By Margaret A. Wissman, DVM, DABVP — Avian Practice
Pencils and erasers might seem like a fun toy to your pet parrot, but the metal or glue could pose toxicosis issues.
Pencils and erasers have some type of near-magical draw for some pet birds, so they are often chewed and sometimes swallowed. Erasers are manufactured according to certain standards, and those made and sold in the United States should be non toxic. The biggest concern with a bird that has ingested an eraser or parts of it would be from mechanical obstruction in the gastrointestinal tract, although I would consider the risk to be quite low.
A pencil eraser is composed of vulcanized vegetable oil and artificial coloring agents, while others contain rubber. Some manufacturers use pumice as a type of grit, and many contain antioxidants and oxidizing agents. Increasingly, erasers are being made from vinyl with pumice.
Most pencil erasers are attached to the pencil with a metal device called a ferrule. Ferrules are usually crimped on to the end of the pencil or are glued on. The coating on the ferrule might also be ingested by an inquisitive bird if it flakes off, or possibly, a larger bird could swallow the entire ferrule. Radiographs (x-rays) should be able to tell you if your bird has ingested any metal.
Today, most people are aware that pencils do not contain lead but are made from graphite, which is one form of carbon (the diamond is another form of carbon). Graphite is mixed with clay to form what we call pencil lead. If ingested, pencil lead should pose no health issues. Any paint used on pencils is non toxic, as all paints are that are produced in the States.
While the components of a pencil and eraser should be non-toxic, metal or glue could pose toxicosis issues, so if you suspect that your bird has ingested any portion of a pencil, it is always best to call your avian vet for advice.