25th Aug 2010

Pets and Lead Exposure

Simple things you can do to ensure your pet is safe.

Guest post by Dr. Sandra Cottingham, co-author of LEAD BABIES

We love our pets, and we would do anything to keep them happy, healthy and safe. High quality, organic pet food is an excellent place to start. Also, with lead exposure being such a pervasive and serious health concern, some extra awareness goes a long way while looking out for our four-legged friends.

The term lead babies refers to a generation of individuals who were permanently damaged neurologically by lead, while still in the womb or during the first two years of life prior to the blood-brain barrier forming. These children have grown up and passed along their own life-long accumulations of lead to their offspring. For women, lead stored in bones and soft tissues leeches out during pregnancy and breastfeeding and is transferred directly to the fetus. For men, lead can alter the DNA structure of sperm, or damage the sperm itself resulting in babies born with physical and mental disabilities.

But babies, children and adults are not the only lead babies. Pets, due to their relative size, remain as vulnerable as children to the damaging effects of lead. There are three key categories of lead sources that need to be systematically investigated. The first one is water.

You have encountered individuals who take care and effort to filter the water they and their children drink. Pets, large and small, need the same consideration. Avoid giving a pet untested tap water, and never fill a water bowl from an ordinary outside hose.

Pets that drink from the toilet bowl or lap up the droplets of water left in the bathtub or shower are at risk for lead exposure as well. And the source may not be the water; it can be lead leaching from the ceramic or other materials. Before you embark on a behavior modification program for your toilet water drinker, check every water source your pet has access to, indoors and out. Trying to eliminate access to any lead contaminated water, adding a filter to the faucet and buying a certified lead-free hose along with blocking access to bathroom, keeping the toilet seat down, and shutting the shower door are simple but effective solutions that could dramatically protect a pet’s long-term health.

Another key lead source is surfaces – paint, dust, furniture finishes, and exposed soil, sand and dirt.

I have known of a number of cats and dogs over the years that loved to lick the walls. This was mysterious to the owners and often quite comical. But once your realize that lead has a sweet taste, it is neither a mystery, nor amusing. Pets lick paint and eat paint chips for the same reason children do – it tastes good! Many of those same pets had hearing loss and kidney problems – two symptoms of lead exposure in humans. If you have a wall licker, it is easy to check your paint with an inexpensive home test kit being sure to check all of the layers of paint, not just the last one applied. If you have paint that contains lead, research your lead abatement options, and do train your pet not to lick the walls or floor.

If you have furniture that your cat or dogs licks or teethes on, use the test kit to determine if there is lead in the finish – very common both in new items and older pieces and antiques.

For many households, pets are a main transporter of lead from the garden and sandbox to inside the home. Animals with fluffy coats trap and carry more lead than short-haired, but both can increase the risk for the family as well as the pet. Pets lick their paws frequently, ingesting trace amounts of lead. And what falls off onto the floor or carpet becomes airborne again through dusting and vacuuming. The solution is easy. Outdoors, cover all exposed soil and sand with ground cover plants. A simple rubber doormat under the bare patch beneath a swing set eliminates contact with bare dirt. Indoors, dust with a damp cloth and use a closed system vacuum with a HEPA filter – never a bag.

The last major lead source category is commonly talked about but often not acted upon until the damage is done. This category involves anything that you buy or receive that you carry in your front door: toys, food, cleaning products, housewares, clothing, etc.

Once again, if your pet comes in contact with it, and it is made of something other than natural unfinished wood or natural fibre cloth, test it for lead! Vinyls, painted items, ceramics and metal should be checked as a high priority with your pet’s food and water dish, collar and tags and pet toys at the top of your testing list.

There was a time when tiny, trace amounts of lead were of little concern. But evidence provided by time and research has proven otherwise. The amount of lead that it takes to permanently damage the brain of an unborn child is about the same as three granules of table sugar. We know that lead causes ADHD, learning disabilities, low IQ and behavior problems in humans. Though less studied and measured, the neurological functioning of exposed animals is similarly compromised. We now know that lead is the major cause of infertility and miscarriage, as well as a cause of diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, cancer, and a long list of autoimmune diseases from arthritis to Multiple Sclerosis. Pets, because of their relative size and the unmanaged nature of their contact with their environment, are as vulnerable to the effects of lead exposure as babies and toddlers.

Like children, our pets depend on us to protect them. Guard your pet’s health. In addition to providing them with high quality, organic pet food, make an effort to eliminate their exposure to lead.

Visit www.enoughlead.com for some free resources to help you and your family identify and remove lead exposure sources in your home.


Dr. Cottingham’s book, LEAD BABIES, How heavy metals are causing our children’s autism, ADHD, learning disabilities, low IQ and behavior problems is an empowering and comprehensive guide to understanding and responding to your family’s specific lead exposure risks.

Contact Dr. Cottingham with questions or comments @ http://bit.ly/cHpage2

One Response to “Pets and Lead Exposure”

  1. Heidi Junger, PhD Says:

    Thank you Sandra for this very important article! I love your web site and also appreciate the information about where one can obtain affordable and reliable lead test kits. We don’t usually put up product links on our blog, but these tests are so important that we had no problem to make an exception. Thanks again for sharing your knowledge with us!