Heavy Metal Poisoning in Birds

By PetMD Editorial on Jul. 1, 2008

Avian Heavy Metal Poisoning

Birds are easily poisoned by the heavy metals found in their environment. Each heavy metal causes distinct symptoms and affects birds differently. The three heavy metals which commonly poison birds are lead, zinc, and iron.

Symptoms and Types

Common symptoms your bird may suffer from, if it is poisoned by a heavy metal, include:

  • Constant thirst
  • Regurgitation of water
  • Listlessness
  • Weakness
  • Depression
  • Tremors
  • Loss of coordinated movements
  • Seizures

Zinc and iron are present in food and are required in small amounts for a healthy bird. But when abnormal amounts are present in the bird's body, the same heavy metals can lead to poisoning. Lead poisoning is no longer as common as it once because people have become more aware of the potential danger, and are taking precautions so that it does not happen to their birds.

Heavy metal poisoning with iron can lead to iron storage disease, which causes the the nutrient to deposit in the internal organs of the body. This can lead to liver problems and damage other organs.


When you suspect heavy metal poisoning in your bird, get it checked immediately by a veterinarian. X-rays will usually be taken of the gizzard, which can identify the type of heave metal; blood tests can also test for heavy metals.


Chelates, an organic compound used to detoxify poisonous metal agents, are used to treat this condition. Chelating agents are repeatedly injected into the poisoned bird’s muscles until the bird's blood levels return to normal. When the bird's condition stabilizes, the chelating agent can be given orally at your home.

The recovery of the poisoned bird is generally quicker, with mild to moderate heavy metal poisoning.


You can easily avoid heavy metal poisoning by clearing any consumable heavy metals from your bird's environment (i.e., the cage and fencing materials). Instead, purchase cages and fencing made from non-toxic materials, such as stainless steel and welded wires. If your bird plays outside the cage, ensure there are no sources for heavy metal available for it to consume. Lead can be found in old paint, stained glass, lead curtain and fishing weights, and soldering.

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