Testing For Zinc In Parrot Toys, Play Gyms, And Cages


Last autumn, I grew afraid that our new Timneh African Grey parrot Scooter had had zinc poisoning. His symptoms matched this diagnosis: tiredness, lack of appetite, frequent urination, and diarrhea. And the metal portions of toys or the quick link connections that hold the toys to his cage or play gym are his favorite things to gnaw on. He was alright in the end, but I began to question how much zinc was in parrot toys and play gyms. Before I discuss how to test for zinc in parrot toys and play gyms, I’d want to quickly discuss the subject of zinc poisoning (also known as zinc toxicosis) in pet parrots. (It should also be mentioned that dogs are extremely sensitive to zinc poisoning, which is generally caused by eating zinc-coated metal components.)

The Diagnosis of Zinc Toxicity in Pet Birds

Zinc is a heavy metal that is used to prevent corrosion by coating iron or steel in a process known as galvanization. Zinc is often found in galvanized wire and toy components. Unfortunately, parrots are attracted to shiny things. They also have a lot of free time to play with, suck on, chew on, and damage whatever they can get their hands on.

The signs and symptoms of zinc poisoning might be similar to those of other disorders. The bird just feels lousy and may vomit, have diarrhea, excessive urination, lose weight, and lose hunger. Due to a lack of oxygen, the birds might become anemic and have a blue coloring. Seizures may occur in extreme circumstances when the bird becomes week. Feather plucking is another possibility. Color changes in feathers are also possible.

A combination of x-rays and blood testing for zinc levels is used to diagnose zinc poisoning. In certain circumstances, x-rays may reveal metal in the bird’s digestive system. Most laboratory readings are normal with zinc poisoning, which may lead to an inaccurate diagnosis of a “mild illness”. Injections are often used in treatment, followed by an oral medication to bind and eliminate the zinc. This is referred to as chelation treatment. A laxative may also be used to cleanse the digestive system and assist eliminate the metal. Treatment is typically effective if found early.

The subject of zinc toxicity is highly debated in the avian world. Some veterinarians believe that the disease is under-diagnosed, and that a considerable percentage of instances of zinc poisoning are misdiagnosed as other issues, particularly by non-avian veterinarians. Other veterinarians, on the other hand, believe that there is little proof that the condition happens on a regular basis. This paper does not take a position on this critical subject, and I believe it is best discussed with your avian veterinarian. The purpose of this post is to explain how to test for zinc in parrot toys if you are worried about this problem, as well as what to do if you discover zinc coated metal pieces on your parrot’s toys, play gyms, or cages.

Testing for Zinc in Parrot Toys and Play Gyms

The first thing you should address is if you want to cope with the possible issue of zinc coated metal components. If your bird does not chew on the metal components of toys, you should be OK even if the items are zinc plated. My budgie, Billy, does not chew on metal toy pieces, thus I have elected to leave his play toys and play gyms alone, despite the fact that several of his toys have zinc plated parts.

There are numerous excellent parrot toys on the market that are either totally made of stainless steel or entirely comprised of wood, plastic, and leather pieces. At the conclusion of this page, there is a limited list of firms who offer solely parrot-safe toys, as well as some companies that provide stainless steel components that may be used to decrease or remove the possible issue. For example, if you have a play gym that uses screw eyes to secure toys, the screw eyes themselves are quite likely zinc plated. Rather of going through the potentially hazardous procedure of testing the screw eyes for zinc, it is probably much better to just replace the screw eyes with stainless steel screw eyes from one of the firms mentioned at the conclusion of this article. Another straightforward issue is rapid links. If you are concerned about the safety of the quick links used to secure the toys to the cage or play gym, you may replace them with stainless steel quick links. This might become expensive if you have a lot of short connections to change. Another simple and affordable alternative to quick connections is to purchase inexpensive cable ties from a hardware shop. These are often sold in packets of 10 to 100 knots and are extremely cheap. The drawback is that the ties are not reusable; if you need to relocate a toy, you must cut the tie and replace it with a new one.

One word of warning about cable ties: many bigger parrots may readily chew through nylon cable ties and consume the resultant little bits. If your bird chews, you should avoid using cable ties and instead use stainless steel quick links. In any event, if you do decide to use nylon cable ties, make sure the resultant loop is tiny enough not to constitute a threat to your bird.

