. Once the lead is bound, it can no longer act as a toxin and is excreted via the kidneys. Chelating agents are given orally and bind lead in the GI tract and bloodstream. Common chelating agents include thiamine, penicillamine, and Ca-EDTA.

Medication

IV fluids may be administered to address dehydration that can result from vomiting and diarrhea. Valium may be administered as an anticonvulsant in the event of seizures.

The success of lead poisoning treatment is highly dependent on amount of exposure and how soon after exposure the pet received treatment. Pets with low-exposure levels that are identified and treated quickly are often released within 12-24 hours. Pets with higher exposure levels, when the source of exposure cannot be identified, and where symptoms are severe, may need to be hospitalized for a few days.

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Recovery of Lead Poisoning in Dogs

Once the pet has stabilized and is released, a follow up appointment may be requested to ensure symptoms have subsided. Most pets recover within 1-2 days if treated soon after exposure. Pets with more severe symptoms may have permanent neurological damage. Pets exposed to a lead source over a long period of time may have lead reservoirs stored in the bones that cannot be treated with chelating agents. These cases can require ongoing treatment.

Follow your veterinarian’s aftercare instructions carefully and continue to monitor your pet for symptoms. Be sure to report any decline in health to your veterinarian as soon as it is noticed.

Remove all suspected sources of lead from your home. If your pet has been exposed and you have children, it may be safest to have them examined for lead exposure as well.

The veterinarian will report the incident of lead poisoning to authorities as it is classified as a public health hazard.

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Lead Poisoning Average Cost

From 27 quotes ranging from $200 - $7,500

Average Cost

$3,200

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Lead Poisoning Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

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Jack Russell Terrier

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Six Months

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Unknown severity

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1 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

None

Just found my dog had chewed apart a shotgun shell... I know a lot of the pellets are in the carpet and unsure if she instead any... Should we just wait and monitor for symptoms? How many little pellets would cause problems?

July 10, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Ellen M. DVM

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1 Recommendations

Hi there, thank you for your question. I am sorry to hear that your dog chewed up a shotgun shell! I recommend calling an emergency veterinary clinic or Pet Poison Helpline right away, as many types of shotgun shells contain lead pellets. Lead is very toxic, even in small amounts. I would address this immediately. Even if you aren't sure if she ingested any, you should treat it as if she did since the toxicity can be so severe. If you are concerned about ingestion of things in the future, please call a veterinary clinic or Pet Poison Helpline right away as these can be time-sensitive issues. Best of luck! I hope that everything turns out okay!

July 11, 2020

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Charlie(poodle)Mitch (chihuahua)teddy (Maltese)

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Poodle Maltese chihuahua

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11 Years

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Seizures
Seizure
Seizures ,Vision Problems,Vomiting

Hi,I have 3 dogs all around 11 years old now ,my oldest is a min poodle at two years old he started having seizures the vet said it was just something that happens with his breed then 8 month later my chihuahua begain having them at this time I only had the two dogs,we went back to vet for more testing and everything came out normal except the presence of elevated liver enzymes in my chihuahua,for along time after I would just take them in when they had a seizure and kept a diary of daily life to maybe determine any patterns that might suggest a cause my vet simply thought that it was just a coincidence that I had two dogs that just suffer from seizure disorder ,I simply didn’t agree with him oh and I forgot to mention I changed all food ,cleaning supplies and even the products I use on my skin trying to eleminate what could be causing it ,then a few years later after we had moved I took in a rescue dog as a foster and after about 3 weeks he too had a seizure so back to vet to look for a possible contagion to no avail again the vet staits that I just am very unlucky when it comes to getting dog breeds that are pron to seizures month pass and my brother and his dogs come to stay with us for 8months no problems at all with his dogs so I start to believe the vet was correct then we adopt a dog from one of my clients with dementha since she was unable to car for him anymore,I had spent time with this Maltese for over a year no history of seizures then after 3 months with me he has them and worst of all they last for 30+ min and occurrence daily I also have noticed that my dogs are now having vision issues and worst yet tooth issues or should I say gum issues especially the poodle his teeth are all loose in his gums and his breath is horrid I no longer can afford the vet care I once could and I just wondering if this could all be from a poisoning event or maybe some obscure pathogen

April 19, 2018

Charlie(poodle)Mitch (chihuahua)teddy (Maltese)'s Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

It does seem very coincidental that every dog that comes into your house starts to seizure. I do not know specifically what might be causing this, as I can't examine the dogs or see your house, but I think it is unusual that all dogs are affected. Your poodle's dental health is probably unrelated, as poodles are very prone to dental disease, and that may need to be addressed separately. I hope that you are able to resolve this problem with your veterinarian's help!

