AVMA: Advice to Owners Concerned About Lead in Toys

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is concerned about recent reports of lead contamination in toys.

Independent tests by Trace Laboratories, Inc. in Illinois and ExperTox Analytical Laboratories in Texas have both found the presence of lead and other toxic chemicals on randomly selected toys purchased in American stores. The highest level of lead found was 30,000 parts per million (ppm) in the paint on a pet toy. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) enforces a federal standard for lead in paint intended for children’s products, which is 600 ppm, according to CPSC spokesperson Ed Kang, but there is no federal standard for lead in pet toys.

Dr. Mike Murphy, a veterinary toxicologist at the University of Minnesota, said that owners should be careful about lead exposure in pets, but warns that there are far more toxic sources of lead in many households. Old, lead paint is roughly 30 to 40 percent lead and can still be found in some older homes. Solder, fishing weights, curtain weights, and some older molded-metal toys may be made entirely of lead and should be kept out of reach from pets and children.

“If your pet is chewing and swallowing a toy then maybe that’s not something you should allow the animal to play with,” Dr. Murphy said.

Dr. Frederick Oehme, professor of toxicology and diagnostic medicine at Kansas State University, said symptoms of lead poisoning are vague in pets but can include a slightly anorexic appearance and a slight loss of appetite, slight behavior changes that include twitching, and whining while sleeping. In more advanced cases of lead poisoning, there are neurological symptoms that include mild to severe seizures. Dr. Oehme said if symptoms are present in your pet, consult your veterinarian for a diagnosis.

“Veterinarians are in a very unique position because, when they see lead poisoning in a pet, the veterinarian can then ask if other members of the family—particularly children—have been checked for lead poisoning since they live in the same environment,” he said. “I’ve seen a dog that tested with high levels of lead … from lead soldering, and, when the owner was tested for lead, he also had high blood levels of lead.”

Dr. Steven Hansen, director of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animal’s Animal Poison Control Center (APCC), which operates a hotline that serves all of North America, said that the APCC has received over 200,000 calls over the last two years and none were related to a toy causing in lead poisoning in a pet. Dr. Hansen said that while there is little research on the cognitive or behavioral impact of long term exposure to low lead concentrations in pets, as exists in humans, the use of lead-based paint is inappropriate on any toy.

“To reassure pet owners, we encourage manufacturers to test pet products for lead and other contaminants and post findings on their corporate websites,” Dr. Hansen said.

Dr. Murphy advises that the best place for information on lead in pet toys is your veterinarian. He or she can offer expert advice on animal health or direct you to a veterinary diagnostic laboratory to have a toy tested if deemed necessary. Veterinary diagnostic laboratories can also be located through the American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians at www.aavld.org/mc/page.do.

The CPSC advises that consumer lead tests, which can be purchased and applied in the home, are unreliable. For more information on home lead tests, please see the CPSC release at www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/prerel/prhtml08/08038.html.

For more information about the AVMA and its animal welfare activities, please visit the AVMA at www.avma.org.


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