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Lead Poisoning in Cats, Dogs and Birds

Lead poisoning in cats and dogs

Unlike the dramatic onset of clinical signs seen with most small animal poisonings, lead poisoning often has an insidious onset. The potential sources of lead for domestic animals are numerous and widespread. Ingestion of lead-based paints is the most commonly identified source of lead in poisoned cats and dogs. Renovations of older houses involving sanding or scraping lead based paint is believed to be the major origin of the lead based paint in these instances. Other lead sources include lead acid batteries (e.g. car batteries), roofing materials, plumbing supplies, bullets, solder, pewter, linoleum, grease, putty, lead foil, toys, improperly glazed ceramic water or food bowls and fishing sinkers. Cats only rarely chew or ingest non-food items, thus eliminating many of the common sources of lead that poison dogs. However, because of their grooming habits, cats are more a risk of accidental ingestion of lead particles that contaminate their fur and paws.

The clinical signs of lead toxicity in dogs include convulsions or fits, vomiting and diarrhea, abdominal pain and bizarre behaviour such as hysteria. Lead poisoning is more commonly diagnosed in younger dogs because they are more likely to chew on objects. However, adult dogs may also be affected. In contrast, lead poisoning in cats often only causes loss of appetite and signs such as fits are uncommon. Vomiting and diarrhea occur occasionally. Cats with lead toxicity are usually adult although occasionally kittens may be affected.

Diagnosis of lead toxicity involves either a urine or a blood test. The diagnosis is sometimes difficult and two different tests may be required to confirm that lead poisoning is present, particularly in cats.

by Jill E Maddison BVSc, PhD, FACVSc and Christine G. Hawke BSc(Vet), University of Sydney

Lead Toxicity in Birds

Lead poisoning of birds is common and it is often fatal.

Lead poisoning is often linked with other heavy metal poisoning’s, especially zinc poisoning (from galvanized metal), and occasionally copper, chromium and mercury poisonings.

The signs or “symptoms” affected birds show are often and easily attributed mistakenly to other causes and disease processes.

Lead poisoning can cause sudden death, or it can cause a slow debilitating death over months or years. Lead poisoning can be linked to many different signs of illness, most of which can also be the result of other illnesses.

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