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Flint water crisis affecting pets as well as people

The Flint, Michigan, water crisis shocked the country and impacted thousands of families in the city, especially those with children. But it is also affecting family pets.

When Flint officials switched their water supply in 2014 to water from the Flint River, they hoped it would serve as a stopgap measure while they waited for a new water pipeline from Lake Huron to be completed. Officials assured residents that the new water was safe to drink, an assurance that proved far from true as events unfolded. The crisis has now attracted national attention, with organizations offering assistance to Flint families and politicians critiquing the way Flint’s administration handled the situation.

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Corrosive river water leached lead from Flint’s pipes into the public tap water, raising lead levels in the population and affecting children’s health. The hardest-hit areas also happened to be the poorest, raising tough questions about poverty, race and class in America.

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Flint water crisis affects pets, too

The crisis also affected pets. At least two cases of lead poising were confirmed, according to Michigan State University veterinarian James Averill, DVM, but Averill suspects actual numbers are higher. In an interview with dvm360, Averill theorized that part of the reason veterinarians have seen so few cases is that a disproportionate number of affected families live below the poverty line. “Veterinary care is the last thing they’re worried about,” said Averill.

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It is also harder to diagnose lead poisoning in pets than it is in people, not to mention determining the long-term effects. There are no cognitive tests for pets like there are for children, Averill points out, and many of the symptoms of lead poisoning in animals are commonly associated with other health problems as well, making it difficult and often expensive to diagnose.

What does lead poisoning do to dogs?

Lead poisoning in dogs causes intestinal upset and neurological problems, according to the Merck Veterinary Manual. Chronic lead poisoning occurs over time, which is what is happening to pets in Flint, Michigan. The good news, Dr. Averill assures residents, is that “once you remove [pets] from the source they’ll probably do fine.”

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However, lead poisoning can be fatal. Here are the symptoms of lead poisoning in dogs you need to look out for if you live in an area with high levels of lead:

  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Behavioral changes
  • Fatigue
  • Poor appetite
  • Weakness
  • Extreme anxiety
  • Diarrhea
  • Blindness
  • Stomach pain
These symptoms can also be signs of other serious medical conditions and require the attention of a veterinarian. When it comes to your pet’s safety, it is always better to play it safe.

How to prevent lead poisoning in pets

Preventing lead poisoning in pets is a little trickier than preventing lead poisoning in children. For starters, children usually don’t drink out of the toilet. Dr. Averill advises closing toilet lids and restricting your pets’ access to drinking filtered or bottled water only.

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The Flint water crisis is an unfortunate example of how human suffering is often shared by our furry companions. By taking better care of all of our communities, we ensure better conditions for the animals that live there too.

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