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When our bird starting acting strange, we were lucky enough to know very quickly that we could be dealing with lead toxicity. This knowledge helped us realize that we needed to get him to the vet right away. That said, I kept trying to find out more after the diagnosis, and I had a hard time finding an owner who had shared their story. So, I'm going to share our story, and I really hope it helps you if this is something you're dealing with as well. (read more)
As always, I have made a video talking about what's in this blog post. If you'd like to watch it, here you go:
Cockatiel Lead Poisoning - Our Story
Tuko is our one year old, male cockatiel. We have had him since August or September of 2018. He came to us from a local breeder who hand fed all of his birds, making Tuko an extremely sweet, affectionate, and personable bird.
Basically, Tuko has a routine each day. He gets up, we feed him, we bring his cage out into the living room, open the cage door, and he flies around the house doing whatever he wants.
Mostly he wants to be with a human, on our shoulder, getting neck scritches, occasionally singing to a mirror or pecking at us until we whistle his favorite songs, etc.
What he doesn't do is sleep. Pretty much he's up for the day from about 8 a.m. until 7:30 p.m.. He might slow down and stare out a window or perch quietly on your leg or computer, but he always has energy and is always looking around, making sure you're not doing something without him.
Here's Tuko singing some of his favorite songs. This is normal behavior.
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Thursday, June 27, 2019
Around noon on Thursday I was packing up my purse and getting ready to go to the grocery store. My oldest was playing on his computer, my youngest was watching TV, and Tuko was sitting on a perch at the open door of his cage.
He was fluffy and in a squat position, one that I have only seen him do when he's about to go to sleep at night.
His eyes were half open, and basically he looked exhausted.
This was not normal behavior.
I asked my son if he'd noticed Tuko doing anything odd, or if he'd eaten anything out of the ordinary. It was at this time that my son told me he'd noticed Tuko chewing on one of his pellet gun pellets a few days ago, but that he'd taken it away and thrown it in the trash.
All of my alarm bells started ringing.
Tuko is our first bird, but I did a lot of research before getting him. I knew that metal was bad for birds. I didn't know what the pellets were made of, but I had a sinking suspicion they were made of lead, which is extremely poisonous.
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We'd purchased the pellets on Amazon a couple of years ago when we got him a pellet gun for Christmas. He and my husband like to go outside and "plink". We live on a lot of acreage, so it's a fun thing to do while knowing you're not going to inadvertently hit someone with a pellet.
Lead shot is illegal, but apparently lead pellets, even those intended for hunting small game, is still freely sold.
I didn't know for sure the pellets were lead until I was standing in the vet's office trying to show her what Tuko had been chewing on. Now that I know they're lead, we've tossed them out. The last thing I want to do is bear the responsibility of having a bird come pick a pellet off the ground of our back acreage.
Once we realized what he'd been chewing on, we packed him up in his travel carrier and drove to our nearest Avian Vet.
If you are looking for a good cage for vet visits, I recommend this one. It's small enough to pack up quickly, and gives you a clear view of your bird. If your bird is frightened, you can easily place a small towel over the top to make him less anxious in new surroundings.
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We live in a very small town outside Houston, TX. We had to go to another county for treatment, and the Avian Vet we saw was the only one in the entire county.
Still, she could not treat Tuko.
She was able to examine him and tell us what would have to happen for diagnosis, but since we felt so strongly that this was indeed lead toxicity, she recommended we make the drive to Houston to see a vet who could perform the tests and begin treatment right away.
We agreed, and so we got back in the car and headed to Gulf Coast Veterinary Specialists in Houston where we met with Dr. Chen. Dr. Chen was wonderful, very knowledgeable, and was able to get Tuko into Chelation treatment right away.
If you don't know what Chelation is, it's basically a method where Chelate is either injected into the bird, or given orally (if the bird isn't too weak to eat). The Chelate binds the heavy metal, keeping it from absorbing into the organs and allowing it to be excreted.
What the Chelate does not do is destroy the heavy metal already present in the bird.
An X-Ray showed us that Tuko had a gizzard full of metal. If you'll look for the bright white on the X-Ray in the lower right, you'll see the metal.
Our hope was that maybe, just maybe, Tuko had eaten some other metal, something that wasn't so bad for him, or maybe he'd picked up some rocks or dirt the kids had tracked into the house.
We wouldn't know for sure until we got his blood panel back.
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