Lead poisoning in dogs occurs when the concentration of lead in the blood reaches dangerous levels.
Dogs suffer from lead poisoning when the lead levels in the blood rise above normal. This commonly occurs due to the ingestion of lead paint, that is used for renovating the house. A dog can also be exposed to high amounts of lead, when it chews foreign objects that contain lead. These include toys, fishing weights, drapery weights and tiles. Other sources of lead include car batteries, golf balls, solder and plumbing materials. Puppies are more likely to be affected with lead poisoning because they are prone to chewing unknown objects. Thus, unknowingly swallowing or chewing objects that have substantial amount of lead in them may cause this condition.
Lead toxicity can destabilize the red blood cell membrane. Lead poisoning generally causes seizures in dogs. When the blood lead level is not in the normal range, it can affect the nervous system and the gastrointestinal tract. When a dog swallows an object containing large amounts of lead, symptoms are noticed immediately. If you observe any of the symptoms mentioned below, immediately contact a veterinarian.
- Behavior changes (aggression, lethargy)
- Lack of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Hysterical barking
Diagnosis is generally based on the clinical signs and history of lead exposure. The veterinarian will also examine a sample of blood of the affected dog to detect abnormalities in the red blood cells that accompany lead poisoning. Serum biochemistry tests are also performed to assess the overall health of the dog. To confirm the diagnosis, the concentration level of lead in the blood is checked. If it is more than 0.5 ppm (parts per million) then it means the dog is ill due to lead poisoning.
X-rays of the chest and abdomen can also help detect the presence of lead objects in the intestinal tract. Lead objects generally appear gray or white in the X-rays. Lead concentration level in the feces, can also help determine whether the dog is suffering from lead toxicity.
Treatment is most effective when given in time. Treatment involves removing the high concentration of lead, by inducing vomiting. In case the dog has swallowed the object, then surgical methods are used to remove the lead source. The most preferred treatment for heavy lead poisoning in dogs is chelation therapy in which certain drugs (chelating agent) are administered to remove unwanted toxic materials from the body. The chelating agent (amino acid) is given orally, that binds with lead. This binding process allows lead to be excreted.
Sometimes gastric lavage (pumping the stomach) is also done to eliminate lead from the intestinal tract and the stomach. Fluids are administered directly into the vein (intravenously) using a tube and an injection. This is done to facilitate excretion of lead through urine. Drugs that act as lead chelators are penicillamine, succimer (DMSA) and disodium edetate (CaEDTA). Anticonvulsant drugs like pentobarbital or diazepam are also given to control seizures.
An easy way to prevent lead poisoning is to keep the dog away from objects that contain lead. It is essential to first identify the sources of lead exposure. Appropriate measures and proper care should be taken to prevent lead exposure.