Lead poisoning has gotten a lot of attention due to the water crisis that continues to plague the residents of Flint, Michigan. Although news stories focus primarily on the human element, often left from the narrative is the fact many cats and dogs can also fall victim to lead poisoning in communities where the toxic substance is prevalent. Here's more information about how to tell if your pet has been affected and the treatment options available to help your animal friend.
Signs of Lead Poisoning
Dogs and cats exhibit many of the same signs humans do when they ingest lead. Unfortunately, your animal friend can't tell you what's wrong, so you must be on the alert for the following symptoms of lead poisoning:
- Lack of appetite to the point where they may experience anorexia
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Pressing head with paw or against items
- Unsteady gait
- Loss of senses (e.g. eyesight, hearing)
- Lethargy or fatigue
- Stomach pain
- Increased thirst and urination
- Emotional issues (e.g. anxiety, outbursts of aggression)
The challenge with lead poisoning is the symptoms may onset quickly or slowly develop over time depending on the amount your pet consumed and how long he or she had been exposed to it. A pet that eats a large amount of lead within a short span of time may exhibit immediate symptoms, whereas it may take a long time to manifest in an animal that ingests small amounts over weeks or months.
In either case, if your pet begins exhibiting any of these signs, treat the issue like a medical emergency and take him or her to the vet as soon as possible.
Treating Lead Poisoning
Treatment for lead poisoning is based on what your animal friends consumed and how long before he or she arrived in the vet's office your pet ate it. If the vet suspects the substance is still in your pet's stomach, he or she will work to remove it by either inducing vomiting or performing surgery to empty the stomach's contents. An enema may be used if the vet suspects there may be residual lead in the animal's gastrointestinal tract.
Afterwards, your pet will undergo chelation therapy and given thiamine, penicillamine, or Ca-EDTA. These substances bind to lead, neutralize its toxicity, and help it be excreted via the kidneys. Your pet must go into the vet for regular blood tests to monitor lead levels, the therapy will end when levels get low enough.
Depending on your pet's exposure level, he or she may experience long-term health issues after the incident. The vet will recommend follow-up medications to help deal with these problems (e.g. anti-convulsant to help with seizures).
For more information about this issue, contact a local veterinary services specialist.