Q: Our dog Sandy ate a fishing weight and by the time we realized it, she had been poisoned by the lead. We had no idea this was a risk. I’m almost embarrassed to be bringing up the subject of fishing to a veterinarian, but could you please let others know?
A: Don’t worry. I’m not about to call you out on the animal unfriendliness of your chosen avocation. In fact, under the right circumstances I’m not averse to either fishing or hunting. Nevertheless, those who do should know they may be harming more than their intended prey. In fact, lead poisoning is very common, especially in wildlife.
The tools designed to hunt and fish often include this heavy metal. Lead fishing weights, lead buckshot and other kinds of tackle and ammunition can make its way into the environment. Here, it can either sit almost inertly in the silt at the bottom of a lake, or it can wind up inside a fish that gets eaten by another fish … or a bird … or an even bigger predator –– this includes dogs, cats and even humans.
As the lead works itself up the food chain it can poison several animals, weakening or killing increasingly sensitive species along the way. In fact, because the lead never breaks down, one single pellet can theoretically poison thousands of animals. Once in the environment, it loses potency at a glacial pace.
Sure, lead is found all over this planet, but it plays no role in biological organisms. Any amount of lead is considered toxic to animals. Poisoned humans and animals can sustain permanent damage to the nervous system. What’s more, death is common among affected wildlife species.
In fact, lead poisoning in wildlife is so pervasive a recent study found that more than 75 percent of bald eagles admitted to rehab facilities had detectable levels of lead in their blood.
Thankfully, some excellent alternatives to lead exist. Which begs the question: If it’s poisonous to people and unnecessary, to boot … then why use it?
There is no legitimate rationale for keeping lead in ammunition and tackle. And pet owners like you should help us get the word out.
Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is drpattykhuly.com. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.