Exposing pet birds to various metals and substances in their environment --such as rust -- risks heavy metal poisoning. Some birds obsessively chew on their cages, and may ingest flakes of rust or other metals. Other birds may be affected by evaporating chemicals from cage coatings and paints. A good rule of thumb to practice when housing your bird is: If you think it might be toxic, it probably is.
The Heavy News
Metals that are potentially poisonous to birds include:
Of these, the most common culprits in heavy metal poisoning are lead, zinc and iron. While zinc and iron are both found naturally in foods, heavy consumption of it -- as can happen with biting cage bars -- is highly dangerous.
Iron poisoning is most caused by rust flaking from a cage, and can lead to "iron storage disease," causing organ failure, nervous system damage and blindness. Zinc is another risky metal, as galvanized cages are a major source of zinc. Lead toxins can be ingested from cage solders, nearby paint chips or window frames.
When It's Too Much
Signs and symptoms of heavy metal poisoning in birds include the inability to keep water down despite excessive thirst, lethargy, depression and loss of motor functions; this includes uncontrolled trembling and seizures.
If you think your bird may have been exposed to heavy metals or similar toxins, it is important to get him checked by your vet right away. X-rays can determine what type of metal may be causing your bird's symptoms, and treatment can begin right away. If the poisoning is caught in time, your feathered friend has a better chance of making a full recovery.
It never hurts to check with a vet about your bird's housing. They can help confirm or allay your fears about potential poisoning, and guide you to safe choices that will make both you and your sharp-beaked pal safe and happy.
Making Old Things New
Prevention of metals such as rust from poisoning your bird can be as simple as being watchful. If you plan to refurbish an old cage, for example, test the metal to see if it contains anything potentially lethal. Make sure the cage wires have not been patched or soldered, clean the entire cage free from rust and use professional powder-coated finishes or high-quality spray paint. The spray covers the cage in a layer of paint that is very thin, and therefore more difficult for a bird to chew.
Allow the finish to dry for 7 to 10 days before introducing your bird to his new home. This will keep him safe from the natural evaporation of chemicals from the paint, in a process known as "flashing."