Heavy Metal Poisoning Dr Stephen Cutter B.V.Sc(hons)
A very sad looking Galah called Gerry sat in my consult room this week. In the last two days he had stopped eating and talking. Gerry was usually the life of the party, singing, screaming and dancing, always the centre of attention. Now he sat feathers fluffed swaying slightly because he was so weak. His tail was stained with diarrhoea.
Gerry was used to wandering around his house, he had his wings clipped but never tried to fly away. Like most Galahs however Gerry tested most things with his mouth and this is what had gotten him into trouble.
Gerry had found a small shiny piece of metal (a piece of jewellery as it turned out) and had swallowed it. An xray showed the problem up beautifully, a small metal bead sitting in his crop. As the metal was so large it was decided to remove the bead surgically once Gerry was stabilised. Gerry recovered well from the surgery and returned to his old self with remarkable speed. By the next day he was his bright loud self.
Heavy metal poisoning is the most common problem (next to injury) I treat birds for. It causes all sorts of signs - diarrhoea, vomiting, lethargy, odd behaviours, seizures and death. All members of the parrot family are keen chewers (some more than others) and the amount of heavy metal in the environment is enormous. House pets can find it in toys, jewellery, even old paint. Aviary birds generally get it from chewing the galvanising off their cage wire. (“new wire disease”).
Treatment is generally medical and involves a series of injections of a metal binder and sometimes crop feeding with oil and peanut butter to flush the little pieces of metal through. Occasionally, such as with one large piece of metal, as in Gerry's case, surgery is the better option. Most birds recover well if treated early enough.