February 10, 2016
(ANTIMEDIA) Two dogs in Genesee County, Michigan have tested positive for lead poisoning, according to the state’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. Genesee County is home to the town of Flint, where an ongoing water crisis rife with official cover-ups and corruption has captured national headlines.
NBC News reports the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development “said they had no reports of lead toxicity in household pets in the last five years until Flint’s water was contaminated.”
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The agency said veterinarians in Genesee County have reported two dogs with high levels of lead, which can cause harmful health consequences in canines and other animals. The dogs are still alive, but officials are keeping most of the details private. As spokeswoman Jennifer Holton told the Detroit Free Press in an email, “[The state] does provide reportable disease/condition case information down to the county level, but cannot provide the specifics of those individual cases.” Free Press notes that “the e-mail cites the Animal Industry Act of 1988 for keeping information in the cases hidden from the public.”
As such, the department has not disclosed “whether [the dogs] were drinking Flint water, how much lead was in their systems, what symptoms they were showing, their weight or how old they are.” The agency declined to directly link the two dogs’ lead levels to the water.
Dr. James Averill, state veterinarian and Animal Industry Division Director for the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, echoed Holton’s privacy concerns. “The confidentiality of the owners is like medical information in humans,” he said, opting not to offer substantive details. He did share that one of the of the two dogs in question was a household pet, while the other was a stray. He also said they were both mixed breed.
Averill also said the “vast majority” of animals tested had negative results, but that pet owners who suspect their animals may have high levels of lead in their blood are being provided with testing free of charge. He said the number of requests for testing has increased, noting that symptoms of lead poisoning in dogs can vary widely. He warned owners to watch for deviations from their pets’ routines.
Veterinarian Dr. Michael Merrithew, whose office operates in Grand Blanc, near Flint, advised that signs may include “probably general malaise first,” as well as “mental dullness” and arthritis. Merrithew said he had not seen any dogs with lead poisoning, adding he has advised his staff to watch for symptoms.
Dr. Lawrence Ehrman works at Veterinary Medical Center in Flint, and noted that though he, like Merrithew, has yet to see dogs with lead toxicity, such a diagnosis can be difficult to determine. “What we’re dealing with here is not like an acute poisoning. It’s more a chronic sort of thing,” he said. “It can cause brain and mental issues, blood issues and even some digestive and kidney issues, though they’re much less common.“
Though there currently only two documented cases of poisoned dogs in Genesee County, their existence bolsters a case for exercising caution. Other cities and counties across Michigan — and the country — have public water supplies with unsafe levels of lead, meaning the health risks posed to humans, especially children, may extend to household pets and other animals that drink from public resources across the United States. Michigan’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development is advising pet owners to keep their animals from ingesting unfiltered water.
Similarly, Ehrman advised that if pet owners do not have access to bottled water for their pets, they should “[p]robably melt some snow. And it would be safer, if your only other choice is feeding them straight Flint water.“
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