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Lead Poisoning

Lead poisoning is one of the most commonly reported toxic conditions in both wild and domestic ducks. In wild ducks, it is often caused by lead shotgun pellets. In domestic birds, it is often caused by ingestion of a number of different commonly found items around the home, or exposure to urban soils with high lead content.

Lead poisoning can occur as an acute or chronic condition. The chronic condition occurs slowly, over time. Once the duck ingests the material, it is retained in their gizzard where is is slowly ground down and absorbed into the bloodstream. Once in the bloodsteam, lead causes pansystemic damage, particularly to the gastrointestinal nervous, renal and hematopoietic systems.


Loss of appetite
Crop stasis
Body tremors
Abnormal behavior
Reduced egg production
Weight loss
Weakness (wing drooping, leg paresis)
Head tilt


  • History
  • Clinical signs
  • Physical exam
  • Radiographs
  • Laboratory tests


MethodMethod Summary
Supportive careIsolate the bird from the flock and place in a safe, comfortable, warm location (your own duck "intensive care unit") with easy access to water and food. Limit stress. Call your veterinarian.
Edetate calcium disodium (CaEDTA)10-40 mg/kg twice daily intramuscularly (IM-IV)
D-Penicillamine (PA)55 mg/kg orally, twice daily
Multiple B vitamins
Iron dextran
Intravenous lactated Ringer's
Dimercaprol (BAL)2.5 mg/kg IM every 4 hours for two days, then twice daily for up to 10 days or until clinical signs resolve
Removal of the source of the toxin from the body - mineral oil may help with the passage of small particles of heavy metal out of the gastrointestional tract.
Activated charcoal

Reported Cases

  • Case 1: Ingestion of lead drapery weights in a Macaw A juvenile domestic green-winged macaw was admitted to the veterinary clinic within an hour of ingestion of lead drapery weights. Radiopaque objects were evident in the crop and ventriculus. The bird was anesthetized, and the crop was lavaged to remove lead fragments. Because lead fragments remained in the ventriculus after lavage, chelation treatment was instituted. Serial radiography was done on days 2, 5, 9, and 14 to determine passage of the lead. By day 14, lead fragments were not visible radiographically. The macaw did not have ill effects from the lead ingestion or from medical treatments. Because this bird had been observed ingesting the lead weights, treatment was for foreign body ingestion initially and for lead ingestion secondarily. Ref


  • Test lead content of soil
  • Remove any materials containing lead from property



Risk Factors

  • Exposure to products containing lead
  • Previous use of land unknown
  • Lead paint chip exposure