A Note about Parrot Cages

There are several finishes available for parrot cages. Chrome, brass, painted metal, powder coated metal, and stainless steel are the most popular finishes. Although stainless steel cages are absolutely safe, they are much more costly than alternative solutions. Many powder coated cages are moderately priced and come from prominent manufacturers. The powder coating used in these cages is zinc free, and even if your bird nibbles the powder coating off the metal, the steel underlying is not zinc plated. As a result, powder coated cages are an excellent option.

A little parrot cage purchased from a pet shop is considerably more likely to be made of painted metal, brass, or chrome plated metal. Unfortunately, neither the painted nor powder coat cages can be tested for zinc using the procedures given below. I’m looking at techniques to test paint for zinc but haven’t found an easy one yet. However, even if there is a trace of zinc in the paint, it is not as harmful as zinc plated metals, which are practically pure zinc.

Brass is a copper and zinc alloy. Brass-plated cages may tarnish with time, and since the plating is not very robust, an aggressive parrot can easily eat it off. While the zinc level of a brass plated cage is lower than that of a zinc plated cage, brass plated cages should be avoided.

Chrome-plated cages might be nickel-plated or zinc-plated. It may be difficult to discern just glancing at the plating, as discussed later in this article. I propose testing a chrome-plated cage for zinc using the procedures mentioned below. I’d be particularly worried if the cage was “homemade” by a tiny company, since they’re far less likely to be aware of the zinc issue than a major, known manufacturer.

Is It Stainless Steel?

You may already have safe toys, depending on where you acquired your toys or play gyms. Stainless steel testing is simple. Take a magnet and check whether the quick link, screw eye, chain, metal wire, and so on are attracted to it. Stainless steel is not magnetic, thus if the metal element does not attach to the magnet, chances are it is stainless steel and perfectly safe for your bird. However, certain lower-grade stainless steels are mildly magnetic. They will be attracted to a magnet, but not in the way that a conventional steel component would be. So far, the only components I’ve seen with this attribute are some metal o-rings I bought to repair some toys.

However, although I haven’t seen any toys with metal pieces, it’s plausible that certain toys are created using aluminum wire or rings. Aluminum is not magnetic either. I am not aware of any safety issues with metal and birds, but as I am not trained to handle this topic, I would recommend addressing this with your avian veterinarian or avoiding aluminum if possible. Stainless steel and aluminum have extremely distinct appearances. Stainless steel often has a pretty brilliant sheen (albeit not as glossy as certain chrome plated metals), while aluminum is typically a drab tone. Aluminum is also incredibly soft. Aluminum is readily scratched with a knife, however stainless steel is scratch resistant.

Can I Just Ask the Toy or Play Gym Company?

No toy or play gym business, in my opinion, intends to sell things that are hazardous to pet birds. Some firms go to considerable lengths to ensure that their toys or play gyms are as safe for birds as possible. Unfortunately, the majority of parrot toy and play gym production is a cottage business. Many folks that produce parrot toys are just unaware of the zinc poisoning issue. Even if they are aware of the issue, they may refuse to utilize stainless steel components since they are difficult to locate and may drastically increase the cost of the toys. Stainless steel is also more difficult to cut and work with than cheaper metals.

If you buy toys from a mail order or Internet firm, or from a local pet shop, you should always inquire if they have any zinc-coated pieces. Most dealers, in my experience, think their toys are safe, but unless the toys are clearly marked as having solely stainless steel pieces, they have no way of knowing for sure what the toys are comprised of. When you purchase toys at a bird fair, you may be purchasing directly from a local firm that manufactures the toys, and you may inquire about how their toys are manufactured. However, in many situations, the people who produce the toys are just unaware. If you purchase toys or play gyms directly from the manufacturer, you should inquire about how the products are made. However, as I recently discovered, even the most well-meaning toy or play gym producer may be ignorant that their products are not entirely safe. I just acquired a gorgeous wooden play gym from a well-known brand. I carefully inquired about the metal pieces before placing my purchase. The metal pieces, I was assured, were all stainless steel. When I got the gym, however, I performed the magnet test and instantly realized that none of the pieces were stainless steel. When I phoned the firm to inquire about this, I discovered that they believed I had purchased stainless steel components for their play gyms. When I informed the play gym firm that the pieces were not stainless steel, they promptly called the vendor that provides their metal parts, which included screw eyes, chain, and quick links. The play gym firm phoned me back to let me know that, although the pieces were not stainless steel, they were nickel plated steel and perfectly safe. I then used the approach I’ll explain later in this post to inspect all of the metal pieces. It was discovered that the chain and quick links they were employing were nickel-plated steel and hence safe. The screw eyes used to hold toys, on the other hand, were zinc-plated and so unsafe for birds. I immediately returned the call to the firm with my findings. Their reaction thrilled me much. They apologized for the issue and promised to send me new stainless steel screw eyes for the two play gyms I had ordered from them right away (which they did). They also decided to suspend supplying play gyms until the screw eyes could be replaced with stainless steel ones. This is the kind of organization I like working with.

