Plant Toxicosis – Bird Toy Outlet

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Plant Toxicosis


Plant Toxicosis
By Dr. Jeanne Smith, DMV Avian Health Services

Toxicosis is illness caused by exposure to a toxic substance. Plant toxicosis is usually caused by ingestion of a toxic plant, although there are some plants that can cause a toxic reaction from physical contact. Many plants which are known to be toxic to humans or other mammals have not been tested in birds. What we do know about plant toxicosis in birds comes from very limited research, mostly done at Washington State University, and isolated case reports where a plant is incriminated, but not necessarily proven to be the cause of illness or death. There are certain problems with using case reports to determine the toxicity of a plant: the owner and veterinarian rarely knows how much of the plant was actually ingested (toxic dose) or which portions of the plant were predominantly ingested (leaves vs. bark vs. flowers). Most birds shred a plant they are chewing on, leaving most of it on the floor. It is impossible to tell what actually went inside the bird without opening it up. Another problem with generalizing from case reports is that what may be toxic to one species of bird may not be toxic to another species.

The following list of plants have been documented to be toxic to one or more species of birds through both research and case reports.

Plant

Documentation

Avocado  (Persea americana)

budgerigars and case reports

Black Locust  (Robinia pseudoacacia)  

budgerigars, canaries and case reports

Clematis  (Clematis spp.)

budgerigars and case reports

Crown Vetch  (Vicia spp.)

budgerigars, cockatiels, lovebirds

Diffenbachia  (Diffenbachia sequine)

canaries and case reports

Foxglove  (Digitalis puperea)

canaries and case reports

Lupine  (Lupinus spp.)

canaries

Oleander  (Nerium oleander)

budgerigars, canaries, case reports

Parsley

ducks, ostriches

Philodendron  (Philodendron scandens)

budgerigars and case reports

Poinsetta  (Euphorbia pulcherima)

budgerigars and case reports

Privet  (Ligustrum vulgare)

canaries and case reports

Rattleweed, chickweed  (Crotolaria spp.)

poultry and case reports

Rhododendron  (Rhododendron simsii)

budgerigars

Virginia Creepers  (Parthenocissus quinquefolio)

budgerigars and case reports

Yew leaves  (Taxus media)

budgerigars, canaries and case reports

Remember that plants can be toxic to some bird species and not others, it may be toxic in large doses only, it may be toxic at only certain times of year, one part of the plant may be toxic and another part may not, and a plant may be more toxic to a certain individual with complicating health problems such as liver or kidney disease. In general, birds appear to be more resistant to plant toxicosis than are mammals, so just because a plant is considered toxic to you or other animals does not necessarily meant it is a threat to your bird.

Treatment for plant toxicosis consists of minimizing exposure. If large amounts of the plant were eaten shortly before discovery, this may include crop surgery to remove material from the crop and proventriculus. When small quantities are ingested or the ingestion occurred more than an hour or two before discovery, crushed activated charcoal and mineral oil can help absorb toxins and speed their passage through the intestinal tract. It is difficult and dangerous to induce vomiting or regurgitation in birds. Contact toxicities with irritant plants require the washing of the mouth or skin thoroughly with water.

Because so many plants have never been tested in birds for their safety, I recommend keeping birds away from any plant, other than edible fruits and vegetables (remember that an edible vegetable such as rhubarb can have a toxic leaf). If you are planting an aviary, stay away from the known toxic or suspicious plants listed above and plant plenty of grasses and plants sprouted from seeds for the birds to browse on safely, hopefully keeping them from munching on other plants which have an unknown safety.


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