Poisoning with Heavy Metal in Rabbits

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Lead Toxicity in Rabbits


Exposure to high concentrations of lead and its compounds can lead to a toxic condition called heavy metal poisoning. Almost all of the rabit's body systems can be affected as a result of this type of poisoning, including the destruction of enzymes resposible for creating red blood cells, which can be fatal. In vast quantities, lead can also damage a rabbit's nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.


Because rabbits have a tendency to lick and chew lead-containing household substances -- especially painted surfaces and occasionally metallic objects -- they are often susceptible to lead toxicity.


Symptoms and Types


Nonspecific signs such as weight loss, anorexia, depression, and lethargy are commonly associated with lead toxicity. Other signs include:

  • Decreased appetite or complete loss of appetite (anorexia)
  • Gastrointestinal hypomotility or stasis (slowing or inactivity of the intestinal contents)
  • Blindness
  • Weakness, lethargy, ataxia (loss of muscle coordination)
  • Seizures
  • Anemia and low blood cell count
  • Diarrhea (rare)




There are numerous household materials that may expose your rabbit to toxic levels of lead, including:


  • Linoleum
  • Cages lined with solder or lead paint
  • Lead-based house paint residues or paint chips
  • Plumbing materials and supplies
  • Lubricating compounds
  • Putty
  • Tar paper
  • Lead foil
  • Improperly glazed ceramic dishes (food or water bowl)




Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical exam on your rabbit, including a complete blood profile, chemical blood profile, complete blood count, and a urinalysis. Rabbits suffering from lead toxicity will generally show abnormally high concentrations of lead in the bloodstream. Additional diagnostic testing may include X-ray imaging, which may detect lead containing contents in the stomach or intestines.


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