So, what can you draw from this? If a prominent toy maker states that all of their metal components are safe, there is a strong possibility that they are, but this is not guaranteed unless all parts are stainless steel (non-magnetic). I’ll provide you some rules for visually checking metal components at the conclusion of this post that will help you identify at least some dangerous areas.

Testing for Zinc Coating

According to the American Zinc Association, zinc is practically never used as a steel component, but rather as a rust-prevention coating. Even though steel is partly manufactured from zinc-coated recycled metals, the re-melting process burns off the zinc. Zinc, as an impurity, causes steel to become brittle, hence it is not a component of steel.

The good news is that since zinc is a coating, chemical testing for zinc is extremely simple. The bad news is that the chemical used to test for zinc is hydrochloric acid, which is very hazardous to handle. While hydrochloric acid is normally not accessible to the general people, muriatic acid is a slightly diluted variant of hydrochloric acid that is simple to get and a bit less harmful to deal with.

WARNING: All muriatic acid handling for zinc testing should be done outdoors in a well-ventilated location. You should put on rubber gloves and lab goggles with sides. You should also wear long trousers and a long-sleeved shirt to reduce the possibility of getting acid on your skin. You should also have water nearby so that you can immediately wash off any acid that mistakenly gets on your skin or clothes.

If you wish to test for zinc despite these concerns, these are the measures to take:

  1. Muriatic acid is available at most paint shops and hardware stores with a paint section. Typically, the least amount available is in a quart bottle. It is not prohibitively pricey.
  2. Because a single drop of acid may be used to test for zinc, it is safer to transfer a little quantity of muriatic acid to a small container. I propose purchasing a fresh empty glass medication container with a dropper. I was able to get one for 50 cents at my local drugstore.
  3. Wearing protective clothing, transfer a little quantity of muriatic acid to the pharmaceutical container, taking care not to inhale the fumes. Because the top entrance of the pharmaceutical container is tiny, you should pour the acid into it using a little plastic funnel. If you don’t use a stainless steel funnel, the acid will probably dissolve it. Alternatively, you may carefully pour a little quantity of acid into a glass measuring cup with a pouring nozzle and then into the prescription container. After the transfer is complete, shut the container and thoroughly wash the exterior (along with the funnel or measuring cup) with water to eliminate any leftover acid. This is the most risky element of the experiment. Once the acid is in the pharmaceutical container, you will only need a drop or two at a time.
  4. To test for zinc, you will need the following items: 1) a bucket of cold water into which you will dip toys and other metal pieces to swiftly wash off the test acid; and 2) a glass plate or baking dish into which you will insert the object being tested. (For tips on how to test cages, see the section below.)
  5. When muriatic acid is applied to a zinc-coated metal component, a fast and intense foaming response occurs. The region where the acid comes into contact with the zinc may sometimes become virtually black, however this does not usually occur. To get an idea of the sort of response you’re looking for, I recommend getting a galvanized roofing nail from your local hardware shop, construction supply store, or handyman. Wearing protective clothing, place the nail on the glass plate and apply a single drop of acid to the nail. A strong chemical reaction will occur. Then test it with something you know is stainless steel, like a piece of cutlery. When the object is stainless steel, there will be no response. This is also true if the object is nickel plated as opposed to zinc plated.
  6. Repeat the process for testing toys. It is important to note that a toy may have numerous metal components, such as chain, quick links, a metal loop connecting chain to a plastic item, a metal wire used to thread together wood or plastic elements, and so on. After testing the metal portions of the toy, immediately immerse it in a basin of water to dilute the acid. After that, properly clean the toy before using it with your bird.
  7. Metal screw eyes or other metal elements for hanging toys are often seen in play gyms. Take one of each metal item from the playground and test it for zinc. Any nuts or bolts that keep things together are included. One of my plastic play gyms includes stainless steel toy hangers, which is fantastic. The toy hanger, on the other hand, is attached to the play gym using a standard nut and a wing nut, both of which are zinc plated!
  8. It might be difficult to test chrome-plated cages. Because it is not safe to test for zinc inside, you must take the cage outdoors. I’ve found that most chrome-plated cages are tiny portable cages, so transferring it outdoors isn’t an issue. If you have a big parrot cage, you will need to take it outdoors, which may be difficult if the cage does not fit through the entrance! Remove any perches or toys that might be damaged by water while the cage is outdoors. After testing, have a garden hose nearby to rinse the cage. Simply place one drop of acid on the cage bars and see the zinc reaction mentioned above. As soon as you finish the test, spray out the cage well to ensure that all of the acid has been rinsed away.

