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Ask the Vet: Lead Ammunition Harms More Than Intended Target

Dr. Lee Pickett on

Q: While hunting, I accidentally shot my dog, Buck, with lead shot. He seems to be OK, but I'm worried he might develop lead poisoning and die. I'm too embarrassed to take him to the veterinarian, so I'd appreciate your advice.

A: Take Buck to his veterinarian, who has undoubtedly seen dogs and cats with similar injuries. At the very least, Buck is probably in pain, as you would be if you'd been shot, so he needs immediate care.

Your veterinarian may recommend radiographs, sometimes called X-rays, to locate any shot in his body.

Lead ammunition is unlikely to cause harm if it's embedded in muscle. However, it does cause problems if it ends up in a moist or acidic environment, such as the stomach, a joint or an inflamed area.

As it disintegrates, the lead is absorbed into the blood and transported throughout the body, causing gastrointestinal and neurologic toxicity. In addition, lead damages the red blood cells that carry oxygen.

Lead harms other species as well. People who eat prey killed by lead ammunition have 50% more lead in their blood than normal. This occurs because lead bullets and shotgun pellets crack on impact, spreading lead debris and fragments throughout the game animal's body.


Songbirds, ducks and geese often ingest scattered lead shot and bullet fragments with their food. Also poisoned are the animals that prey on them and the dogs, cats and wildlife that ingest ammunition when they scavenge the remains left by hunters.

After you take Buck to his veterinarian, consider a visit to the hunting store to convert to nonlead ammunition.

Q: I have been fostering kittens for a local cat rescue for many years. I've noticed that even when I'm fostering multiple litters at the same time, and all the kittens receive the same food and handling, some litters are especially friendly while others are aloof.

I know early handling leads to friendlier kittens. Are other factors responsible for personality development in cats?


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