Plumbism in Cats
Lead poisoning is rare in cats, but it does happen and it should be considered an emergency. Exposure typically occurs when the cat ingests objects that contain lead.
If the cat eats a sufficient amount of lead all at once, it will lead to acute, or sudden onset, symptoms. If the cat has, on the other hand, been exposed to small amounts of lead over an extended period, the symptoms develop more slowly.
What to Watch For
Acute symptoms include vomiting and abdominal pain, possibly diarrhea. Signs of long-term exposure to lead may begin as gastrointestinal issues, but will progress to:
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Unsteady or uncoordinated movement
- Changes in behavior, such as becoming depressed or aggressive
- The most common source for lead is paint chips and dust from home remodeling projects.
- If you suspect your cat ate something that contains lead, contact your veterinarian.
- If recommended, follow the veterinarian's instructions on how to induce vomiting, but be aware that some lead containing substances are caustic and should not be vomited.
- Call the nearest animal hospital or the Pet Poison Helpline at 1-855-213-6680
If you observed your cat swallowing a lead-containing object, diagnosis is straightforward. If not, more extensive testing will be needed. Because the symptoms of lead poisoning are non-specific, blood and urine tests will be done to rule out other problems. In addition, blood tests specific for lead will be done.
Abdominal X-rays will be taken to make certain there is no lead-containing material left in the digestive tract.
If there is any lead remaining in the digestive tract, it needs to be removed -- if necessary, by surgery. Removing the lead that has already been absorbed, meanwhile, requires a process called chelation therapy. This involves giving a medication either orally or by injection that absorbs the lead so it can be excreted out of the body.
Other medications, like anticonvulsants, may be needed to treat the symptoms. Depending on the severity of the symptoms, hospitalization may be required.
Other potential sources of lead include:
- Lead weights used for fishing
- Lead shot used for hunting
- Some plumbing and roofing materials
- Some batteries
Living and Management
It may take many weeks of repeated therapy to remove enough lead to prevent relapses, even if all lead has been removed from the cat’s environment. And even if the treatment is successful, there may be some permanent damage to the nervous system like recurring seizures or blindness.
Just as you would for a child, keep all lead containing objects out of your cat’s reach. Check for paint chipping or peeling. Be sure your cat is not exposed to any dust or debris created by home remodeling projects.