Iron Toxicity in Cats
Iron is a chemical element that is normally important to red blood cell production in the body. It is found in a variety of supplements and vitamins. Iron toxicity typically occurs after accidental ingestion of the supplements or from overdoses of supplements.
Iron comes in a variety of forms and is indicated by the word Ferrous, meaning "containing iron." These formulations of iron are generally found in oral iron supplements. The forms of iron that may result in toxicity are:
- Ferrous fumarate
- Ferrous sulfate
- Ferric phosphate
- Ferrous carbonate
Toxic levels of iron cause damage to the stomach and intestinal lining. It can also cause severe liver damage and heart damage.
Cats are more easily affected by iron overdoses than people because cats do not have a way to excrete excessive iron from their bodies. If low doses of iron are given over a period of time, toxicity can still develop since their body cannot get rid of the iron already present.
What to Watch For
- Bloody Diarrhea
The first signs generally occur within six hours of eating a toxic amount of iron. Even without treatment, your cat may appear to have improved after the initial gastrointestinal upset. Unfortunately, spontaneous recovery has not occurred and about 24 hours later, diarrhea returns along with liver failure, shock and possible coma. Bleeding disorders can also occur.
Diagnosing iron toxicity is based on the level of iron in the blood as well as access or exposure to iron supplements.
Blood tests may also be needed to determine the function of the liver and kidneys.
X-rays may be required to determine if additional iron is within the intestinal tract.
Expect your veterinarian to recommend hospitalization with continuous intravenous fluids. Additional recommendations may include:
- The gastrointestinal tract will need to be decontaminated if ingestion occurred just prior to treatment. This is typically done by either inducing vomiting or gastric lavage (stomach pumping).
- Deferoxamine can be used to convert some of the remaining intestinal iron into a compound that does not affect the system.
- Blood iron levels will need to be monitored for about two to three days. This is the time it may take for the iron levels in the blood to go below toxic levels.
Home Care and Prevention
- There is no home care for iron toxicity. Once the signs of iron toxicity are seen, prompt treatment by a veterinarian is strongly recommended.
- After surviving iron toxicity, your cat may not have full function of the liver or gastrointestinal tract and specific lifetime medications and special diets may be necessary.
- Watch for poor appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness and lethargy. If these signs are seen, please consult your family veterinarian.
- The best preventative care is to give your cat supplements only if directed by your veterinarian. Medications and supplements that may be safe for people can be fatal to pets. Also, make sure that all medications, including supplements, are kept out of the reach of inquisitive pets. Keeping medicine safely stored away can prevent many tragedies.