Parrot with lead in her system: remediation questions
September 13, 2019 1:52 PM   Subscribe

Our African Grey parrot, Gracie, has heavy-metal poisoning from zinc and is undergoing chelation therapy. The vet gives her a very good prognosis.. We have a lot of questions about what what our next steps for her cage and around the house should be. Please tell us what you know.

Questions we have that were not answered by the vet:

Is it possible to tell whether the poisoning was acute or chronic? That is, is it likely to have occurred from one incident with a toxin, or more likely to have built up over time?

Is there a test that can tell us whether any given item contains zinc? Gracie has been using the same cage for years, and also spends quite a bit of time out and about in the house. We want to figure out whether we should get her a new cage, for instance, and would like to be able to test specific metal items if possible. I know there is a lead test that is a kind of pen; is there anything like that from zinc?

We have one other parrot, who lives in a separate cage in a different room. How at risk is he? We can follow the same remediation steps as we are doing with Gracie, but should we have him tested?

What reliable sources can you point me to with information about zinc and parrots? My googling so far shows that this is a known thing and a common risk.

What questions are we not thinking of? Gracie is very beloved and my children in particular want to be reassured that we can take good care of her and keep her healthy.
posted by Orlop to Pets & Animals (10 answers total)
Doesn't the cat tax apply to parrots as well?
posted by Melismata at 1:56 PM on September 13, 2019 [14 favorites]

Is the cage magnetic? (Does it stick to a magnet.) If so it is less likely to be stainless steel, which means it is more likely to be zinc-plated carbon steel. Zinc (often electroplated, with a chromate conversion coating) is ubiquitous as a coating for steel. Anything shiny and magnetic, and lots of things that aren’t shiny but are magnetic, are zinc plated.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 1:58 PM on September 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

Fine, Melismata: Here are two pics of Gracie, and one bonus pic of our beautiful Cherry-head Conure Vito.

Gracie is 21 or 22 years old, and Vito is just a couple of years younger.
posted by Orlop at 2:20 PM on September 13, 2019 [9 favorites]

I'm so sorry to hear this, but happy that the outcome is good. Some sources can be:

- metal zippers
- toys with mystery metal
- fasteners on cabinets
- screws
- jewelry
- pennies

Brass is a zinc alloy.

Anything shiny that can be mlemed or eaten is suspect.
posted by Calzephyr at 3:25 PM on September 13, 2019

Possibly from
Chewing the cage bars?
Rubbing cheeks on a bell?
Metal water container?
Foot contact on a metal perch?
Fruit in a metal dish? (The acidic juice etching the zinc plating from the bowl)?
posted by nouvelle-personne at 3:43 PM on September 13, 2019

Pot metal is a low strength casting metal with a high zinc content that is used for fittings and fixtures. Common items that are made from pot metal are toys, cheap tools, cheap jewelry, electronics, automotives details like badges and knobs, and cheap metal furnishings (usually not pots though as the pot in pot metal comes from how it was manufactured in the old days rather than use).
posted by Mitheral at 5:05 PM on September 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

Yes, I would definitely suspect a metal toy, though caging is a plausible source as well. Do you have any cages with a powder coating (i.e., that textured paint)? Do your birds like to scrape off the paint? They're generally quite safe (all of our cages are powder coated), but I could see the underlying metal or the primer underneath the powder coat having some zinc in it.

So if you've noticed a lot of paint missing or cracking on your cages, you may want to consider stainless steel caging. (Which is, unfortunately, a lot more expensive.)
posted by tobascodagama at 5:48 PM on September 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

This happened with a friend's eclectus. She was chewing on the cage - I think that's your best bet. I don't know of a way to test, but she found scratches on the cage and there weren't other metal things around that the bird was coming into daily contact with - so the diagnosis was pretty easy.
posted by SoundInhabitant at 6:52 AM on September 14, 2019

Thanks all. We are able to switch her to a new cage today and are replacing perches & toys—shopping for ones we know are safe.

The vet says we should see improvement in a few days on the injections she’s getting twice a day so we are feeling optimistic.
posted by Orlop at 7:14 AM on September 14, 2019 [2 favorites]

Not a Zinc source, but we had an amazon Double Yellowhead that would get to the floor and fight with the curtain bottoms. Many use Lead pellets to weight the bottom hem of the curtains. They were just the right size to interest "Falco"... problems ensued. ;^) On preview this sounds like he passed... twenty years later and he's still doing well... and still getting into trouble.
posted by ScotsLament at 10:01 AM on September 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

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