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Lead Toxicity in Cats

By: Dr. Anne Marie Manning

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Lead toxicity refers to poisoning due to ingestion or inhalation of products containing the element lead.

Cats may be exposed to lead from several different sources including:

  • Lead paint, paint chips and/or paint dust from homes that are being renovated or remodeled. Paints produced prior to 1977 contain high lead levels. This is a common source of lead to cats.

  • Lead weights used as sinkers on fishing poles.

  • Lead pellets and shot for use in guns.

  • Household items such as drapery weights, linoleum, rug padding, and foil from the tops of wine bottles.

  • Automotive parts such as batteries, wheel weights, leaded gasoline and discarded oil from cars using leaded gasoline.

  • Construction materials such as solder, putty and caulking.

  • Plumbing and roofing materials.

    Kittens are more likely to ingest materials containing lead because of their normal chewing and play activities. Younger animals also seem to absorb larger amounts of lead from their gastrointestinal tract than do older animals. Cats from established urban environments are at higher risk for lead poisoning due to the presence of older buildings. Cats are at high risk due to their grooming behavior. When inhabiting a contaminated environment, cats may groom lead-based paint dust off their fur.

    Lead toxicity can cause anemia (low red blood cell count), gastrointestinal symptoms (vomiting, diarrhea) and nervous system problems (seizures). Lead crosses the placenta from pregnant mother to babies and is also excreted in her milk. Thus, the developing fetus and nursing young can be affected.

    What to Watch For

    If you notice any of the following symptoms, call your veterinarian.

  • Loss of appetite
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Anxiety
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Muscle tremors
  • Incoordination
  • Seizures
  • Blindness
  • Deafness
  • Behavior changes
  • Increased thirst and urinations
  • Weakness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Intolerance for exercise

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