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Lead has been defined as a serious toxin that can affect both people and animals. If either should ingest enough lead, the results can often be fatal. However, even chronic low-level exposure can result in serious damage to the person or animal's health. The most commonly affected areas are the central nervous system and the gastrointestinal system. In humans, the symptoms can range from developmental problems and learning disabilities in kids to weight loss and seizures in humans of all ages.
Can Dogs Get Lead Poisoning?
Your dog, just like you and your family, can be exposed to lead poisoning. The exposure can create a number of health issues that could lead to death if not treated properly. There are many ways in which your dog can be exposed to lead, including water from old lead pipes, lead paint, and even ceramic bowls that have not been properly glazed. It is vital that you pay close attention to things like this if you want to avoid lead poisoning in your dog.
Does My Dog Have Lead Poisoning?
There are a number of indicators that your dog might have lead poisoning, starting with changes in the way they are behaving and where they have been lately. It is up to you to notice even the subtlest changes in behavior and take them to be examined by the vet if you notice anything unusual.
Most of the symptoms of lead poisoning in dogs are gastrointestinal and central nervous system related. They can include:
Lack of appetite
Thankfully, with the removal of lead from gasoline, the risk of airborne lead poisoning has been reduced significantly, but can still happen in areas where lead or lead-based materials are used in manufacturing. Other causes of lead poisoning in dogs include:
Ingestion of anything that contains lead such as paint, lead shot, solder, lead pipes, car batteries, golf balls, many different types of lubricant
Using improperly glazed ceramic bowls to give your dog food or water
Water that has been contaminated with lead
Exposure to soil and grass that has been contaminated with lead
To start, your vet will ask for a full history of your dog's overall health and anything that might have led up to the onset of the symptoms of lead poisoning. They will ask you if you are aware of any exposure your dog might have had to any materials containing lead.
Following this, a complete examination will be performed including taking a blood sample. The sample will be sent to the lab for a CBC (complete blood count), a biochemistry profile will be completed, and a urinalysis. All of these are done to detect the presence of lead and to determine the level of lead in your dog's body.
To learn more about lead poisoning in dogs, visit our guide to Lead Poisoning in Dogs.
How Do I Treat My Dog's Lead Poisoning?
The goal of any form of treatment for lead poisoning in dogs is to remove as much of the lead as possible from their GI tract.
Treatment typically includes induced vomiting if your dog's exposure to the lead is recent. The vet may also recommend surgery to track down and remove the source. In cases of chronic lead exposure, the vet may recommend chelation therapy using Calcium EDTA. This material will bind to the lead and any other heavy metals in your dog's bloodstream. These will then be flushed each time your dog urinates.
In certain cases, your vet may recommend specific medications to help mediate any damage caused by the lead poisoning.
Providing the lead poisoning is discovered and treated in a timely manner, most dogs will make a full recovery within 24 to 48 hours of being treated. If your dog is already suffering from seizures, recovery may not be quite so successful, as they may have neurological damage.
In the event your pup has been subjected to long-term exposure, the lead may have gathered in the bones. In this case, chelation therapy is not likely to work quickly and your dog may have to undergo long-term treatment.
Since both humans and dogs can be at risk of lead poisoning from the same sources, your vet is required by law to report all cases of lead poisoning to the authorities.
How is Lead Poisoning Similar in Dogs and Humans?
Lead poisoning can affect both humans and dogs in very similar ways. The symptoms can be sudden (acute onset) or may occur over a longer period of time (chronic).
The lead can infiltrate most of the body's organs and systems causing:
How is Lead Poisoning Different in Dogs and Humans?
The most common difference is, that thanks to changes in the composition of paints and gasoline, humans are far less likely to suffer from lead poisoning. Among the other differences are:
Humans may suffer hearing loss
Dogs may go blind
Humans may suffer from constipation
Dogs may suffer from diarrhea
Dogs are far more likely to ingest materials contaminated with lead
Your dog was out in the woods wandering around, minding his own business. You hear a gunshot and your dog comes home with several pieces of lead shot buried in his body. Despite the fact he is in pain from the shots, one of your main concerns is that he might be subject to lead poisoning since the shot is made from pure lead.
You take him directly to the vet to have the shot removed. The vet explains to you that because you acted immediately, there is very little risk your dog has lead poisoning. However, if you had waited and allowed the lead shot to remain in your dog's body or it went unnoticed for an extended period of time, lead poisoning would have been a distinct possibility. You should always take your dog to the vet for an examination and blood tests if you suspect he has lead poisoning-- if you wait too long the results could be disastrous.