Toys are important to keep our feathered friend mentally and physically stimulated. But you can’t just put any toy in their cage. Good quality toys allow birds to chew and keep their beak in shape, fulfill their need to forage, stay active on their feet and exercise to avoid obesity.
It’s important to offer a variety of textures, colours, sounds, sizes and tastes appropriate for your birdie’s size and personality. You don’t want your big bird to choke on a little toy or a large bell to frighten your little bird.
Whenever I have a bird question, I go to avian and exotics veterinarian Dr Jayne Weller. She told me she often sees pet birds with heavy metal poisoning, which can cause seizures, neurological problems and even death!
The main toxic culprits are bird cages and toys made of consumable heavy metals, such as lead. Lead can be found in old paint, lead curtain/blinds, stained glass, fishing weights and soldering. Some old houses also have lead paint on the walls (under the top coated paint) and old venetian blinds can contain metal that birds can ingest.
Dr Weller said metal (lead) tastes sweet and shiny objects, like bells and keys, are attractive to birds, who inspect it and touch the objects with their tongues, licking and picking pieces off the objects. It takes just a tiny metal piece to cause a problem!
Symptoms of metal (lead) poisoning include
- Constant thirst
- Regurgitation of water
- Not eating
- Loss of coordinated movements
Dr Weller said the metal is excreted via the droppings, but the body absorbs the toxins which then sits in the bone. Over time, the toxin leaches out of the bone and the bird can continue being sick even a long time after the metal has been pooed out, requiring hospitalisation for treatment.
To prevent lead poisoning, make sure the cage, toys and other objects in your bird’s environment are made with non-toxic materials, such as stainless steel and welded wires. The safest toys are unpainted hard plastics, untreated wood and paper.
For enrichment, Dr Weller suggested using toilet rolls, cardboard boxes and non-toxic (pesticide free) branches/sticks as natural perches, such as Bottle Brush and Eucalyptus. (Give the branches a good scrub and leave out in the sun for 24 hours before use.)
Speak to your avian vet about plants that are safe to have in the cage.
Beware of rope toys and accessories, such as perches, snugglies and huts, which have small fibers (like coconut husks or wood shavings) that can lead to a fatal blockage when chewed.
Beware of rust and treated pine or MDF (compressed wood chip) as they are toxic!
Never put feathers from other birds in the cage as they can spread disease!
If you suspect your bird has heavy metal poisoning, see an avian veterinarian immediately.
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