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Lead poisoning in cattle

Walk through your pasture and look for discarded car batteries

Cattle come down with a lot of different illnesses, but lead poisoning is preventable just by walking the pasture and picking up discarded car batteries, linoleum, and old caulking materials. Any age cow can be poisoned by lead, but calves are more susceptible simply because they’re very curious and like to lick and chew on things that adult animals learn not to do.

Gregg Hanzlicek is a bovine veterinarian at Kansas State University. He says lead does bad things to a lot of major organs.

"The brain is one of the primary places that it affects and it causes hemorrhage and edema in the brain. So, the problem with lead poisoning is that it can be confused with a lot of other diseases," says Hanzlicek. "But typically, if you see blindness in a bovine, the first thing on the list is always lead poisoning."

Other abnormal behaviors that could indicate lead poisoning include staggering, salivation, and twitching eyelids. It can be fatal, but fortunately not all animals will succumb to it.

"There may be animals that just ingest it enough to affect them. You’ll see things like they’re just off feed, and they have constipation. At levels that aren’t going to kill them, those are the kind of things that you see," says Hanzlicek. "Those that stagger, become blind and things, 99.9% of those are going to actually die in the end. We don’t really have a good, successful treatment in cattle."

Because the symptoms mimic many other ailments, the only way to positively confirm lead poisoning is to have your veterinarian do a blood test. Even if the animal survives, the meat isn’t fit for human consumption.

If you know that you have a site where things were disposed of in the pasture, Hanzlicek says it’s a good idea to fence the area to prevent animals from having access.

Learn more about lead poisoning in cattle and how to recognize, treat, and prevent it

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