We all know that lead is a danger to people. There are laws and regulations to keep it out of our paint, water and food. However did you know that lead can also be a danger to wildlife?
Wildlife can be exposed to lead that is left behind in the environment by people. Things like fishing tackle, bullets and shotgun pellets, paint chips, discarded batteries, pesticides, mining waste, leaded gasoline spills, old pennies or other lead materials that are not disposed of properly are very harmful to wildlife, particularly birds. Waterfowl, raptors, and game birds are the most susceptible species to lead poisoning.
In 2010, this Bald Eagle with lead poisoning was treated at our wildlife hospital.
Lead poisoning is a chronic disease that causes weight loss and emaciation, weakness and lethargy, poor growth and development, blindness, seizures, fewer eggs laid, higher egg mortality, and even death.
On May 21, a Canada Goose found on the side of the road unable to fly was brought to PAWS Wildlife Center. It was determined that he had been shot in the right wing with an air rifle, resulting in a fracture. Radiographs also revealed that there was a lead pellet in his ventriculus (gizzard). Our veterinary team believe it is the same pellet that fractured his wing, and that he swallowed it while preening the pellet from his side.
Our Canada Goose patient had lead poisoning.
After our veterinary team discovered the pellet in his ventriculus, they tested his blood lead level because although he was not showing typical symptoms of lead poisoning, he was not eating on his own. Sure enough, the results showed a lead level of more than 65 mcg/dL which is over six times the level considered safe for humans by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Our Canada Goose patient swims in his pool.
In order for the goose to recover from the lead poisoning, he needed to have the lead pellet removed from his ventriculus and to go through several rounds of chelation. Chelation is a technique used to remove heavy metals from the blood and involves injecting a chelating agent into the bloodstream a few times a day over several days. Our goose patient was injected with the chelating agent twice a day for 19 days. Thanks to Dr. Polly Peterson and her team at VCA Veterinary Specialty Center of Seattle, an endoscopy was performed on June 2 and the pellet was successfully removed.
Once the pellet was removed, the goose’s blood lead level started to go down and we knew the process was working despite the fact that it was very stressful on the goose. After 51 days in care, he was released back into the wild.