Heavy metal poisoning is a serious problem that can cause seizures, neurological problems and even death in pet birds. Fortunately, it can be prevented, according to avian and exotics veterinarian Dr Jayne Weller from Exotic Veterinary Service in NSW.
Birds can get poisoned by cages and toys made of consumable heavy metals, such as lead. Some old houses also have lead paint on the walls (under the top coated paint) and old venetian blinds can contain metal that birds can ingest.
Dr Weller said birds are attracted by the sweet taste and shiny appearance of metal (lead) objects. They inspect it and touch the objects with their tongues, licking and picking pieces off the objects. It only takes a tiny metal piece to cause a problem.
Common symptoms of heavy metal poisoning in birds are:
- Constant thirst
- Regurgitation of water
- Not eating
- Loss of coordinated movements
Dr Weller has often seen birds depressed, lethargic, won’t eat, and have diarrhoea and vomiting. After a few days of this, birds can lose weight and become debilitated.
When ingested, the metal is eventually excreted via the droppings, but the body absorbs the toxins which then sits in the bone. Over time, the toxin leaches out of the bone and the bird can continue being sick even a long time after the metal has been pooed out, requiring hospitalisation for treatment.
Tips to prevent lead poisoning by Dr Weller
To prevent lead poisoning, make sure the cage, toys and other objects in your bird’s environment are made with non-toxic materials, such as stainless steel and welded wires.
Beware that a lot of bird toys tend to have cheap metallic paint. If you give your bird shiny toys, replace them regularly.
Don’t buy from dollar shops. Buy good quality stainless steel, plastic or biodegradable toys that can be chewed up.
For enrichment, you can use toilet rolls, cardboard boxes and non-toxic (pesticide free) branches/sticks as natural perches, such as Bottle Brush and Eucalyptus. Just give the branches a good scrub and leave out in the sun for 24 hours before use.
Never put feathers from other birds in the cage as they can spread disease!
If your bird spends time outside the cage, ensure there are no sources of heavy metal that could be ingested.
Lead can be found in old paint, lead curtain/blinds, stained glass, fishing weights and soldering. If you suspect your bird has heavy metal poisoning, see an avian veterinarian immediately.
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