Zinc is a naturally occuring metal that is found throughout nature. It’s found in a variety of foods like oysters, red meat, whole grains, beans, nuts, and dairy products, and is essential for the health of humans. But is the same true for parrots? Can parrots have zinc?
The answer to this question is twofold. Yes, it’s completely safe to incorporate zinc into a parrots diet. In fact, zinc plays a large role in a parrot’s health and well being. With that being said, food isn’t the only place that zinc comes into play. When zinc coating is used for a parrots cage, wiring, or toys, it can result in something called zinc toxicity that can be very dangerous for your parrot.
But what exactly is zinc toxicity? And why is it so bad for your parrot? Today we will answer all of these questions along with several others including:
- Why do parrots need zinc in their diet? What will happen if they don’t have enough zinc in their diet?
- How can you incorporate zinc into your parrots diet?
- How can you keep your parrot safe from zinc toxicity?
- And what should you do if your parrot is showing signs of zinc toxicity?
So let’s not waste another minute:
Why do Parrots need Zinc in their diet?
Zinc is a nutrient that both humans and parrots need to stay healthy. In humans, zinc helps the immune system to fight off viruses and bacteria. It also helps to make DNA, proteins, and other genetic material. For this reason, zinc is especially important during pregnancy, infancy, and childhood. But does the same hold true for parrots?
Absolutely. While zinc doesn’t work exactly the same in humans and parrots, it’s also essential for a parrots well-being. In parrots, zinc helps to form insulin. It also ensures that Vitamin A functions properly, and aides in cellular reproduction. In addition, zinc is essential for the healthy development of cartilage, and bones, and feathers.
What will happen if parrots don’t get enough zinc in their diet? Without enough zinc, parrots can face what is known as zinc deficiency. When a parrot is deficient in zinc levels they can experience abnormal bone growth, dermatitis, and impaired functioning of the T-cells and immune system.
What is Zinc Toxicity?
In addition to being in our food, zinc is also incorporated into a lot of our products around the home. In terms of parrots, there are many wiring cages that are coated in zinc.
This can lead to a problem because parrots are very inquisitive birds. As inquisitive birds, they like to explore things with their mouths. But when a parrot explores something like a zinc cage with their mouth, this can lead to a buildup of zinc within the system, which can then lead to what is known as zinc toxicity.
Zinc toxicity can be caused in two different ways. Acute toxicity is when your parrot intakes one or two large doses of zinc (ie. they swallow an object made of zinc). Chronic toxicity is when your parrot intakes small amounts of the toxin over time (ie. they chew or pick at a galvanized steel or iron cage). Both cases can be equally as damaging to a parrots system.
The good news is, it’s highly unlikely that your parrot will get zinc toxicity from the food that they eat. They can, however, get zinc toxicity from:
- Swallowing objects and parts made of zinc
- Swallowing metal parts off of their toys or cage
- Chewing on galvanized wire, clips, or chains
What are the signs and symptoms of Zinc Toxicity?
If your parrot has ingested large amounts of zinc, the results can be deadly. Zinc toxicity can not only lead to nerve dystrophy and neurological problems, but it can also cause perosis (leg deformity) and pancreatic cell necrosis. It can also lead a parrot to pluck at and damage their feathers.
If you are concerned that your parrot has ingested zinc, watch for signs of zinc poisoning. These can include, but are not limited to:
- Diarrhea and vomiting
- Blood in stool
- Loss of feathers and plumage
- Weakness or inability to walk
- Shallow breathing
- Regurgitation of food
In severe cases zinc poisoning can also lead to death. Zinc toxicity in parrots can be severe and is not something to be taken lightly. If you are worried that your parrot has ingested a large amount of zinc, contact your veterinarian immediately.
How is Zinc Toxicity diagnosed and treated?
If you think your parrot has ingested large amounts of zinc, you should take them to the veterinarian immediately. The sooner the veterinarian can begin treatment, the better the prognosis.
Always be sure to tell your veterinarian as much as you can. They may ask you questions about your parrots history, about why you suspect your parrot has zinc toxicity, and questions about your parrots cage and toys. The more information you can give them, the easier it will make diagnosis.
If your parrot has recently swallowed a toy or other piece of metal, your veterinarian may request an x-ray. If the metal has been building in your parrots body over time, an x-ray may not show the metal as it may have already dissolved into the system.
In such a case your veterinarian may order blood count tests, chemistry analysis tests, and other tests that look specifically for zinc within the system.
If results suggest that heavy metal is present, treatment will begin as soon as possible. The most common treatment for zinc toxicity is Chelation therapy. In this therapy, chelating agents are injected into the pectoral muscles of the parrot for up to ten consecutive days. This will help to remove any zinc that is circulating in the system.
Other treatments can include oral substances, the use of magnetic instruments, and/or surgery. Antibiotics are also an option. Your veterinarian should keep your parrot until they are able to eat and drink fluids on their own. From there, ongoing support may be necessary to ensure that your parrot is returning to good health.
Prognosis depends on the severity of the toxicity.
How can you prevent zinc toxicity in parrots?
Though zinc toxicity can be treatable, prevention is the best option.
The best way to prevent zinc toxicity is by avoiding any cages or metal that has been galvanized. Galvanizing is the process during which a thin coat of zinc is plated on metal in order to reduce the likelihood of corrosion and to increase weather resistance.
Unfortunately, if your cage is galvanized and your parrot decides to chew on the cage (like many do), they can incur zinc poisoning.
You can also reduce the likelihood of zinc poisoning by carefully selecting your parrots toys. Avoid any toys that have metal components like buckles or bells that could be broken off and swallowed.
Should I feed my parrot zinc?
As we mentioned previously, the good news is that your parrot is highly unlikely to get zinc poisoning from food. And, also as previously mentioned, zinc is a necessary part of a parrots diet.
You can ensure that your parrot gets their daily intake of zinc by adding foods like legumes (chickpeas, lentils, beans), seeds, nuts, eggs, and whole grains to their diet.
In conclusion, yes, parrots can have zinc – and they need it. But zinc intake should be limited to food. Avoid cages that have galvanized wiring and other zinc products.
If your parrot does intake zinc (other than in their diet), take them to the veterinarian immediately. The sooner you can get your parrot treatment, the better the prognosis will be.