Friday, March 22, 2013

Birds and Heavy Metal Poisoning - A Deadly Combination

This week is National Poison Prevention Week, so I though it would be fitting to share a bit of information about a big problem for pet birds. Heavy metal toxicosis or lead and/or zinc poisoning. Of course, lead isn't good for any animal or person, but birds are especially sensitive to these metals. A bird only has to consume a small amount of lead or zinc to become extremely ill.

Amazon parrot.
Photo via Kamil Porembiriski

If you keep birds as pets, one of the best ways to ensure that they do not become sick from heavy metal toxicosis is to keep a very close eye on them. You may be thinking, OK - I already do that... but do you really?


Think about it. If you leave the room to go to the restroom for just one minute, do you take your bird with you or put them back into their cage? Birds can and will find the smallest things just about anywhere. Leaving them unsupervised and outside of their cage in a room for even just a minute is not recommended. Not to mention, putting them away when they aren't supervised could prevent a number of other accidents.

Besides a lot of supervision for your pet bird, make sure you are providing toys, cages, and other cage items that are all free of lead and zinc. Common items that these metals can be found in include galvanized wire, adhesives, plastics, batteries, linoleum, stained glass, costume jewelry, and more.

Diagnosing the Symptoms 


Caique parrot.
Photo via BekiPe
Early diagnosis of lead poisoning is very important. Symptoms of heavy metal toxicosis in birds can be vague sometimes, requiring more of a complete medical work-up to diagnosis. A bird with lead poisoning may have symptoms like tremors, droopy wings, seizures, blindness, loss of appetite, regurgitation, abnormal stools, and weight loss.

So the metals should show up on an xray pretty well then? Think again! It only takes a very small amount of these metals to cause illness in a bird. Once consumed, they are dissolved by gastric acids in the bird's stomach and absorbed into the bloodstream. This is why a complete work-up may be necessary for a proper diagnosis. Bloodwork can help identify if the bird is anemic, which is another symptom of heavy metal toxicosis.

Even though it is nice to have a full work-up of the patient when trying to diagnose heavy metal toxicosis, it's not always practical. Waiting for tests can be timely, and a poisoned bird does not have much time to waste. Birds who are suspected to have been poisoned should be treated immediately.

Treatment of Heavy Metal Toxicosis in Birds


Treatment for lead and zinc poisoning in birds is chelation therapy with CaEDTA which can be given as an injection in the breast muscle for several days. DMSA is a drug that can be given orally in conjunction with CaEDTA to get the toxins out of the bloodstream. 

Supportive therapy for the bird may be necessary as well. Treatments like fluid therapy, iron injections, tube feedings, vitamin-B complex injections, and heat support may all be necessary. Anti-convulsant medications for seizures may also be recommended by a veterinarian if needed. 

Sometimes, a large piece of metal is ingested which can be removed using endoscopy. A fiber-optic scope is used to find the piece of metal in the bird's GI tract so that it can be safely removed. This is done while the patient is anesthetized. 

Recovery


Fortunately, early treatment of heavy metal toxicosis in birds can ensure that the poisoning can be reversed with little or no after effects. Unfortunately, some birds will experience major organ damage and some may face death.

Cockatiel.
Photo via harrisonfarr

Birds are so good at hiding their illness that special attention needs to be given to them. If something about them doesn't seem quite right, don't just brush it off. Birds are very quick to go downhill when they are ill. If you suspect that your bird has lead or zinc poisoning, please contact your veterinarian as soon as possible. 

20 comments:

  1. its a bit like bunnies too they hide illness too

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    1. Yes, they are very very good at it too.

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  2. We never thought about poisons in metals. We always learn something new.
    Have a fabulous Friday.
    Best wishes Molly

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  3. Don't get mad at me but when I read the headline I thought the birds needed headphones because they were listening to too much "heavy metal" music. I am so sorry! I couldn't resist! This WAS a great post though!
    xoxoxo

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    1. LOL - thanks for making me smile this morning Caren!

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  4. Never thought of that.. I like leave to go to the rest room, that's posh..LOL Laughing at Caren xx00xx

    Mollie and Alfie

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  5. That is some great information. I have never had any birds as pets mainly because we have always had lots of kitties. Those are pretty birds in the pictures. Take care.

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  6. I agree with Caren, I thought it's dangerous for birds if you hear loud music, like heavy metal and they can get sick from the noises or the vibrations :o) But you're right, Birds can find the smallest and most strange things and sadly many vet's are not conversant with birds... Thanks for this post, I will send it to a friend with a couple of lovebirds, think it's an important post :o)

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    1. Lol - I can see how you guys might think that. I used to work with an awesome board certified avian veterinarian. Thanks for sharing Easy!

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  7. thank you for the info Ann. I dont know will I ever have a bird or not but I will keep this in mind

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  8. Critters hide everything, not normal is never good!

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  9. This is always good information. We hope to have a bird again one day so it's nice to know.

    Piggy kisses,
    Katie and Coccolino the mini pig

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  10. Animals are so good at hiding illnesses. Thank you for sharing this important information with us, Ann!

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  11. Great post very informative, we lost a Budgie a few years ago when i was still a youngster whilst decorating apparently the paint fumes where the cause of death.

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    1. Ah yes - birds don't do good with fumes. Even non-stick cookware is bad for them.

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  12. You know what's also extremely toxic to birds and other animals? The ozone that comes out of a lot of air purifiers. Ack!

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  13. I had a lot of birds when I was younger, but I'm happy I never had these problems. It's terrible and sad.

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  14. Great Blog Ann, We at Kitty Kanteen also have 5 parrots and they are babied as much as the kitties are...they are never left out of their cages unattended as they are as curious as any other pet and tend to want to get down off the cage tops and go on a walk about...so they supervised for their jaunts outside their cages or they are on our shoulders...The cats have never attempted to hurt them and as a matter of fact our little tiny old girl persian Delilah and our African Gray parrot Sebastian are crazy about each other...He talks to her and she listens and purrs and purrs! How funny it is to hear him tell her "Deli..meow, meow, meow...your a good girl"!! For anyone who has never had a bird, they are wonderful pets and companion for a person who doesn't mind some extra work cleaning cages! Wouldn't live without them now!! >^.^< Charmaine

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    1. That is so sweet that he talks to your kitty! I would love to see that!

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