The contaminated water crisis in Flint, Mich., continues to pose a health risk to humans. One underreported aspect of this saga is the growing number of four-legged victims of the tainted water supply. So far, five dogs in the area have tested positive for lead poisoning, with four being diagnosed in the past two months alone.
All five cases have occurred in Genesee County, home of Flint. While the government has acknowledged that these cases are real, beyond that, authorities are unwilling to say anything more concrete about the situation. That lack of information includes details about how the dogs are currently doing, which symptoms the dogs initially exhibited, and how much lead was measured inside of the dogs.
Jennifer Holton, a representative of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, said she couldn’t give any specifics about the lead poisoning incidents, citing the Animal Industry Act of 1988. It’s not entirely clear why a law about disease in livestock designed to protect the “human food chain” applies to the current situation of pets with lead poisoning, but it seems to have to do with confidentiality concerns for the pet owners.
Holton did offer up some advice for concerned pet owners, however. “Whatever they are doing for themselves, they should be doing for their pets as well,” she said.
Michigan’s State Veterinarian James Averill recommends that animal owners give their pets either bottled or filtered water to drink. Even melted snow, Dr. Averill said, would be better than the water fresh out of the tap. Bathing pets in tap water should be healthy, though.
According to the experts, adolescent animals are more susceptible to lead poisoning than their fully-grown counterparts. The same is true of humans: In Flint, it’s the children who have been hit the hardest from exposure to contaminated water.
Pet owners typically have a difficult time recognizing lead poisoning in their animals. That’s because the external symptoms may look no different than a less threatening sickness.
Vets have offered up several symptoms for pet owners in Flint to look for:
- Constant barking
- Excessive salivation
- Lack of appetite
- Muscle spasms
- Teeth chattering
Owners whose animal companions exhibit a number of these signs are encouraged to bring them into the vet for a screening.
At this point, it’s difficult to tell how pervasive this problem is in the Flint community. Most pets have not yet been tested for these health conditions and – until recently – pet owners didn’t even realize this could be an issue. At the same time, local veterinarians stress that the majority of pets that have been brought in for examinations have tested negative for lead poisoning, so there’s no reason to assume the worst immediately.
Sadly – for humans and animals alike – the water crisis has still not been resolved. At last check, about 10 percent of all Flint water samples contain dangerous levels of lead.