Another option to checking for zinc yourself is to investigate if there is a local commercial analytical lab in your region that can perform the testing for you. Another option is to contact the toxicology lab at a neighboring university. They may charge a modest price for the tests, but you will not have to handle harmful chemicals yourself.

What if You Find Zinc-coated Parts?

If you examine a variety of toys and play gym pieces, you will almost certainly find some that are zinc plated. If your bird does not chew on the specific metal elements, such as a quick link or a little exposed wire, there is generally no need to replace the toy or item. However, if your bird is a metal chewer like mine, you will need to take steps to safeguard it. Here are a few ideas:

  1. If your bird exhibits any of the signs and symptoms indicated earlier in this article, visit your avian veterinarian for guidance on probable zinc toxicity tests.
  2. Contact the toy maker or firm from where you bought the toy to determine if it may be returned or exchanged for a safer item. If your play gym has metal pieces, request that they give you stainless steel replacements.
  3. In many circumstances, the toy may be modified or rebuilt to make it safe. Some sources to get stainless steel components, such as quick links, screw eyes, metal loops, chain, and wire, are listed at the conclusion of this page. Screw eyes and quick connections, for example, are often simple to replace. In rare circumstances, you may be able to find a technique to “hide” the unsafe component. One of my bird’s favorite toys, for example, is a coiled rope-covered hanging toy (“Boing”) with a dangerous metal wire core. Except for a little part at the top that is attached to a fast link to hang it, all of the wiring is totally concealed. Naturally, Scooter loves to gnaw on this section of the toy. I constructed a short extension loop out of stainless steel wire and covered the exposed metal with a hollow wooden toy component. The stainless steel wire loop is attached to the dangerous metal wire, passes through the wooden toy component, and has a loop at the top that is used to hang the toy with a stainless steel quick link. I’ve also replaced the wire in a few toys with stainless steel wire, and metal loops with stainless steel loops, among other things. Be inventive – you can frequently adapt or rebuild many toys, or at the very least utilize the safe wooden or plastic pieces to construct new ones.
  4. Stainless steel is more stronger than zinc-coated steel. Heavy-duty wire cutters and long nose pliers are required to cut through stainless steel wire and bend it. Also, even if the wire used to string a toy is greater in diameter, you should definitely avoid using stainless steel wire thicker than 1/16″ since it will be difficult to cut and bend. A hacksaw or a heavy-duty bolt cutter may be used to cut stainless steel chain. When cutting or bending stainless steel pieces, use safety eyewear.

Visually Inspecting Toy Parts

I can offer you some advice on what to look for if you don’t want to go through the testing procedure since I’ve tested a large number of metal toy parts and play gym components.

Any metal pieces that aren’t glossy are most likely zinc-plated steel. Many perches, for example, contain huge washers at one end that are used to secure the perch to the cage bars. These washers are often zinc-plated. To make the perch safe, just replace the washers with stainless steel washers on some of the perches. However, the cholla wood perches seem to have one of the washers cemented to the wood, making replacement impossible.

If the toy has a wire core used to thread wooden or plastic components, the wire is most likely zinc-plated. Wire is also sometimes used to connect toy pieces. The wire is probably definitely zinc-plated if it is magnetic.

Screw eyes on play gyms are most frequently zinc-plated. A magnet may readily be used to determine if they are stainless steel.

Metal chain comes in a variety of styles. Some chains are nickel-plated and hence safe. The other chain is zinc-plated and dangerous. Unless you test it, you won’t be able to detect the difference.

Quick links are a mixed bag as well. Some are nickel-plated and so harmless, whereas others are zinc-plated and hence dangerous. Check for zinc or replace the quick links with stainless steel.

The brass used to manufacture brass-plated steel is composed of copper and zinc. The platings may be harmful depending on the quantities of copper and zinc used. I examined several brass-plated steel samples and found no zinc reaction, suggesting that they are probably safe, but assuming that all brass-plated steel is safe is probably not a smart idea. Because zinc and copper are firmly linked in pure brass, ingesting a piece of a brass item would be required to get a considerable quantity of zinc into the system. If at all possible, avoid using brass.

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