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Avocado Poisoning in Birds

We all know the latest trend for the hipster about town is “Avo” on toast.

It is simple yet tasty.  Sometimes we want to share these treats with our pets including birds in our family.  Different species have different tolerance to foods and avocado is toxic is birds.

At home we like to give our pets variety in their diet and we assume whatever we eat is safe to give to our animals.  How wrong can we be?  Everyone has given table scraps to the dog or fruit and vegetable matter to our caged birds, but did you know that even a small amount of avocado can be life threatening to birds?

The most widely used is the Haas variety of avocado which has a “warty” peel that can vary in thickness.  It is green and blackish and shaped like a pear. 

The clinical signs of avocado toxicosis are caused by the fat-soluble compound Persin.  Persin is a fungicidal toxin that effects horses, cattle, goats and birds but is harmless to humans. Dogs and cats have also shown no reaction in small doses.  Persin is found in all parts of avocados and in the bark and leaves of their tree.  A lethal dose of avocado in budgies is approximately 3.5 grams, cockatiels 20-30 grams and canaries 2 grams.  The adverse effects in birds have been as quickly as 15-30 minutes after ingestion.   The first signs that owners usually see are weakness and depression, with fluffed plumage and a reluctance to perch.  Once respiratory signs start death usually follows quickly. 

In specialist avian clinics it is possible to give a crop lavage by dosing with activated charcoal but if clinical signs have already started these treatments would be futile. Normally in poisoning cases a blood sample would be collected but in birds their blood volume is approximately 10% of their bodyweight.  So, the amount of blood that can be safely collected from a healthy bird is approximately 1%.  Collecting and screening this blood can be difficult especially in canaries etc as the stress of holding a bird in the hand to take a sample can aggravate the clinical signs and such a small amount cannot be taken and processed effectively.

Most of us are unaware of how something so basic can be so deadly. With caged pet birds having such a low bodyweight it takes such a minute amount of a toxin to have disastrous results.