Heavy Metal Poisoning in Pet Birds

Is your Pet Bird at Risk from Heavy Metal Poisoning? Lead and zinc, the most common metals involved, are found in the wire of some cages, some birds’ metal toys and other metal objects in the cage. Other metals are found in water pipes and objects round the house.

What causes heavy metal poisoning in pet birds?

Zinc is a heavy metal that is used to coat iron and steel during the galvanization. the treatment which prevents rust. Wire of bird cages, drinking bowls and toys are a common source of zinc. Pet birds are often attracted to shiny objects and they have lots of spare time to play with, suck on, chew and destroy everything within their reach.

Pet birds that are allowed free flight are susceptible to other sources of heavy metal in the home; paint, costume jewellery (and glittery clothes) staples and paperclips are just some examples.

Lessening the chances of heavy metal poisoning in pet birds

Cages and aviaries should be made of stainless steel (which is expensive), or have powder baked wire or be made using new BHP polymer covered wire.

Scrubbing galvanised wire with vinegar and a wire brush and then rinsing off and then repeating will minimise the zinc toxicity but not eliminate it.

There are bird toys made of wood, plastic or leather or of solid stainless steel available though they often have to be bought, via the internet, from abroad.

If your pet bird is allowed free flight, be aware of the lead content of many things in the home. Anything antique, or made before current knowledge about the dangers of lead, old paintwork, batteries, foil wine bottle tops, fishing sinkers, weights in curtains and blinds, linoleum, some artist’s paints and some paints used in packaging all contain lead.

Copper and brass are also toxic to birds but the animals are less likely to come in contact with them. If you have copper pipes, however, it would be wise to let the tap run for a while before filling your pet bird’s drinking vessel.

What are the apparent symptoms of some sort of heavy metal poisoning in your pet bird that will be visible to you?

General: lethergy, quick and shallow breathing, weight loss and loss of appetite, falling off perch owing to weakness, diarrhoea, inability to fly straight, vomiting, polyuria (urinating copiously), polydipsia (excessive thirst)

Lead specifically: head tilt, blindness, seizure, blood in droppings, red urine, dark green diarrhoea

Zinc specificaly: excessive and unusual picking at feathers, emission of mucus, shivering.

Consult your vet immediately if you see any of the above.

Treatment of heavy metal poisoning in pet birds

When the metal is in the gizzard or lower, heavy metal poisoning can treated with an antidote-like injection. This substance leeches the poisonous zinc/lead out of the ingested metal fragments and renders the zinc or lead harmless. But at the same time the bird must be fed and its fluid intake maintained or the kidneys and liver will shut down. Surgery to remove the ingested metallic poison is performed when the metal is still in the crop.

We strongly recommend that you check your birds’ cages, toys, bowls and the fixings that hold items in the cage in place. If you give your birds free flight watch where they are going and try to remove dangerous items from the room before letting them out. Prevention is better than dealing with the results.