poison symbol

Items Toxic to Birds and Household Dangers

Top Items Toxic to Birds!

  • Avocados
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Chocolate in any form
  • Coffee (grounds, beans, chocolate-covered espresso beans)
  • Tea
  • Yeast dough
  • Salt
  • Tomato leaves and stems (green parts)
  • Potato leaves and stems (green parts)
  • Rhubarb leaves
  • Cigarettes and other tobacco products
  • Moldy or spoiled foods
  • Alcoholic beverages

Dangerous Household Substances For Birds: For years birds have been used as sentries to unseen human toxins.  If the canary died down in the mine- everybody got out.  Therefore, it is not surprising that the avian species are sensitive to many household compounds – primarily heavy metals, gases and fumes, and pharmacological agents.  The following paragraphs describe various substances that you should be sure to protect your birds from coming into contact with.


Heavy Metals

Birds can be very curious – making lead poisoning the most common toxicity seen in cage and wild birds.  Unfortunately, many people are unaware of all the possible sources of lead or assume their bird would never chew on lead objects.  Overlooked lead sources include the following: antiques, stained glass lead frames, tiffany lamps, weighted items, bird toys with lead weights inside, curtain weights, scuba and fishing weights, solder and some welds on wrought iron cages or perches, some putty or plasters, bullets, air gun pellets, old paint, sheet rock, galvanized chicken wire, hardware cloth, foil from champagne or wine bottles, mirror backing, linoleum, ceramic glazes, costume jewelry, some zippers, light bulb bases, and chronic leaded gas fume exposure.

Signs of exposure to lead are non-specific.  Lethargy, depression, weakness, vomiting, excessive thirst, abnormally colored diarrhea (dark green, black or bloody), and neurological signs, (head tilt, wing droop, blindness, seizures, and paralysis) are the most common clinical signs.

Zinc toxicity can be produced by galvanized containers and mesh, zinc laden pennies, hardware cloth and zinc phosphates and phosphides.  Since zinc is soluble in soft water and organic acids, food and water contamination can occur.

Gastrointestinal signs are likely to appear at low level exposure.  Kidney, liver, and pancreas are the main organs affected in higher and longer level exposures.

Iron toxicity from chipped or poorly cast cast-iron food or water bowls presents another hazard.
Because of the insidious exposure, signs are chronic and include lethargy, anorexia, and emaciation.

Gases and Fumes

Birds are more susceptible to inhalant toxins because of their unique and complex respiratory tract.  The basic rule of thumb should be: IF IT HAS ANY ODOR OR SMOKE IT CAN BE POTENTIALLY HAZARDOUS and the bird should be removed from the premises immediately until the odor is undetectable.  This includes paint or hobby fumes, cleaning and spray products (including hair spray) and burning food fumes.  Polytetraflouroethylene (PTFE) found in non-stick cookware, drip pans, waffle irons, irons, and ironing board covers is the most common toxic gas.  When these surfaces are overheated (over 210 degrees C) the depolymerization of PTFE produces toxic fumes which cause acute death or at the very least weakness, inability to breathe and fluid accumulation in the lungs.

Toxic Plants

Much controversy surrounds plant toxicities in birds.  Those known to be toxic to mammals have been considered poisonous bur may not affect birds.  The potential for poisoning depends upon the species of bird and whether the plant was just chewed or actually ingested.  Oral and upper gastrointestinal irritation are the most common symptoms in plant toxicities. Some known toxic plants include Avocado, black locust, castor bean, clematis, lily of the valley, oleander, philodendron, poinsettia, rhododendron, yew and Virginia creeper.  Cyanide poisoning has occurred from consumption of large quantities of apple seeds, cherry pits, and immature almonds.

Mycotoxins can be found in poorly stored seed, peanuts, millet spray, silage and pelleted foods.  Humidity and heat promote mold growth on a variety of foods including corn, beans, cheese, bread, fruit juices and meat.  Clinical signs are sudden death, loss of appetite, weight loss, and depression, as well as immune system alterations.

Theobromine in chocolate is also an avian toxin and is only a problem when the bird ingests a considerable  amount compared to its size.  Depression, vomiting, convulsions, and death are the clinical manifestations.


Pesticide toxicity depends upon the use or exposure and birds can be more sensitive than mammals to its effects.  Clinical signs are similar to mammals and include loss of appetite, diarrhea, bowel slow down, clumsiness, tremors, seizures and paralysis.  Other manifestations include inability to breathe normally with congestion, slow heart rate and respiratory failure.



Birds should never be sprayed with anything other than water.  The avian species cannot regulate their body temperature if any compound has matted the feathers together.  Oils and petroleum products can cause hypothermia, dehydration, diarrhea, vomiting, pneumonia, and hemolytic anemia.




Fresh fruit

Avian Nutritional Needs


bird on hand

Avian Polyoma Virus

Avian Polyoma Virus and Awareness

The Avian Polyoma Virus has been associated with devastating disease outbreaks in companion birds in North America, Europe, Africa, and Australia for more than 15 years.  It affects psittacine birds as well as passerine birds such as finches and canaries.   Disease Caused by the virus has manifested itself in a variety of forms including budgerigar fledgling disease (often producing acute mortalities), French Moult (abnormal feather development in budgerigars) and acute mortalities in young psittacines.  Polyomavirus infection and disease signs more commonly occur in young birds, but a significant number of mortalities involving older birds have been reported, particularly Eclectus parrots, Cockatoos, Lovebirds, and Caiques.  The Virus is the type that is shed intermittently.  In other words, a bird with the virus does not constantly pass it.  It is therefore more challenging to detect.

