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Heavy Metal Poisoning

Find out the signs of heavy metal poisoning in pet birds and how a veterinarian would treat it.

Margaret A. Wissman, DVM
Posted: February 5, 2013, 1:45 p.m. PST


Zinc and lead poisoning are probably the most common types of poisoning found in pet birds. The ingestion of these toxins that poison birds is also known as New Wire Disease and usually occurs in curious, inquisitive birds that tend to chew on their cages or destroy toys, which results in the ingestion of some of the materials. All birds are susceptible to heavy-metal toxicosis if exposed to the toxins.

Woman with kitten
By Gina Cioli/BowTie Studio
Some clincal signs of zinc and lead poisoning are lethargy, anemia, chronic weight loss and more.
Diagnosing zinc or lead poisoning first includes a review of the bird’s surroundings, such as their bird cagebird toys and other equipment directly around them. Anything the bird may come in contact with outside of the bird cage must also be taken into consideration in the case that any of the objects contain the metal toxins. The metals may have already dissolved in the bird’s GI tract and dispersed to other tissues; therefore they may not show in a radiograph.


Clinical signs of lead and/or zinc poisoning include: lethargy, depression, decreased appetite, chronic weight loss, weakness (such as droopy wings), diarrhea, regurgitation, increased urination, ataxia, anemia, blindness, circling, head tremors, head tilt, seizures or death.


If when evaluating a bird’s surrounding it is found the bird may have been exposed to metal toxins, treatment may need to be administered before the clinical test results are returned. Chelation therapy is used to remove lead and zinc that may be circulating the bird’s bloodstream. Chelation agents, such as CaEDTA (calcium disodium ethylene diamine tetracetate) and calcium disodium versenate, are used to treat birds poisoned by zinc or lead. These agents are administered as injections to the pectoral muscles twice daily for 10 days. The agents can cause kidney and GI problems and should be used for the shortest amount of time possible.

For both lead and zinc poisoning the oral chelation agent DMSA (dimercaptosuccinic acid) is the preferred treatment and can be used in conjunction with CaEDTA.


If a bird shows increased urination or water consumption, or has protein or blood in their urine while receiving the chelation agents, the treatment may need to be discontinued and restarted after the bird is stabilized.

Oral cathartic can also remove lead and zinc particles from a bird’s GI tract and mineral oil, peanut butter, barium sulfate, psyllium, sodium sulfate or corn oil can be placed in the crop using a tube until the metal toxin are gone from the gut. Endoscopy or surgery may be called for the remove metal particles from the GI tract.

While a bird is being treated for zinc or lead poisoning, support care will also need to be done. Fluid therapy, antibiotics or antifungals may be necessary to treat secondary infections. Heat and humidity; iron and vitamin B injections and nutritional support should also be provided when a bird has been exposed to heavy metal toxins.

Disclaimer:’s Bird Health Index is intended for educational purposes only. It is not meant to replace the expertise and experience of a professional veterinarian. Do not use the information presented here to make decisions about your bird’s health if you suspect your pet is sick. If your pet is showing signs of illness or you notice changes in your bird’s behavior, take your pet to the nearest veterinarian or an emergency pet clinic as soon as possible.

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Heavy Metal Poisoning

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Reader Comments
Great article!
Hema, Humble, TX
Posted: 3/20/2015 3:46:38 AM
Thank you very much for this life saving information.
Craig, Kalamazoo, MI
Posted: 3/18/2013 2:01:12 PM
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