Here's how Jo the Galah's busy beak got her into trouble, written by the team at Avian Veterinary Services.
When she was presented to the clinic one night in her carrier, with her head tucked behind her wing and non-responsive to all around her, we knew she was in trouble! The owners reported that she may have been a bit quieter the day before, but when they came home to find her in her daytime outdoor aviary, having apparently not eaten a thing during the day, or even played with her foraging toys which she normally destroys with gusto, they jumped in the car and headed down the M6.
A quiet anorexic bird in our opinion is a medical emergency as dehydration is a killer whatever the disease process and due to a bird’s rapid metabolism, the time frame we have to respond is much shorter than it is for a cat or dog.
Jo was hospitalized immediately for fluid therapy and supportive medication to stabilize her, with a view to further diagnostics to try and figure out what was going on as this typical 'sick bird' presentation can be anything from low calcium, through trauma to grumbling infections that the bird hides until they are unable to put on a brave face any longer.
Dietary deficiencies were unlikely in this case as she was fed on a commercial pelleted diet (in this case Harrisons) supplemented with fruit and vegetables and being in her aviary during the day had plenty of access to natural daylight and therefore essential ultra violet rays.
There had been no obvious history of trauma, no recent contact with new birds (and so infectious disease was lower down the list) and there had been no recent changes in husbandry. We were at this point at a bit of a loss as to what was going on.
Once stable however, X rays demonstrated the presence of small metallic fragments in the ventriculus/gizzard (see image) and blood work revealed a high white blood cell count indicative of infection/tissue injury and evidence of mild liver damage.
Based on the above we requested the lab checked the blood for heavy metals which revealed a very high zinc level consistent with severe toxicity.
Once tipped off as to the cause, the owners went on a hunt for a source and found a small area where Jo's small but busy and powerful busy beak had managed to chip away at an area of galvanized aviary mesh and ingest the tiny fragments.
This was despite the best efforts of Jo's owners who followed advice to wire brush and wipe down the mesh with dilute vinegar solution to remove powder and particulate matter prior to use.
We now had our diagnosis and once we added a chelation agent into the treatment regime (a series of injections that binds to the zinc in the blood and helps remove it) Jo immediately started to show signs of improvement.
She began vocalizing to us and her normally ravenous appetite returned over a period of 3-5 days to the point she was maintaining her own body weight/hydration without our intervention and so it was decided she would be better off at home with the owners continuing medication.
Due to the small nature of the fragments and powerful grinding action of the gizzard in this case we were able to manage the toxic material by chemically removing it from the blood stream while the gizzard ground it up and it was passed out in the stools. In cases where larger fragments are present either endoscopy or surgery is indicated.
Zinc poisoning in Parrots may occur far more frequently than is diagnosed. As already pointed out above one of the most common sources is new galvanized wire although galvanized dishes, coins, car keys, staples, zippers and even some leg rings and rubber toys may contain significant amounts.
If left untreated it eventually leads to permanent liver, kidney, pancreas and nervous system damage although if addressed early as in this case it is a curable condition with in most cases no long lasting term effects. Thankfully in this case due to the owners’ rapid response and our medical intervention Jo has made a full recovery and is back to her normal cheeky self!
For further information on the above or if you have any concerns please contact your local avian veterinarian for advice. Find the nearest one to you here.