Iron poisoning is a relatively uncommon occurrence in dogs, but it should be taken seriously because it can lead to severe complications and even death. While a small amount of iron is necessary for a dog's diet, ingesting too much can be toxic. Iron toxicity causes vomiting, seizures, and liver failure in predictable stages of poisoning. Recognizing the signs and seeking prompt veterinary attention can help save your dog's life.
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 its bloodstream.
Symptoms of Iron Poisoning in 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 potentially life-threatening illness, can occur if a dog consumes upwards of 60 milligrams of iron per kilogram of body weight.
The 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 are symptoms that may occur at each stage:
Less obvious symptoms that may occur within the first few days of toxic iron ingestion include organ damage (liver and kidney), low blood pressure, and coagulopathy (excessive clotting). Some dogs that survive this initial period of poisoning may, within weeks, develop intestinal blockages due to pyloric stenosis.
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 when a dog consumes an excessive amount of iron relative to its body weight. When this happens, the excess iron can seep into the bloodstream and wreak havoc on your dog’s tissues and organs. Possible sources of toxicity include:
Supplements and multi-vitamins
- Some fertilizers and moss killers
- Hand and foot warmers
- Moisture absorbing packets and deodorizer sachets
Iron is an essential part of a dog’s diet and is regulated in commercial dog food, so toxicity isn't likely via meals and snacks. Iron oxide (rust) is not considered toxic because it is not readily assimilated into the bloodstream.
Diagnosing Iron Poisoning in Dogs
If a patient has ingested a substance containing a high level of iron, your veterinarian will do a blood test to determine the serum iron (SI) level and total iron-binding capacity (TIBC) of your dog's blood. Iron poisoning can be confirmed if the blood SI level is greater than the TIBC.
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, the induction of vomiting, and/or 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.
Prognosis for Dogs with Iron Poisoning
Expect that your dog will need to remain at the vet for observation and treatment for at least 24 hours. Additional treatments, including surgery, may be required weeks later to address the symptoms and consequences of iron poisoning, especially in the later stages of toxicity.
The chances of recovery are best if iron poisoning is treated immediately after ingestion of a toxic amount of iron.
How to Prevent Iron Poisoning
The best way to protect your dog from iron poisoning is to ensure it does not have access to items that contain iron.