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Heavy Metal Toxicity in Birds

Updated: Oct 24, 2023

Photo: Radiographs of a chicken who has eaten hardware

Birds are curious animals who often explore their environment with their beaks, therefore preventing access to non-safe metals is crucial as a bird owner. Toxicity from heavy metals can occur when birds ingest substances that contain lead, or high amounts of zinc or copper. These minerals can be found in non-safe metal bird toys, cages or bowls, as well as in soil, hardware, furniture, older paint, foil, decorations, house fittings, jewellery and any other place where your bird may access metallic materials.

Symptoms can include:

  • Lethargy

  • Black droppings

  • Neurological signs

  • Being “fluffed up”

  • Inappetance

  • Vomiting

  • Self-mutiliation

  • Secondary infections

Diagnosis and Treatment

Our veterinarians may recommend various tests if they suspect Heavy Metal Toxicity in your bird. These tests include:

  • Radiographs (X-rays) to identify any metal particles

  • Blood test to determine whether levels of metal in the body are high enough to cause toxicity

  • Inhouse cytology to identify secondary infections

The treatment of Heavy Metal Toxicity is chelation, which involves a course of injections of a chemical that binds to the metals to assist in eliminating them from the body. The veterinarian may also prescribe medication to treat any secondary infections.

Environmental Testing

There are various places in Victoria to test your environment for heavy metals, the most widely used one is 360 Dust Analysis – Gardensafe: Lead, Zinc, Copper and others

There are other environmental consultants you can contact for your specific needs, you can find these on the EPA (Environment Protection Authority Victoria) website

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