Lead is one of the most common heavy metal toxins. The presence and severity of clinical signs depends on the amount of lead ingested, the size of the particles and the length of time the lead is in the gastrointestinal tract.
Once ingested, the lead is degraded by acids in the stomach and absorbed into the bloodstream, once in the bloodstream, lead causes pansystemic damage, particularly to the gastrointestinal, nervous, renal and hematopaietic systems.
Clinical signs of lead intoxication in psittacine birds may include lethargy, depression, anorexia, weakness, (wing droop, leg paresis) regurgitation, polyuria, diarrhea, emaciation, head tilt, blindness circling, paralysis, head tremors, convulsions and death. Some birds may die with no clinical signs and others may show only weakness and weight loss.
Lead is inconspicuously included in many products found around the home and the precise cause of lead intoxication is frequently undetermined. Unless paints state that they are lead free they may still have toxic levels of lead in the drying agent rather than in the base. Lead exposure may also occur through the inhalation of fumes from lead containing gasoline.
Zinc also is another frequently encountered heavy metal that causes toxicity when ingested. Galvanized wire and the clips used to construct enclosures are common sources. The brighter and shinier the wire the higher the zinc level. The white ruse associated with the galvanized coating is also toxic. Galvanized containers and dishes are also sources of contamination. Pennies minted before 1982 contain from 96 to 98% zinc. Monopoly pieces are made of 98% zinc.
Common signs reported in zinc-intoxicated birds include polyuria, gastrointestinal problems, weight loss, weakness, anemia, cyanosis (a bluish coloration due to lack of oxygen), hyperglycemia and seizures. Also other signs noted include lethargy, greenish diarrhea, recumbency and death.
Early diagnosis involves bloodwork, x-rays and measurement of heavy metals in blood samples. Prompt treatment saves many birds lives. If you suspect your bird is sick see a competent avian veterinarian immediately.
Remember that cooking with non-stick cookware can be deadly to your birds!