April 19, 2018

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Captain Jack

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German Shepherd Dog

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3 Years

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Mild severity

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0 found helpful

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Vomiting
Loss Of Appetite
Anxiety

I never really considered lead poisoning until recently. My dog was a normal, friendly puppy when we first got him. Then, for whatever reason, at around 6-8 months old, he because completely terrified of strangers. And not just strangers, but people he had previously met and been okay with. It was so long ago now. A while back, I had read up on lead poisoning and recalled he had eaten a corner of the wall in the house we were renting and thought maybe lead poisoning, but at that point, it had been months since it had happened. But he's had a few of the symptoms. We've already had x-rays and blood work because he was vomiting all the time as a puppy, but now that he's eating a different food, that's stopped. We thought it was just a diet thing. Now it's just been released that Acana (the food we had been feeding him) has extremely high levels of several different toxic metals. Is lead poisoning something that is ongoing and I should take him to be checked, even though it's been probably two years since he's had this food? Would there be anything that can be done for his anxiety problems?

March 26, 2018

Captain Jack's Owner

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0 Recommendations

Heavy metal poisoning including lead poisoning normally presents with other symptoms which may include neurological symptoms (seizures, twitching, circling, incoordination etc…); it is possible that there may be some toxicity as heavy metals do accumulate in the body which makes small amounts in food dangerous as it builds up in the body over time. However, this may be just a behavioural issue with an event which occurred around eight months of age setting the pace for the anxiety; but you should discuss all this with your Veterinarian. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

March 27, 2018

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Jovi

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English black lab

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8 Months

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Fair severity

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1 found helpful

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Fair severity

Has Symptoms

None Yet

Hi, I didn’t see it but my kids believe our 8 month old black lab (70lbs) ate a round (smaller than a pea size) lead split-shot fishing weight. Is this size a dosage that would be dangerous or is it small enough I don’t need to worry about lead poisoning? It’s been three days. Haven’t noticed anything different in dog.

March 23, 2018

Jovi's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1 Recommendations

Whether the lead fishing weight will cause any problems depends on whether Jovi passes it, or it stays in her GI tract. A small amount of lead can cause toxic signs if it stays long enough. If she displays any signs of neurologic or GI signs, it would be best to have her seen by your veterinarian, and one easy way to determine now if you have anything to worry about would be to have an x-rays, as the lead pellet will show up easily if it hasn't been passed already, and you'll know where it is and be able to monitor it.

March 23, 2018

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Roxy

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hound mix

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9 Years

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Serious severity

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0 found helpful

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Seizures

My dog started making jaw chomping noises, vomiting and having seizures and It was after feeding her blue buffalo dog food for a few months. Since reading about the food having been found with high level of lead in it I stopped the food right away. The jaw chomping and vomiting stopped since switching but the seizures did not. She is on medication for the seizures now but I'm wondering if they will ever stop too like the other issues did or if she will probably have them for life now?

March 21, 2018

Roxy's Owner


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0 Recommendations

Seizures are a symptom in less than half of cases of lead poisoning, whilst suggestive I cannot confirm that the seizures are related to the lead poisoning; did you confirm if Roxy had consumed any of the affected batches? This is really one of those, wait and see moments since the effects may be life long if that is the case. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

March 21, 2018

I fed my dog Blue Buffalo basics limited ingredient turkey and potatoe food, and my dog got ill almost the same day. He vomited several times the first day which made me think he’d eaten something peculiar. Then he started acting weird, drinking a ton of water, peeing a lot, having to go potty at 2 am. I took him to the vet and they found his kidneys were not concentrating urine. I’m one week out from his first urine test where his levels were at a 6 instead of 30. And I just found out today that there is a class action lawsuit in California for the lead particulates in this food. I will be going back to the vet to have more tests done for lead poisoning.

March 28, 2018

Kelli

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Xander

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Berger Blanc Suisse

dog-age-icon

2 Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Lost Hearing

Teenage neighbor shot our (friendly) dog with a BB gun. Vet monitored overnight as bullet was lodged between diaphragm and stomach and potentially ruptured either. By morning they released him but said would be dangerous to remove. Within 3 months he showed signs of hearing loss, and is completely deaf 6 months later, vets unable to explain and we only recently considered that the pellet may have been lead as recently discovered lead poisoning can cause hearing loss. All other causes have been ruled out. We are finding another vet to conduct blood tests.

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Moose

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Lab Newfoundland mix

dog-age-icon

2 Years

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Serious severity

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1 found helpful

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Weight Loss, Lathargic

My dog moose is a lab Newfoundland mix and was shot by a neighbor 2xs but can't prove it.There was no side effects at the time of the shooting's.Just a small hole on the surface. anyway on 7/19 I took moose to the vet found out that the 3 babe's 2 are fine but 1went through his liver and liver healed but the bebe is in between two parts of the liver and had been on the medication called denosy for 15 days and was good up until the past 3wks does anyone know what to do for the lead poisoning in the blood? He is also my service dog and therapy for our whole family ☹

Lead Poisoning Average Cost

From 27 quotes ranging from $200 - $7,500

Average Cost

$3,200

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