Hazards for Pet Birds

Yarmouth Veterinary Center

75 Willow Street
Yarmouth , ME 04096





Birds are curious in nature and certain dangerous objects may be attractive to them. As most pet birds have clipped wings, remain caged, or have limited activity outside their cages, poisonings are not common. However, birds with free household access or free ranging birds are at most risk of becoming exposed to poisonous items.

What are common chemical hazards for birds?
Chemical hazards can be ingested, inhaled or topically applied.

Zinc is a common avian toxin. Sources of zinc include hardware such as wire, screws, bolts, and nuts and US pennies. Pennies minted since 1983 contain 99.2% zinc and 0.8% copper and one penny contains approximately 2,440-mg of elemental zinc. The process of galvanization involves the coating of wire or other material with a zinc based compound to prevent rust. Owners are often not aware of galvanization on the wire used for making cages. Food and water dishes may also be galvanized and sufficient zinc may leach into the water or food to create toxicity. Although the exact toxicologic mechanisms of zinc in birds or other animals are not known, zinc poisoning can affect the kidneys, liver, and red blood cells. Clinical signs of zinc poisoning in birds may include increased urination, increased thirst, diarrhea, weight loss, weakness, anemia, and seizures.

Lead. Like zinc, lead exposure can be unexpected. Sources of lead include paint, toys, drapery weights, linoleum, batteries, plumbing materials, galvanized wire, solder, stained glass, fishing sinkers, lead shot, foil from champagne bottles, and improperly glazed bowls. Lead is considered to be one of the most commonly reported avian poisonings. Lead affects multiple tissues, especially the gastrointestinal tract, kidneys, and nervous system. Clinical signs seen in psittascine birds are often vague and may include lethargy, weakness, inappetence, regurgitation, increased urination, incoordination, circling, and convulsions. In some species, such as Amazons, bloody urine may also be noted.

Nicotine products are also hazardous. Tobacco products contain varying amounts of nicotine with cigarettes containing 13-30 mg and cigars containing 15-40 mg. Butts contain about 25% of the total nicotine content. Nicotine is also found as a natural form of insecticide. Signs develop quickly in most species, usually within 15-45 minutes and include excitation, panting, salivation, and vomiting. Muscle weakness, twitching, depression, increased heart rate, breathing difficulty, collapse, coma, and cardiac arrest may follow. Death from nicotine toxicoses may occur secondary to respiratory paralysis. Contact dermatitis and feather destructive behavior could also result from cigarette smoke deposition on perches, skin, or feathers.

Chemicals used for ectoparasite control can produce toxicity. Care should be taken when applying chemicals such as avermectins, fipronil, lufenuron etc.

What are common inhalant hazards?
The avian respiratory tract is extremely sensitive to inhalants. Any strong odor or smoke could be potentially toxic. Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) coated cookware or cooking utensils can emit toxic fumes when overheated (> 280 degree F). Clinical signs may include sudden death, breathing difficulty, incoordination, depression, and restless behavior. Hemorrhage and congestion of the lungs leads to respiratory failure and death.

Examples of potentially hazardous inhalant chemicals include: some non-stick surfaces (pots, pans, cookware, irons, ironing boards), self cleaning ovens, and drip pans for ranges; gasoline or other volatile gas fumes; any source of smoke; automobile exhaust; carbon monoxide; new carpet; aerosol sprays; cleaning products, such as ammonia or bleach; paint fumes; fumigants.

Are avocados hazardous to birds?
The toxic principle in avocado is persin and leaves, fruit, bark, and seeds of the avocado have been reported to be toxic to birds and various other species. Several varieties of avocado are available, but not all varieties appear to be equally toxic. In birds, clinical effects seen with avocado poisoning include respiratory distress, generalized congestion, and death. Onset of clinical signs usually occurs after 12 hours following ingestion with death occurring within 1-2 days of the time of exposure. Small birds, such as canaries and budgies, are considered to be more susceptible, however, clinical signs have been observed in other species.

What plants are hazardous to birds?
The following is a partial list of plants that have been shown to cause toxicity in small animals. The severity of signs or toxicity of these plants in birds has not been thoroughly studied.

Cardiotoxic plants:

 Lily of the Valley- Convallaria majalis
 Oleander- Nerium oleander
 Rhododendron species
 Japanese, American, English, and Western Yew- Taxus species
 Foxgove- Digitalis purpurea
 Kalanchoe species
 Kalmia species
Nephrotoxic plants

 Rhubarb (Rheum species)- leaves only
 Lilies in Cats- all parts of plants
Hepatotoxic plants

 Cycad, Sago, Zamia Palm (Cycad species)
 Amanita mushrooms
Multi-organ toxicity

 Autumn Crocus (Colchicum species)
 Castor Bean (Ricinus species)
Oro-irritant plants (containing calcium oxalate)
These plants, contain insoluble calcium oxalate crystals, which can cause mechanical irritation of the oral cavity and tongue of birds when plant material is ingested. Clinical signs that are usually include regurgitation, oral pain, swallowing difficulty, and inappetence. The signs are rarely severe and usually respond to supportive care.

 Peace lilies (Spathiphyllum sp)
 Calla lily (Zantedeschia aethiopiea)
 Philodendron (Philodendron sp)
 Dumb Cane ( Dieffenbachia sp)
 Mother in Law plant (Monstera sp)
 Pothos (Epipremnum sp)
Neurotropic (psychotropic) plants
These plants can cause hallucinations etc in some species. Catnip affects only cats. There is some anecdotal evidence that inhalation or ingestion of cannabis has a hallucinogenic effect on birds, characterized by head-bobbing, lethargy, sedation (and uncontrollable urges to visit Jack-in-the-Box or Taco Bell at 2AM).

 Marijuana (Cannabis sativa)
What are common physical hazards for pet birds?
Heaters and stoves can cause serious burn injuries to pet birds that are allowed free access to these items. Similarly, boiling or hot liquids can pose dangers. Wood stove tops and radiator-type heaters can also be dangerous. Birds should be carefully monitored, or caged when in the vicinity of hot kitchen or heating items.

Bathroom hazards include open toilet bowls, or filled baths. Birds that are unable to swim can easily drown in either of these.

Doors can also pose physical hazards to pet birds that perch on tops of doors - closing the door while a bird is perching on top can crush toes, feet or even legs.

Yarmouth Veterinary Center