"Environmental pollution by heavy metals is ubiquitous," says a 2012 Open Veterinary Journal article. Not only are you at risk from exposure to these pollutants, but so are your dogs and cats. Symptoms of heavy metal toxicity mimic those of gastrointestinal disorders, so it's possible a pet could be misdiagnosed. It helps if you know your animal was exposed to these substances.
Because many older homes still have lead-based paints, lead toxicity is the most common heavy metal poisoning in canines. Other sources of lead poisoning include eating from lead-glazed ceramic dishes and bowls; consumption of lead-based materials besides paint chips, including car batteries and golf balls, and ingestion of lead-contaminated water. Symptoms of lead poisoning in dogs include vomiting and diarrhea, seizures, excessive salivation, lethargy, appetite loss, extreme anxiousness, personality changes and blindness.
Many pesticides, herbicides, wood preservatives and other common chemical compounds contain arsenic. Arsenic poisoning generally occurs when dogs ingest or are heavily exposed to these materials. Symptoms include vomiting and diarrhea, wobbly gait, cold extremities, weakness, unconsciousness and red blood in the stool.
Although mercury poisoning is relatively rare in canines, it can be fatal. Symptoms include vomiting and diarrhea, with rapid loss of kidney function. Acute renal failure means that affected dogs might die or require euthanasia.
To diagnose heavy metal poisoning, your vet takes blood and urine samples for testing. If she suspects your dog ate a solid object, X-rays are necessary. If your dog did ingest an object, it must be surgically removed. Your vet's aim is to literally get the lead out. She'll do this by giving your dog enemas, activated charcoal to soak up the toxins and possibly a gastric lavage to wash out your pet's gastrointestinal tract. She might use oral chelation therapy, which prevents the body from absorbing lead. If given prompt treatment, dogs often recover from lead poisoning within a few days. Initial treatment for arsenic and mercury poisoning is similar, but because these substances cause renal and liver failure, affected dogs might undergo dialysis. Whether or not an animal survives depends on how much damage occurs to his organs.
To avoid the possibility of heavy metal intoxication in your pet, keep all products containing such compounds well out of reach. If you use pesticides or herbicides, make sure your dog is not in the area when preparing these compounds, and keep him off lawns and other areas containing these toxins for several days. If your dog suffers from lead poisoning, it's possible that you and family members could also be subject to this intoxication, if the source came from paint in your home. See your own doctor for testing and treatment, and have the lead paint removed from your abode.
By Jane Meggitt
Open Veterinary Journal: Levels of Heavy Metals in Liver and Kidney of Dogs From Urban Environment
petMD: Lead Poisoning in Dogs
Veterinary Partner: Lead Poisoning
petMD: Arsenic Poisoning in Dogs
Merck Veterinary Manual: Overview of Lead Poisoning
CAB Direct: Mercury Poisoning in a German Shepherd Dog
About the Author
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.