Lead Poisoning in Horses

By PetMD Editorial on Sep. 4, 2009

Environmental Toxins

Most instances of lead poisoning in horses occur when they have grazed on pastures that have been contaminated with industrial waste, which is known to contain a great deal of lead and other chemicals. In some instances a large dose of lead all at once will cause acute toxicity, but small doses of lead over a longer period of time can cause chronic poisoning to the system. In either case, lead poisoning can cause many health problems for a horse, and can even lead to death if left untreated. As such, the prompt attention of a veterinarian is essential for a full recovery.

Symptoms and Types

  • Impaired function of peripheral nerves
  • Weakness of the body and limbs
  • Unsteadiness on foot, collapse
  • Knuckling over of the fetlocks
  • Laryngeal nerve becomes damaged
  • Pharyngeal and laryngeal paralysis may occur
  • Respiratory problems
  • Respiratory distress
  • Lack of oxygen
  • Anemia
  • Rolling eyes
  • Temporary blindness
  • Loss of appetite, weight loss
  • Eventual death


The ingestion of lead may occur in large doses all at once, and may occur in small amounts over a period of days or weeks. The source of the lead is often the result of grazing on pastures that have been contaminated with industrial chemical waste, which often contains lead and/or arsenic and other chemicals, or from drinking water that has been contaminated by nearby dumping grounds.



Your veterinarian can diagnose the presence of lead in your horse’s system. A simple blood test can detect the presence of lead in the body, and there are new developments made every day for the detection and treatment of lead toxicity. Lead poisoning is relatively rare in horses, so it is not usually the first source that your veterinarian will consider. This is why it is vitally important to give your veterinarian as complete a background as you can of your horse’s health history, the symptoms your horse has been exhibiting, and any information regarding the environment surrounding your land. This is the only way that a positive and accurate diagnosis can be reached and appropriate treatment be given to ensure a full recovery.


Treatment can only be successful if the condition is diagnosed in time. The sooner the lead poisoning has been recognized the better your horse’s chances of recovery are. The usual method of treatment for this condition is through the administration of calcium disodium edentate. When administered with the help of an intravenous tube it has been known to remove lead from a horse’s body in less than a week, usually in about four to five days. Follow through on any further treatment that your veterinarian prescribes.

Living and Management

It is important to locate the source of the lead poisoning and eliminate it so that you and your horse will not have repeat problems with it.

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