Clinical Signs

Many young birds infected with the virus die suddenly with no outward signs of disease.  Others can become lethargic, the crop slows, they may also show signs of bruising under the skin and die within 12-48 hours.  Severe liver damage is observed at necropsy.
Psittacines are considered highly susceptible to polyomavirus infection.  The infection can occur in either parent raised or hand raised babies and signs are most frequently observed in infected birds at weaning.  Younger and older birds can also die from the infection.  Mortalities in an aviary can vary from 25-100% of the at risk young birds.


  • Polyomavirus can be transmitted in a variety of ways:
  • Direct contact with contaminated feces.
  • Feather dust
  • Secretions from the lungs or crops from infected birds


  • Serology-Done with a blood sample.  A positive test means that the bird came into contact with the virus some time but may not be shedding the virus at this time.  A negative test can still mean that the bird is shedding the virus so this test is not very useful in a clinical situation.
  • DNA Probe- This test is much more helpful in a clinical situation.  A sterile swab of the cloaca positive test indicates that the bird is actively shedding the virus. A negative test indicates that the bird is not shedding the virus at the time the test was taken but still may be carrying the virus.  A bird that is stressed, i.e. moving to a new home will usually shed the virus.
  • Histology-After the death of a bird a necropsy can be done.  Tissue samples are taken and sent to a lab where they can detect polyoma virus.  If a bird dies of unknown causes, wrap it in a bag and place in the refrigerator.  Notify your veterinarian as soon as possible.


Good hygiene and sanitation practices combined with a balanced diet may help limit risk.  It is important to follow these basic guidelines:

  • Use a closed aviary approach.  This means that no baby enters the nursery that has not come from your closed aviary.
  • If this is not possible don’t mix babies from different sources in the same air space.
  • Quarantine new birds for a minimum of 60-90 days.
  • Do not allow visitors into the nursery.
  • Use separate feeding utensils for each bird.  Disinfect thoroughly after use.
  • Control insects.  They can carry the virus from one bird to another.
  • Wear gloves and disinfect hands before handling birds.
  • Keep unvaccinated birds away from unvaccinated psittacines.  Especially lovebirds, cockatiels, and parakeets.
  • Vaccinate


The following guidelines for vaccination are recommended to help prevent polyomavirus.

  • Vaccinate adult birds during their non-breeding season
  • Vaccinate chicks at 40-50 days and booster at least one month before shipping.
  • After initial vaccine a booster is given in 2 weeks.  After that a yearly booster is required.
pelleted food for Birds

More than Seeds!

A Seeded Diet is NOT enough for your Bird!

For years veterinarians have recommended supplementing birds eating seeds only because seeds alone do not provide adequate amounts of all the nutrients needed.

Why? Seeds lack 21 nutrients from four groups-Vitamins, Minerals (calcium and sodium), Trace Minerals (iron, copper, zinc, manganese, iodine, selenium) and protein. Many times we have advocated adding vegetables-which do add some vitamin A and some calcium, but little protein, minerals trace minerals and vitamins- and fruits which offer some vitamin A but none of the other missing components.What choices do bird owners have for feeding their birds? Recently, several companies have created pelleted bird food, similar to what is offered to dogs and cats.  Once converted onto a pelleted diet, bird owners can feel more confident that their birds will not suffer from malnutrition.

9700802_origHow to convert a “Seed Junky” to a pelleted ration.

STEP ONE: Have your bird thoroughly examined by an avian veterinarian.

Have a gram stain performed on the feces to see if your bird is already showing signs of malnutrition.  We may recommend giving medication while converting your bird because your bird is already showing severe signs of malnutrition.


Preferably one without a lot of artificial ingredients like preservatives, colors and sugars.  Here at AspenWing we have two lines of pelleted foods: Harrisons Bird Diet (HBD).

Harrisons Bird Diet Fine Grind is made for small birds- budgies, conures, parrotlets, grey-cheecked parakeets, parakeets, cockatiels, lovebirds, finches, canaries, quaker parrots.

Harrisons Bird Diet Coarse Grind is for large birds- amazons, cockatoos, macaws, African greys, eclectus parrots, some conures.

Be sure to feed the proper formula.

HBD formulas: Adult Maintenance for birds over 5 months of age.

High Potency for weaned babies less that 5 months old and breeding birds.


Feed seed only 15 minutes twice daily for three days.  Then mix small amounts of the pellets with the seed, gradually increasing the pellets while decreasing the seed.  Sometimes it is helpful to soak the pellets into a mush and then mix in the seed.  This way the bird is forced to pick through the pellets to get to the seed.  Eventually the seed is decreased to zero.  This could take several weeks or even months.  If during the conversion process your bird looks fluffed up, sleeps a lot, has a change in droppings (other than a color change to pale brown) or constantly searches for food for over 24 hours- resume feeding the former diet and consult your veterinarian.

Remember – Have patience – once you have converted your bird you will have helped ensure that your bird will not suffer one of the many diseases associated with malnutrition. It’s worth being persistent!

What if pelleted diets don’t seem to be the answer? Ask a staff member for a handout onFeeding Your Bird published by the Association of Avian Veterinarians.  This handout details how to use table foods to offer a more balanced diet.

Don’t give up!  A total seed diet will definitely shorten the life expectancy of our feathered friends!

Blue & Gold Macaw

Plants & Branches for your Bird