February 20th is National Love Your Pet Day
Much like the 14th is to humans, this day reminds us to set aside a little extra time to give more attention and love to our pets.
I was surprised to discover that most US households have at least one pet. With dogs and cats being the most popular, many also enjoy the companionship of birds, fish, reptiles and even rodents.
For us, there is a direct health benefit to having a pet as part of the family. High fives to our animals for helping alleviate our stress, lowering our blood pressure, getting us out walking and interacting with others, and giving us plenty of subject matter for social media posts!
But, what about our pet’s health? Yes, our vets encourage us to vaccinate and feed them reasonably, exercise them regularly, and incorporate socialization into their routine. Check those boxes off. But is that enough? NO.
With many of us living in older homes, remodeling, demolishing, and repainting has become part of the cycle of modern life. Believe it or not, the dust, dirt, old paint, contaminated soil, and other demolition and remodeling debris can be harmful to our pets – not just humans.
Lead, specifically, can be found in and around every aspect of remodeling and demolishing, especially if your home was built before 1978. Whether it’s lead in the baseboards, lead leaching from old piles of pipes into the soil, or even lead in dust clouds during sanding, your pet can be adversely affected. We take great pains to keep our babies out of these environments, but we have to remember that our family pet is snooping, sniffing, licking and lying in these areas. They can ingest lead from grooming themselves after basking in a pile of dirt or exploring the remnants of a good day’s work out back.
Dogs (at least mine) love to eat practically everything – so even if there isn’t a construction crew in your home, dogs can find lead in old toys, drapery weights, fishing weights, lead shot, and even broken down ceramic tile. The same goes for inquisitive cats. And what about contaminated water? You may not think twice about filling your pet’s bowl with water that’s been sitting in pipes all night – but what if the pipes leach lead? That’s an unhealthy drink! And if you work in a high-risk profession (battery factory worker, or leaded glass company), don’t embrace your pets (or family) until you have thrown your work duds in the wash, showered, and changed your clothes.
Much like babies, younger animals are more susceptible to the harmful effects of lead and can suffer from extreme stomach pain, diarrhea, and vomiting with acute exposure. More chronic exposure can lead to a wobbly gait, fatigue, poor appetite, anxiety, blindness, changes in behavior, and even seizures. Cats tend to suffer more seizures than other species.
How do we know if it’s lead?
If your animal is sick, an x-ray may reveal paint chips or lead-containing objects in the GI tract. An endoscopy (putting a scope down the mouth to the belly) can be used to remove and extract lead-containing objects. Blood tests can be done to detect the harmful effects of lead, and some studies now are looking at using lead detection devices used in humans for other species. Much like with humans, the index of suspicion that lead is the problem often comes after your vet takes a careful environmental history.
The good news is that lead poisoning can be treated with chelation therapy – a medical procedure by which chelating agents bind the lead and excrete the toxins from the body through the kidneys.
Lead poisoning is preventable if you are careful and mindful of your pets – especially if you are in an older home or remodeling. Give them bottled water if you think or know your water could be contaminated. Keep high-risk objects away from your animals and make sure they don’t drink from ceramic bowls. Take the same precautions you would with your human family, and everyone should be just fine!
I don’t know about you, but I plan on celebrating early with my two dogs, Misty and Bill. You’ll find us on the sofa watching the Westminster Dog Show together and loving it up!
Dr. JJ Levenstein is a retired pediatrician, wife, mother, and chef. She combines her knowledge of science and medicine with her passion for teaching and food. Eat, learn, explore and be inspired by Dr. JJ at kiddocjj.com.