HealthMedium RiskPoisons in the Home

Pet Poisons: Learn about Lithium Ion and Lead



I know I have this awful habit of getting distracted from my ABCs by other posts.  But today, we’re back to our module-type learning with Lithium Ion Batteries and Lead. These are both extremely interesting substances, so buckle your seat belts for some abnormal signs from these guys!

Lithium Ion Battery Exposures in Pets

Lithium ion batteries are not like alkaline batteries!

These button batteries do not contain the caustic chemical inside of them like your normal AA or AAA battery in your remote control.  They are popular lately, since they are rechargeable.  This makes them easier on the environment, since people can reuse them instead of simply tossing them away.

You can find them in any number of electronics like cell phones, tablets, laptop batteries, mp3 players, etc.  However, the most common exposures in pets tends to happen with the button batteries you find in garage door openers, watches, and hearing aids.  These are tiny and easy to swallow.



Lithium batteries do burn, but it is not do to the properties of “battery acid”.  When swallowed, lithium ion batteries emit an electrical charge, injuring tissues in the mouth, esophagus, stomach, and lower gastrointestinal tract.  Most larger dogs will pass these through due to their small size, but they can do a considerable amount of damage first.  The signs we see in relation to these are:

  • Difficulty or unwillingness to eat due to oral pain
  • Vomiting or retching
  • Diarrhea
  • Sores or burns on the gums, tongue, or other oral tissues
  • Abdominal pain or discomfort
  • Heavy drooling
  • Changes in gum color


Treatment should always be sought through a local veterinarian or animal poison control center.  Unfortunately, there’s not much that can be done at home due to the potential of the battery to cause damage to the tissues.  Your vet may want to do one of several things:

  • Administer water orally to help reduce the damage to the tissues from the electrical current.
  • Remove the battery from your pet’s gastrointestinal tract.
  • If removal is not possible, instruct you on how to bulk it through.
  • Administration of medication to help heal and protect the mouth and lining of the GI tract.
  • Hospitalization if your pet is unable to eat and drink on their own.
  • IV fluids to help maintain hydration.

If treatment is sought immediately, these guys tend to do pretty well.  It is ideal to help reduce the damage as quickly as possible, since the longer you wait to seek treatment, the more damage that can occur.


Lead poisoning in pets

Lead exposures are not as common as people fear.

Lead used to be a very common pigment additive to household paint.  Children and pets alike developed cases of lead poisoning due to ingested quantities of paint or paint flakes and it was discovered that it was extremely toxic in birds, so this led to the banning of lead-based pigments in 1978.  Houses that were built within the last 35 years did not have access to lead-based paint, and so the danger of eating paint flakes has decreased dramatically.  Even in older homes, old coats of lead paints are often covered by layers of newer non-lead paints, which also reduces the risk.

This will not occur with the ingestion of a fresh paint purchased for the home, but may still be found in some artist’s paints.  This means that exposures tend to happen due to pets ingesting paint off the wall in very old homes, or by ingesting objects like linoleum, weights, lead buckshot, jewelry, etc.


The signs of lead poisoning tend to relate to the stomach in smaller exposures, but large exposures can cause changes to the red blood cells and neurological signs. Pet birds are especially sensitive to lead poisoning, though they tend to display slightly different signs than other animals. More severe signs tend to be due to repeated exposures to lead over a long-term basis rather than one, larger ingestion.


  • Unwillingness to eat or drink
  • Weakness
  • Weight loss
  • Drooping wings
  • Lethargy
  • Head tilting
  • Regurgitation
  • Green diarrhea
  • Impaction
  • Leg paralysis
  • Stumbling
  • Blindness
  • Circling
  • Tremors
  • Seizures

Other Pets

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Unwillingness to eat or drink
  • Stomach pain
  • Megaesophagus (which is a paralysis and enlargement of the esophageal muscles that push down food when you swallow)
  • Lethargy
  • Extreme anxiety
  • Seizures
  • Blindness
  • Eye flicking (seen in cats)
  • Stumbling (seen in cats)


Unlike many other substances, the presence of lead can be detected in a pet’s blood by doing a blood lead concentration.  While it may not tell  you how much was ingest or how bad the signs will become, it will give you an idea if your pet was exposed to lead.  Some treatments your vet may try for an animal that has lead poisoning:

  • Removal of any lead objects that have been swallowed.
  • In birds, mineral oil, laxatives, or grit may be given to help remove lead particles from their GI tract.
  • Epsom salts may be used to flush the stomach, as it binds to lead and prevents it from being absorbed.
  • IV fluids with a chelator may be given to remove lead from the bloodstream.
  • Hospitalization, as treatments usually last for several days.
  • Supportive care and medications to help stop any tremors, seizures, or other neurological signs.
  • Stomach protectants to help with the irritation to the GI tract.

If treatment is sought, most animals do pretty well after exposure to lead.  However, animals that are experiencing repeated seizures which are difficult to control are at a higher risk of death.


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