Plant toxicosis in birds: educating owners

01 October 2010
10 mins read
Volume 1 · Issue 1


Veterinary professionals should educate bird owners on which plants may be highly poisonous as prevention of plant toxicosis is imperative. Accidental exposure by even the most well-intentioned pet owner may occur because of lack of general awareness about plants that are toxic to birds. Aggressive decontamination is the mainstay for preventing clinical toxicosis. Once poisoned, crop lavage followed by administration of activated charcoal is imperative to prevent further absorption of the toxicant by birds. Supportive and symptomatic care (in the form of nutritional support, fluid therapy, etc) is essential once clinical signs have already developed. This article reviews commonly available plants that are toxic to birds, and discusses the underlying mechanism of action of toxicosis and general treatment recommendations.

Millions of people worldwide have a fondness for the avian species. In the US alone, over 10 million birds are kept as pets. Birds are beautiful to watch in the wild, and a great loving companion animal to own, but are extremely complex because of their specific nutritional needs, husbandry, behavioral concerns, and anatomy. Veterinary professionals and bird enthusiasts often are unaware of the dangers of toxicosis from certain plants, and may have difficulty determining healthy, non-toxic plants that can be given to a bird to ingest and to play with. This article will highlight some of the plants that are commonly kept in the home or in the garden that can be harmful or fatal to companion parrots or other birds, and that should be avoided.

In the realm of veterinary medicine, actual cases of plant toxicoses in birds are not well documented. From 2004 to 2010, Pet Poison Helpline, an animal poison control based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA, and Toxcall, an animal poison control based in London, UK, received over 1200 calls relating to toxic exposures in birds alone, with approximately 2% of these calls comprising plant-related calls. Actual numbers affected by toxins from plants may, however, be higher because some bird owners may not be financially vested in calling for toxicity advice, while others may not correlate their bird's illness with symptoms that develop secondary to plant toxicosis. Most companion birds are kept caged for the majority of the time and ingestion of great quantities is generally not possible; in these situations, exposure is often caught quickly. In addition, the curious, playful nature of birds means that most plants that birds come in contact with are shredded and played with, rather than ingested. Because of this, and in combination with the rapid gastrointestinal (GI) motility rate of birds, many of the frequent plant toxicities that are often seen typically only involve local oral irritation (Gfeller and Messonnier, 2004). However, because of the small size of birds, their stoic nature, and their often delicate and unpredictable health, a few plants warrant careful consideration. Appropriate client education is imperative as it will aid in poisoning prevention by even the most well-intentioned bird owner.

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