Heavy Metal Poisoning in Birds

Key Points

  • Heavy metal poisonings in birds most commonly occur from ingestion of substances containing lead or zinc.
  • Lead that is ingested can be absorbed through the gastrointestinal tract and then taken up by soft tissues and eventually by bone.
  • Lead affects all major organs and can cause damage to the gastrointestinal tract, red blood cells, kidneys and liver.
  • Clinical signs of heavy metal toxicosis may include non-specific signs of illness, gastrointestinal signs, urinary tract problems and neurological deficits.
  • Antemortem diagnosis of heavy metal toxicity relies on blood lead or zinc levels. In some BUT NOT ALL cases, ingested lead will also be visible on survey radiographs.
  • Remove heavy metal from the bird’s tissues with a chelation agent such as calcium EDTA.
  • Pieces of heavy metal within the digestive tract may also be removed endoscopically, surgically or via gastric lavage.

Heavy metal poisoning in birds most commonly occurs from ingestion of substances containing lead, or less commonly zinc. Acute heavy metal toxicity is occasionally seen in companion parrots that ingest or chew on objects containing metal because of their curious nature and innate desire to forage. Chronic lead poisoning most frequently affects free-ranging wildlife such as ducks, geese, swans and loons and is most commonly seen during migration in the late fall and early spring. Lead toxicity also occasionally occurs in upland game birds such as mourning doves, wild turkey, pheasants and quail. Lead poisoning has also been reported . . .

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