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What Does Lead Poisoning In Dogs Look Like?

Written by: Adri Sandoval
Adri Sandoval is the Special Projects Manager for iHeartDogs and iHeartCats. Her work has deepened her love for animals, fostering a strong passion for rescue and animal advocacy.Read more
| Published on October 19, 2017

Thanks to U.S. regulations regarding the control of lead, lead poisoning isn’t as common as it once was. However, old household materials like roofing materials and linoleum may still contain lead that could be toxic to you, your family and your pets. If you believe your dog has been exposed, make an appointment with your vet as soon as possible as lead poisoning is life-threatening.

In plumbism (lead poisoning) lead will take the place of the body’s essential calcium and zinc, causing a mineral depletion in the central nervous system and gastrointestinal tracts. Lead ingested by pregnant dogs will also affect unborn and nursing puppies. Common sources of lead include paint chips, paint dust, ceramic dishes, and lead-contaminated water.

Symptoms of Lead Poisoning in Dogs

If your pet is showing symptoms related to both the gastrointestinal tract and central nervous system, lead poisoning might be the cause of his distress. The following may be shown in a dog suffering from lead poisoning:

– Decreased appetite
– Abdominal pain
– Regurgitation
– Chomping (the jaws)
– Vomiting
– Increased thirst
– Increased urination
– Diarrhea
– Weakness
– Shortness of breath
– Lethargy
– Circling
– Anxiety
– Aggression
– Muscle
– Tremors
– Incoordination
– Deafness
– Blindness
– Seizures

Causes of Lead Poisoning in Dogs

Lead poisoning can be caused by the inhalation or ingestion of lead-containing substances. Consider any of the following as a cause of your dog’s distress if you have any of them in your home:

– Pre-1977 paint chips or paint dust
– Roofing materials
– Soldering supplies and materials
– Pre-1977 dishes
– Curtain/shower curtain weights
– Rug padding
– Linoleum/tile
– Wine bottle foil
– Lead fishing weights
– Lead gun pellets and shot
– Lead caulking
– Lead lubricants
– Lead pipes (and water from)
– Lead-contaminated water
– Auto batteries
– Leaded gasoline
– Used automobile oil

Diagnosis of Lead Poisoning in Dogs

There are no home treatments for lead poisoning, so if you think your dog has gotten into something containing lead, or is showing symptoms, get him to a vet immediately.

You vet will need a thorough history to determine the source of the poison. Let them know which symptoms your dog showed, when they started, and if you know of any sources of lead in your home or anywhere else your dog has been.

To determine the extent of the poisoning your vet will perform a complete physical exam. Anemia and increased white blood cell count are both seen in lead poisoning, as are abnormal red blood cell shapes, sizes and colors. A complete blood cell count, blood morphology, and blood biochemistry will detect those issues as well as determine other systemic issues.

Radiographs of the chest and abdomen will reveal lead objects in the stomach or intestines. Megaesophagus is often seen with lead poisoning and would be visible in an x-ray.

Identification of lead in the blood will give a definitive diagnosis of lead poisoning. Concentrations of more than 0.5ppm qualify as lead poisoning.

Treatment of Lead Poisoning in Dogs

The sooner your get your pet to the vet, the better the prognosis will be. Treating lead poisoning involves removing the source and binding any available lead in the body. Your pet will need your support and care during and after treatment. There are no home treatments for lead poisoning.

Lead-Source Removal

Gastric lavage removes the stomach contents and is especially effective if used within 1 – 2 hours of ingestion, a good reason to get your dog to the vet the moment you think anything is wrong. Water will be used to clean and rinse the stomach, and an enema may be used if the lower GI tract is thought to be involved. If large lead objects are found in the body, surgery may be needed.

Chelation Therapy

Chelation therapy is the binding of the lead particles to another substance. Once it’s bound, it no longer acts as a toxin and is excreted via the kidneys. Chelating agents are given orally and bind the lead found in the GI tract and bloodstream.


Vomiting and diarrhea may cause dehydration, so IV fluids may be given to address it. Valium might be administered should your dog have seizures.

The sooner you get your dog to the vet, the more successful treatment is likely to be. Dogs with low exposure levels who are treated quickly are usually released within 12-24 hours. Dogs with higher exposure levels without a known source of the poison and severe symptoms might need to be hospitalized a few days.


Recovery of Lead Poisoning in Dogs

After your dog has been stabilized and released, your vet may request a follow up appointment to make sure there are no more symptoms. Most dogs recover within 1 – 2 days if treated quickly after being exposed.

Dogs who had more severe symptoms may suffer permanent neurological damage. Dogs who have been exposed to lead over a long period of time may have lead reservoirs stored in their bones that can’t be treated with chelation therapy, and will need ongoing treatment.

Follow your vet’s aftercare instructions to the letter and monitor your pet to see if symptoms continue. Tell your vet about any decline in health as soon as you notice it.

Remove all suspected sources of lead from your home. If your pet has been exposed and you have children, it may be safest to have them examined for lead exposure as well.

The veterinarian will report the incident of lead poisoning to authorities as it is classified as a public health hazard.

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