Iron Toxicity in Cats
While iron is an essential nutrient for the regular functioning of a cat's body, it can become lethal when it is present in large quantities in the bloodstream. Cats may be ingesting unhealthy amounts of iron when they are being given multivitamins that are not appropriate for their age, size or health status, or when they are ingesting dietary supplements or pregnancy supplements that have been left within their reach but that are not intended for them. In the event that there is a high volume of iron present in the blood, damage can occur within the cells.
Symptoms and Types
Iron toxicity occurs in cats in four separate stages.
Stage I (0–6 hours)
Stage II (6–24 hours)
- Apparent recovery
Stage III (12–96 hours)
- Gastrointestinal hemorrhage
- Abdominal pain
Stage IV (2–6 weeks)
- Gastrointestinal obstruction from stricture formation
The most common cause of iron toxicity is the ingestion of pills within the home environment. Contact an emergency hospital or your veterinrian if you believe your cat has ingested a toxic dose of iron.
Your veterinarian will need a thorough history of your cat's health, onset of symptoms, and possible incidents that might have precipitated/preceded this condition. A complete blood profile will be conducted, including a chemical blood profile, a complete blood count, and a urinalysis. If there is an abnormally high level of iron in the bloodstream, this will show up on the results of the blood tests. If it is suspected that your cat ingested iron pills, diagnostic imaging may be used to help locate them and to determine whether they can be removed from your cat's digestive system before they can be fully absorbed into the body.
Fluids will be given to the cat in high doses to help correct the shock and to correct the acidosis that is occurring in the cat's blood stream. If possible, the additional unabsorbed iron pills will be removed from your cat's stomach, either by using antiemetic drugs to induce vomiting, or by performing a gastric lavage. This latter method is done with a saline solution that is slowly pumped into the stomach cavity to wash the contents of the stomach out. The contents are removed in small amounts using another tube.
Living and Management
It is important to monitor the cat's blood enzymes and liver enzymes following the treatment. Your veterinarian will schedule a follow-up exam to test the cat's blood to make sure that the iron levels have been controlled. It is also important for you to observe your cat for any signs of gastrointestinal obstruction following the iron toxicity, as the digestive system may react to the toxicity or the medical procedures that were used to resolve the toxicity.