Iron Poisoning in Dogs

Signs, treatment, and how to prevent it from occurring

Sad older dog lying down in bed.

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Iron poisoning is a relatively common condition in dogs, and 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, 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.

Signs of Iron Poisoning in Dogs

The signs and symptoms of iron poisoning may vary in both occurrence and severity depending on how much iron your dog ingests, as well as what stage of toxicity they are at. Here is some of what you might expect at each stage.


Stage 1 (first 6 hours)

  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain and swelling
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Lethargy
  • Seizure


Stage 2 (6 to 24 hours)

  • Loss of symptoms


Stage 3 (12 to 36 hours)

  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Bloody stools
  • Yellowing of eyes and skin
  • Abdominal pain
  • Muscle tremors
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Seizure


Stage 4 (4 to 6 weeks after exposure)

  • Yellowing of eyes and skin
  • Bloody stools


Other symptoms that may occur due to iron poisoning include organ damage, low blood pressure, intestinal blockages, and even death. For all of these reasons, it is recommended that you make a veterinary appointment immediately if your dog consumes any high-iron product that is not part of their usual diet.

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.

Treatment

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. Other healthy forms of iron for your dog include the kinds found in certain vegetables and legumes, which may be recommended as supplements to their diet if they suffer from anemia.