Zinc is in a lot of products and is all around the home environment, and birds being the inquisitive creatures they are, often explore new things by way of chewing on them. This chewing can lead to a build-up of zinc in your bird’s system to a very high level, high enough to even endanger your bird's life.
Zinc is a poison that accumulates in the system and is not easily eliminated. Awareness on your part as the owner is vital to prevent your bird from succumbing to zinc poisoning.
While some zinc is necessary for your bird’s health, too much zinc can cause vital organs to break down, and can even cause death.
If you suspect that your bird has ingested zinc or has is exhibiting any of the symptoms of zinc poisoning, then a trip to your veterinarian specialist is required. The sooner treatment can begin the better. Your veterinarian will make a diagnosis based on your bird’s history, and question about your cage, toys and equipment will provide a history of his environment. If you have seen your bird break off a piece of metal and swallow it, your specialist needs to know about this matter, so he knows what to treat.
Because metals show up in radiographs (x-rays) these seem to be the ideal test for heavy metal toxicity or larger metal objects. But if the metal has been in your bird’s system for some time, it may be completely dissolved and deposited in other tissues where it is hard to locate. Your specialist may do a complete blood count, plasma chemistry analysis and blood tests specifically for zinc. The blood tests are only useful for larger birds as the volume of blood needed for the tests may be prohibitive for smaller birds - only a small volume of blood can be safely drawn without causing problems.
Sometimes the laboratory work takes a few days to come back to the specialist, and if the blood work or your bird’s history supports a heavy metal toxic result, then it is imperative to begin treatment as soon as possible to minimise any damages to vital organs. Your veterinarian may begin treatment immediately rather than wait for all tests results. Chelation therapy is used to remove the zinc circulating within the bloodstream. These chelating agents are injected into the pectoral muscles; it is usually done twice daily for up to ten days. The least amount of time this treatment is done is preferable, as it can produce kidney damage and GI problems.
Also, oral cathartics can be useful for removing particles of zinc from the GI tract. These oral substances can be mineral oil, peanut butter, barium sulphate, or corn oil – usually mixed into a slurry that can be gavage fed into the crop. This treatment will cause diarrhea in your bird. The use of a magnetic instrument can help remove metals from the digestive tract whereas surgery or an endoscope can assist with the removal of zinc pieces that are visible by the x-ray. Antibiotics or antifungals may be necessary depending on the results of the tests. Your bird will remain in care until he can eat and drink without help, then he can be released to go home.
Ongoing support will be needed at home to help your bird return to health. Make sure your bird is eating and drinking, if he is not he will need to be returned to the veterinarian clinic for force feeding until he gets his appetite back. A calm, quiet environment at home will help your bird recover. Prevention for the future requires some careful searching of the environment and removal of all heavy metal objects to avoid future problems. Removing any metal bits that can be chewed, bitten or licked is advisable, and ensuring your bird's toys, food bowls and cage are free from zinc is the best practice for healthy bird care.
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