Monday, April 10, 2017

Lead poisoning in backyard chickens

chickens, backyard chickens, lead toxicity, lead poisoning
Backyard chickens need, among other things, safe, predator-proof housing and a safe food supply.

I was chatting with some friends last night about the proliferation of backyard chickens in Sydney, and the incidence of lead poisoning in these beautiful creatures. It’s not uncommon to see chickens suffering from lead poisoning, due most likely to lead contaminated soil. Its not really a new thing. We learned about this at uni and it continues to occur at a steady rate.

“Why is this not a news story?” my friends asked.

We turned on the ABC news and that very moment there was avian specialist Dr Alex Rosenwax talking about lead poisoning in chickens.

You can read the story here.

This really is a One Health issue. Firstly, affected chickens suffer. They become dull, depressed, lethargic and weak, and may have difficulty eating. They can have vomiting, diarrhoea, seizures or problems laying eggs. And lead poisoning can be fatal (though birds can be treated successfully, particularly early in the course of the disease).

There are also risks to those who consume the eggs of these birds, or eat vegies grown in the same soil if precautions are not taken. And occasionally – depending on the source of lead – other animals can be affected. Several years ago I treated three dogs from the same household for lead toxicity (their signs were chronic vomiting and diarrhoea).


The story is not a reason to panic – it highlights simple precautions we can all take to reduce lead exposure. But it is a good reminder that chickens displaying signs of illness should be checked out.

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