COMMON TOXINS IN BIRDS
Heavy metals – Lead and Zinc
People are often unaware of just how many household objects still contain lead, until their curious parrot starts chewing items around the house and becomes unwell.
Lead toxicity in birds usually requires the bird to ingest the lead, as lead can be readily absorbed in acidic environments like their proventriculus (first stomach). From here the lead is distributed by the blood into the bones and into nervous tissue like the brain. This leads to the clinical signs we see in pet birds, namely depression, ataxia, seizures and other neurological signs, anaemia, vomiting and diarrhea.
An affected bird may have one or all of these symptoms, depending on how much lead was ingested and where the lead is distributed to in the body.
As lead toxicity can cause serious health issues and even death in birds, it is important to contact your nearest avian veterinarian if you notice any of these symptoms at home.
Zinc is also commonly found in the environment, particularly to treat iron cages and wire in the process known as galvanization. Zinc is most toxic in newly galvanized materials, and thus has been nicknamed “New-wire disease” in birds.
The symptoms of zinc toxicity vary considerably with some affected birds showing gastrointestinal signs like regurgitation and vomiting, others will drink more often than they used to. These are only a few of the signs to watch out for as the symptoms can vary a lot. Zinc can also cause significant inflammation to the pancreas (causing pancreatitis), which leads to very painful, lethargic-looking birds.
Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) – Non-stick cooking pans
PTFE is a common compound used to coat the surface of cookware to make them ‘non-stick’ and is also sometimes used in modern self-cleaning ovens. It is very common in households, and unfortunately, is an acute and fatal toxin to birds when overheated. It causes rapid changes to the respiratory system and can lead to death. The best way to avoid PTFE toxicity in birds is to use PTFE alternatives, such as silicone or ceramics, as often affected birds die in minutes, well before they reach their closest veterinarian.
It is not yet known which component of avocadoes is toxic to birds, but it can cause acute toxicity and even death in affected birds. Avocadoes can cause changes to the heart that can lead to lethargy, excess fluid in the skin (oedema) coughing and difficulty breathing.
Onion and Garlic
It is often not widely known amongst bird owners that onion and garlic can be toxic to birds. Very small amounts of these foods are not generally toxic, but there are reports that a ¼ of a garlic clove can be fatal to parrots. Onion and garlic cause oxidative damage to tissues, which leases to destruction of red blood cells and secondary injury to the kidneys. Some birds will also develop changes to their heart. Overall, birds that develop toxicity from ingestion garlic and onions will present as weak and lethargic, and will need supportive care by your local veterinarian to try to prevent long-term damage.