Lapis ISSN 2398-2969

Lead toxicity

Synonym(s): Lead toxicosis, Lead induced toxicosis, Lead intoxication, Lead poisoning, Plumbism

Contributor(s): Lesa Thompson, Glen Cousquer, Anna Meredith, Ron Rees Davies


  • Cause: rabbits are prone to chewing foreign objects and lead ingestion can occur by chewing lead-based paint, linoleum (vinyl floor covering), putty, curtain weights, wine-bottle foil and other lead sources.

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  • Signs: ingestion will lead to toxicity, and severity of clinical signs will depend on the amount ingested, surface area of ingested particles, speed of passage through the digestive tract and chronicity of exposure. Clinical signs are vague and non-specific, initially anorexia/lethargy and gastrointestinal hypomotility, progressing to neurological signs.
  • Diagnosis: history of access to lead-containing materials, blood sampling including serum lead assessment, radiography may show radio-opaque material.
  • Treatment: gastrointestinal motility modifiers, chelating agents, supportive care.
  • Prognosis: favorable with treatment, guarded if uncontrolled seizures.


  • May be acute or chronic.
  • Anorexia   Anorexia  , depression and weight loss   Weight loss  are the most common presenting signs.
  • Pale mucus membranes (anemia).
  • Tremors, posterior ataxia.
  • Death.



  • House rabbits are more commonly affected due to increased opportunity for access to lead sources.


  • Mortality may occur especially after acute ingestion of a high dose. In dogs acute lethal dose is 1 g/kg, but lower doses can also be lethal due to a cumulative effect.
  • In fatal cases myocardial degeneration, multifocal hepatic necrosis and renal tubular degeneration are typical post mortem findings.
  • Untreated anorexia    →   gastrointestinal stasis   Gastric dilation and stasis  and cecal dysbiosis, which may also lead to death.
  • Immune system depression may result in death from secondary infection, eg pneumonia   Pneumonia  .


  • Investigation and treatment can be expensive - diagnostic tests include radiography, hematology, measurement of serum and/or tissue lead levels.
  • May require surgery to remove lead object(s) from gastrointestinal tract.
  • Prolonged supportive care including blood transfusion may be required.


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Further Reading


Refereed papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Ahmed Y F, Mahmoud K G H M, Farghaly A A et al (2012) Some studies on the toxic effects of prolonged lead exposure in male rabbits: Chromosomal and testicular alterations. Global Vet (4), 360-366 VetMedResource.
  • Tousson E, Rafat B M, Hessien M et al (2011) P53 and Bc12 apoptosis proteins in meso-2, 3-dimercaptosuccinic acid treated lead-intoxicated rabbits. Toxicol Ind Health 27 (3), 271-278 PubMed.
  • Moorman W J, Skaggs S R, Clark J C et al (1998) Male reproductive effects of lead, including species extrapolation for the rabbit model. Reprod Toxicol 12 (3), 333-346 PubMed.
  • Hood S, Kelly J, McBurney S et al (1997) Lead toxicosis in 2 dwarf rabbits. Can Vet J 38 (11), 721-722 PubMed.
  • Mautino M (1997) Lead and Zinc Intoxication in Zoological Medicine - A Review. J Zoo & Wildlife Med 28 (1), 28-35 PubMed.
  • Nelson B K, Moorman W J, Schrader S M et al (1997) Paternal exposure of rabbits to lead: behavioural deficits in offspring. Neurotoxicol Teratol 19 (3), 191-198 PubMed.
  • Soldatovic D, Vujanovic D, Matovic V et al (1997) Compared effects of high oral Mg supplements and of EDTA chelating agent on chronic lead intoxication in rabbits. Magnes Res 10 (2), 127-133 PubMed.
  • Morgan R V (1994) Lead poisoning in small companion animals: an update (1987-1992). Vet Hum Toxicol 36 (1), 18-22 PubMed.
  • Morgan R V, Moore F M, Pearce L K et al (1991) Clinical and laboratory findings in small companion animals with lead poisoning - 347 cases (1977-1986). JAVMA 199 (1), 93-97 PubMed.
  • Morgan R V, Pearce L K, Moore F M et al (1991) Demographic data and treatment of small companion animals with lead poisoning: 347 cases (1977-1986). JAVMA 199 (1), 98-102 PubMed.
  • Swartout M S & Gerken D F (1987) Lead-induced toxicosis in two domestic rabbits. JAVMA 191 (6), 717-719 PubMed.
  • Roscoe D E, Nielsen S W, Eaton H D et al (1975) Chronic plumbism in rabbits: a comparison of three diagnostic tests. Am J Vet Res 36 (08), 1225-1229 PubMed.

Other sources of information

  • Harcourt-Brown (2002) Textbook of Rabbit Medicine. Butterworth, Heinemann, Oxford, UK. ISBN: 0750640022.
  • Gentz E J & Carpenter J W (1997) Clinical Medicine & Surgery. In: Ferrets, Rabbits & Rodents.Eds: Hillyer E V & Quesenberry K E. WB Saunders Co. pp 224. ISBN: 0721640230.