LEAD Action News Vol
1 no 4 Summer 1993
Lead Toxicity in Dogs and Cats
Jill E. Maddison
FACVSc and Christine G. Hawke BSc (vet),
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. Renovation 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 electric storage 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 objects, thus eliminating many of the common sources of lead that poison dogs. However, because of their grooming habits, cats are more at 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 diarrhoea, 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 diarrhoea 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.
Recent work at The University of Sydney has shown that there is no significant difference between blood lead concentrations in cats residing in the inner suburbs of Sydney and in a semi-rural area such as Camden, although blood lead concentrations in healthy cats from Broken Hill are significantly higher than in urban or semirural cats. Similar results were found in a study of dogs from Adelaide, Port Pirie and Kangaroo Island - that is, urban and rural dogs had similar blood lead levels but dogs living near a lead smelter had significantly higher levels. This would suggest that environmental contamination may be similar in urban and semi-rural or rural areas but is clearly higher in areas around lead mines or smelters.
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