A Wisconsin company has recalled thousands of bendable cat and dog toys contaminated with lead that were awarded to student readers by libraries across the country.

Highsmith Co. of Fort Atkinson issued the recall after learning that the toy's exterior paint contained more than four times the safe amount of lead.

Libraries in as many as 41 states bought the Chinese-made toys as part of the prepackaged "Paws, Claws, Scales, and Tails" summer reading program, company spokesman Matt Moulder told the Springfield, Ohio, News-Sun last week.

In an Aug. 8 letter to their library customers, Highsmith said the toys passed a lead test on Oct. 14, 2005, but registered a 0.277 percent lead content in a recent test, the American Library Association reported in a "toxic toy alert" on its Web site. Federal regulations allow no more than 0.06 percent.

A telephone message seeking comment from Highsmith was not returned Saturday.

Libraries and state health departments are alerting residents about the toys, which were awarded for completing a student reading program.

"We have been calling the families and encouraging them to bring the toys back and we will give them a replacement prize," said Jon Walker, district director of the Pueblo, Colo., Library.

The library association said the recall was triggered by a hospital worker in Indiana who noticed that the toy prizes being distributed by a library outreach program were similar to toys the hospital gave to children a year earlier — only to learn later about the unacceptable lead levels.

The toys, slightly less than 4 inches long, are small enough to be sucked or chewed on by a child, said Richard Leiker of the Oregon Department of Human Services Lead Poisoning Prevention Program.

The children's librarian in Ripon, Wis., said the toys were popular and all of them were given out.

"They went very quickly. They were very cute," Linda DeCramer said.