Iron poisoning is a relatively uncommon condition in dogs, but it’s one that should be taken extremely seriously since, left untreated, it can lead to severe complications—including death. It typically occurs in four distinct stages, the first three taking place during the 36 hours after toxicity sets in and the fourth stage over the course of four to six weeks. The sooner you catch it—and the sooner you get your dog to the vet—the more likely you are to see your pup recover with minimal issues.
What is Iron Poisoning?
Also referred to as iron toxicosis, iron poisoning is an illness that occurs when a dog has excess amounts of iron in their bloodstream.
Iron is an essential part of a dog’s diet and is regulated in commercial dog food, so it’s extremely unlikely that they’ll consume excess amounts through meals and snacks. Instead, iron poisoning generally happens from a dog eating something they’re not supposed to that has a high soluble iron content—think multi-vitamins or supplements, fertilizer, food dessicant packets or even hand and foot warmers.
So what is a toxic amount of iron for dogs? Dogs can experience clinical signs of toxicity from consuming anywhere from 20 to 60 milligrams of iron per kilogram of body weight. Serious toxicity, including levels that are potentially life-threatening, can occur if a dog consumes upwards of 60 milligrams of iron per kilogram of body weight.
Causes of Iron Poisoning
Iron toxicity happens because your dog consumes an excess amount of iron relative to their body weight. When this happens, the excess iron can seep into the bloodstream and wreak havoc on your dog’s tissues and organs.
There are various kinds of iron, and not all will cause damage if consumed in excess. The most worrying types are soluble forms of iron, such as those found in supplements and multi-vitamins, certain fertilizers and moss killers, hand and foot warmers, and the oxygen absorbers and deodorizer sachets typically found in dried food packaging. Insoluble forms of iron—including iron oxide (rust)—are not considered to be toxic if consumed.
Upon a diagnosis of iron poisoning, your vet will take a couple of key steps to clear the excess from your dog’s system. This may include IV fluids, oxygen therapy, and the induction of vomiting, as well as stomach pumping with a saline solution. Another likely treatment is chelation therapy, in which a drug agent is used to bind to the iron in the body and guide it through the kidneys where it can be removed through your dog’s urine.
Expect that your dog will need to remain at the vet for observation and treatment for at least 24 hours. They may also require additional treatments, including surgery, to address the symptoms and consequences of iron poisoning, especially in the later stages of toxicity.
How to Prevent Iron Poisoning
The best way to keep your dog from getting iron poisoning is to ensure that they do not have access to items that contain soluble iron. And if they do have access to those items—and they consume them—seek help immediately instead of waiting to see if signs and symptoms present.
Fortunately, you don’t have to worry about iron poisoning from your dog’s standard diet. Commercial pet foods contain healthy, digestible forms of iron in amounts that are perfectly safe—and that are required for your dog’s overall health. Occasionally a veterinarian may recommend iron supplementation for pets for example with anemia but this should only be used as recommended by your veterinarian.