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Lead Toxicity in Dogs

By: Dr. Anne Marie Manning

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Diagnosis

Diagnostic tests are needed to recognize lead poisoning and confirm the diagnosis. Your veterinarian will take a complete medical history and perform a thorough physical examination. He may also recommend the following diagnostic tests:

  • A complete blood count (CBC or hemogram) to detect anemia, nucleated red blood cells, and other red blood cell abnormalities that often accompany lead poisoning ("basophilic stippling" of red blood cells).

  • Serum biochemistry tests to evaluate the general health of the dog, obtain baseline information about liver and kidney function before treatment, and assess the extent of systemic injury from lead poisoning.

  • Blood lead concentration gives the definitive diagnosis. Blood lead concentrations greater than 0.5 parts per million (abbreviated "ppm") are considered diagnostic of lead poisoning.

  • X-rays of the abdomen and chest are taken to check for lead objects in the intestinal tract and to evaluate the patient for evidence of an enlarged esophagus (which can be seen in lead poisoning) or pneumonia. Lead objects are dense and appear white or gray on the X-rays.

  • Lead concentrations in the feces can be used in place of blood lead concentrations to diagnose lead toxicity.

    Treatment

    Treatment consists of treating clinical signs and providing supportive care, removing the source of lead and giving drugs to bind the lead in the body (chelation),

  • Gastric lavage (pumping the stomach) and enemas are performed to remove any remaining lead from the stomach and intestinal tract. Surgery can also be performed if necessary to remove lead objects from the intestinal tract.

  • Administration of chelating agents (drugs that bind lead in the bloodstream and facilitate its excretion from the body via the kidneys). These include calcium ethylene diamine tetra-acetic acid (Ca-EDTA), penicillamine, and succimer.

  • Fluids are administered intravenously to correct dehydration and facilitate urinary excretion of lead.

  • Anticonvulsant drugs such as diazepam (Valium®), phenobarbital or pentobarbital can be administered to control seizures.

    Home Care and Prevention

    There is no home care for lead poisoning. Seek veterinary care promptly if you suspect your pet has ingested lead-containing materials.

    Administer as directed any medications prescribed by your veterinarian. Observe your pet's general condition. Note any symptoms that worsen and bring any changes to the attention of your veterinarian.

    The most important part of preventing lead poisoning is to evaluate the dog's environment for potential sources of lead and remove them. If a source of lead has been identified and young children in the household have been exposed they should be evaluated by a pediatrician.

    Keep pets away from areas in an older house (pre-1977) undergoing renovation or remodeling. Also keep pets away from discarded materials during re-roofing of homes. Prevent pet access to garages that may store lead-containing objects.

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