USA: Low-level Exposure to Lead and Feline Kidney Disease

Lead poisoning in cats

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Is the domestic cat being inadvertently exposed to tiny particles from household products containing lead, which end up damaging the cat’s kidneys? This is about making connections between various sources of information. There are three factors that indicate to me that cats could be ingesting lead which may be a factor in the catastrophic prevalence of chronic kidney disease in cats, which is well above human levels and three times worse than for dogs¹.

In the USA, there are many household and fashion products that contain lead. I believe the situation in Europe if different because there are stricter regulations against lead in products. A recent story about the amount of lead in fashion accessories got me thinking.

Brightly colored handbags, belts and purses may contain lead as it helps in the manufacturing process. Some of these products as you might expect are made in China because most products are made there nowadays. Regrettably there have been several incidences of Chinese products containing poisons which hurt cats and pets generally.

When these products are handled by the purchasers – purses, for example, will be handled roughly and repeatedly – minute amounts of lead are released onto hands and thence to other items such as a glass or onto food where it can be ingested by the person.

Cat caretakers love to pet their cat. It is one of our obvious pleasures. Cats are stroked a lot. When stroking a cat, small particles from the colorful material on fashion products can be deposited on a cat’s fur. We know that cats often lick their fur after being stroked, in the area where they were stroked.

It is reasonable to make the assumption that a cat could well ingest these small particles containing lead. The cat is very vulnerable to poisoning for the very reason he or she licks herself a lot. A particular danger comes from paws and walking on poisonous materials. Some particles containing lead could be on the floor waiting to be picked up by a cat’s paws.

Electrical extension leads in the US can contain lead which can be transferred to hands. Cats can also ingest it directly by biting cable in play.

One of the qualities of lead in the body (human or cat, it doesn’t matter which) is that it accumulates.

“Lead is a cumulative burden — we tend to store it very well,”4

So, let’s say that a cat gradually accumulates lead poisoning at a low level to a point at aged 10 and beyond where it damages the kidneys enough to present chronic kidney disease to a vet. If this was the case lead poisoning would be a contributor to feline CKD because, as I understand it, lead damages kidneys. More work appears to be required in this area but the current consensus is that lead poisoning damages kidney function.

..lead nephropathy still appears to be underrecognized by physicians as a cause and promoter of chronic kidney disease (CKD)³.

In conclusion, therefore, I would like people to discuss the possibility of a hidden or silent crisis of lead poisoning in cats through environmental factors which has potentially devastating health consequences.

There are wider implications. There are a number of what I call mysterious cat illnesses. Allergies are one. They are hard to pin down. Causes of many feline diseases are described as “idiopathic”. This means unknown. Are environmental factors being overlooked?


  1. “The prevalence of spontaneous chronic renal failure (CRF) in the aged cat is estimated to be three times higher than in the aged dog” (
  4. Dr. Bruce Lanphear
  5. Photo: by memyni

11 thoughts on “USA: Low-level Exposure to Lead and Feline Kidney Disease”

  1. I think you could be right! Along with all the chemicals around nowadays no wonder so many cats get ill.
    As always it’s firms making money that comes first for them, not the health of animals.

  2. These are excellent questions. I would love to know the answers. Both for my cats and for me. I don’t want to consume lead either. I will hazard a guess that here in Switerland they probably have pretty strict rules on this sort of thing. But in fact I really don’t know.

    And what’s concerning too is that there are new materials and practices appearing each day – which haven’t yet been tested or controlled. As for the photo up top – that little purse is not something I would have ever considered to be dangerous – just goes to show how much I have to learn!

    • The manufacturers use some sort of coating that contains lead to enhance the bright colors. Lead is still used in many products despite regulations that restrict its use. There would seem be a variation in legislation from country to country and in the USA perhaps state to state as to its use.

  3. It would be interesting to know how many years back chronic kidney disease was a factor in cats. Lead house paint was outlawed around 1978 according to wiki

    They talk about levels in children. I think you may be on to something Michael. It caused me to look around the house, but honestly, even in Mexico where they used to use very bright lead based paint both on houses and in pottery, have raised awareness. But the lingering effects over decades would be hard to measure. Though, at any drug store, you can buy a little stick that measures lead on a surface. I’ve never done it, but it would be an interesting study just around the house.

    I still think cat food is a major factor, but lead poisoning sounds plausible.

    • Thanks DW. I think it is something that needs looking into. As usual there is a lack of interest. I also think that environmental issues in the home need to be looked at. There are lots of cleaning chemicals in homes. How do these affect a cat who is probably ingesting them from his coat?

      No doubt that dry cat food play a role.

      • I think dry cat food is a major offender. Do manufactors think that cats care about red, green, yellow bits?
        They’re adding poison to that kind of food, and the public has no idea.

        • I agree that dry cat food is major contributor to CKD. I just believe that these undiscussed rather hidden health hazards need to be aired. We need to tick the boxes and reassure ourselves that there are no problems with lead in fashion products.


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