Can cats get lead poisoning?

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Our question this week was:

Dr. Debra – someone was recently telling me about their child that had lead poisoning which got me to thinking about my cats. I live in a very old home. Can cats get lead poisoning? Did I hear somewhere that lead is in paint?

Donna Frazier – Cheyenne, Wyoming

Answer

Hi – thanks for your email. I'm glad you asked that question today. This month is actually promotes National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week (October 21- 27). The goal is educate families about lead exposure that may cause health problems. Not only can people be affected, but also pets.

Lead is a metal that can be toxic. Old paint contained lead and the paint, paint chips and paint dust from homes being renovated are a possible source of lead that can cause lead toxicity. This was a problem in paints produced prior to 1977 contain high lead levels. If you live in an old house, you could certainly have lead paint on your walls.

I recently received a press release from the ASPCA that gives a little more information about lead toxicity. Dr. Steven Hansen, board-certified veterinary toxicologist and senior vice president with the ASPCA, which houses the ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) stated: "As with children, pets can be exposed to lead through many sources, such as certain consumer or pet products, lead sinkers used in fishing, the consumption of old paint chips, linoleum, certain artists' paints, or even inhalation of lead dust produced when surfaces in certain older homes are scraped or sanded. Cats may also ingest lead dust when grooming their fur after coming into recently-renovated areas.

Common signs may include vomiting and diarrhea that may progress to symptoms that involves the nervous system such as seizures or abnormal behavior. Lead toxicity can also cause anemia which can cause lethargy and weakness. Hundreds of pets are poisoned each year. For more information about the exposure to lead, diagnosis and treatment of lead poisoning, go to Lead Toxicity in Cats.

I believe some health departments do some testing. You can call them to determine what might be available in your area if you have specific paint concerns. IT is recommended to keep cats away from "paint dust" if a renovation is taking place in an older home.

Best of luck!

Dr. Debra

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