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Zinc Toxicosis

New Wire Disease, Heavy-metal Poisoning

Zinc toxicosis occurs somewhat often in domestic and wild waterfowl, such as ducks. In wild ducks, it is usually caused by an environmental spill or purposeful dumping of heavy metal into natural water bodies such as lakes, streams, rivers, detention ponds, etc. In domestic ducks, it is most often the result of ducks eating small and shiny metal objects containing zinc. Ducks will find zinc objects while dabbling in mud in backyards, within their pens, or inside homes or barns where ducks are brought into and left to roam.

When ducks ingest a zinc object, such as a penny, as the gastrointestinal track begins to break down the object, the zinc coating is released and absorbed within the body. Once absorbed, zinc will cause damage to the duck's red blood cells, pancreas and gizzard. Zinc toxicosis can present as an acute or chronic form, depending on the amount of zinc ingested and/or how quickly the object containing the zinc is absorbed into the duck's bloodstream. Zinc toxicosis often resembles lead intoxication.

Zinc and zinc compounds are used in galvanizing steel or iron, production of brass, bronze, and other alloy metals. This is important to keep in mind, being that almost any steel product that is sold and marketed as 'for outdoor use', more than likely has been galvanized. Sources of zinc include:
  • United States (US) pennies made after 1983: In most cases, swallowing a single US penny (one cent coin) can be fatal to ducks; post-1983 pennies contain 98% (2,440 mg) of zinc.
  • Connecting hardware: Nails, bolts, plumbing nuts, nuts, washers, screws, staples, etc.
  • Galvanized metal: Hardware cloth, chain link fence materials, coated metal cage wire, metal bowls
  • Improperly mixed waterfowl or poultry feeds
  • Human body care products: Anti-dandruff shampoos, deodorant, diaper rash ointment contain zinc
  • Other tiny metal objects: Zippers, keys, Monopoly game pieces, bird toy snaps, cage clips
  • Antifouling paints
  • Fertilizers
  • Environment: Contaminated soil, vegetation, or water.


Increased thirst
Green to yellow droppings
Posterior paresis/paralysis
Loss of appetite
Weight loss


  • History
  • Clinical signs
  • Radiography - To conirm the presence of a foreign object.
  • Radiographs
  • Endoscopic exam
  • Laboratory testing - raised serum zinc
  • Necropsy - Elevated zinc levels in the pancreas


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.
Calcium EDTA30-35 mg/kg IM BID for 5 days
D-Penicillamine30 mg/kg PO BID for 7 days minimum
SurgeryUsually required in cases where ducks ingest a foreign body, such as a penny or other metal object.

Reported Cases

  • Case 1: Ingestion of a nail in a Pigeon A 2-year-old female pigeon was evaluated because of a 5-day history of lower than typical activity level, weight loss, and polyuria. Whole-body radiography revealed a linear metallic foreign body in the area of the ventriculus. Fluoroscopy followed by contrast-enhanced CT was performed to further characterize the lesion location, revealing that the foreign body had perforated the ventral aspect of the ventriculus wall and that the ventral extremity of the foreign body was surrounded by a mass, consistent with a granuloma. A midline celiotomy was performed, and a large granuloma was identified ventral to the ventriculus, adherent to the dorsal aspect of the keel bone. The metallic foreign body (a nail) was removed, and the content of the granuloma was debrided. Amoxicillin-clavulanic acid (150 mg/kg [68.2 mg/lb], PO, q 12 h for 10 days), meloxicam (1 mg/kg [0.45 mg/lb], PO, q 12 h for 5 days), and sucralfate (100 mg/kg [45 mg/lb], PO, q 8 h for 10 days) were prescribed. The pigeon made a successful recovery and was still doing well at a 1-year recheck evaluation. Ref


  • Scrubbing all new galvanized cage wiring with a mildly acidic solution such as vinegar, then drying carefully, may reduce zinc levels
  • Be mindful about leaving pennies and other potentially harmful metal objects around where ducks are kept or whatever environment they are brought into, even temporarily.
  • When constructing outdoor enclosures, carefully search for and remove any bits of galvanized hardware cloth, staples, nuts, bolts, nails, etc. upon completion, prior to introducing ducks.



Risk Factors

  • Free ranging ducks - Ducks that are provided free range access may potentially discover and ingest buried metal objects in the surrounding soil and any natural waterbodies.
  • House ducks - Domestic ducks that are left unsupervised in houses.
  • Construction sites - Areas used for construction, including the very construction of the enclosure or shelter used by ducks.

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