Dogs of any age can be affected by lead poisoning; however it’s more common in puppies and adolescents. These dogs are more likely to chew things they find around the house, and they are usually poisoned by eating lead containing items. Lead sinkers from the fishing tackle box are a regular cause of lead poisoning, or your dog may chew solder or car batteries.
If you’re doing any home renovations and the paint on your walls contains lead, sanding the walls can leave paint residue around the floor. Your dog may inadvertently lick the lead containing dust from his paws or coat. In the past, there have been recalls of children’s toys because of excess lead content; a puppy may chew a toy and become unwell.
Lead damages the gastrointestinal tract and the nervous system. There is a huge variation in how a dog is affected. Some dogs may show nothing more than a bit more aggression than normal, or hiding more than usual, or even just continual whining or barking.
Initial symptoms include not eating, depression, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. However it is usually the neurological signs that cause a dog to be taken to the vet. These include hyperactivity, apparent blindness, behavioral changes, tremors and seizures.
Your vet can diagnose lead poisoning by examining your dog’s blood; lead causes characteristic changes to red blood cells which can be seen under a microscope. To confirm the diagnosis, your dog’s blood is sent to a laboratory to measure its lead content.
The first step in treating lead poisoning is to reduce any further absorption – if your dog has recently eaten lead, your vet can give him medication to make him vomit. Lead sinkers may need to be removed with an endoscope, and the stomach may need to be flushed. Symptoms such as vomiting or seizures are treated, and medication is given which binds to the lead in the body and allows it to be excreted in the urine. Your dog is treated for 5 days, and then blood lead levels are again checked.
Lead poisoning can certainly be fatal to your dog, and some dogs that recover may show permanent neurological changes. Preventing your dog getting access to lead containing materials is effective in preventing poisoning. If you’re doing any renovating and you’re sanding lead paint, keep your dog away from that area. Keep in mind also that people can be affected by lead poisoning if they breathe in lead dust, and you need to take precautions to protect yourself.