If you test a number of toys and play gym parts, it is very likely that some of these parts will be zinc plated. Your bird may not chew on the particular metal parts, for example, a quick link or a small exposed wire, in which case there is probably no reason to replace the toy or part. However, if you have a metal chewer like I do, you will need to take some action to protect your bird. Here are some suggestions:
1. If your bird shows any of the signs and symptoms listed earlier in this article, then you should consult your avian vet for advice about possible testing for zinc toxicity.
2. Contact the toy manufacturer or company you purchased the toy from to see if you can return it or exchange it for a safe toy. If you have a play gym with metal parts, ask them to send you stainless steel parts to replace the unsafe parts.
3. In many cases it is possible to modify or rebuild the toy to make it safe. At the end of this article are some places where you can purchase stainless steel parts, including quick links, screw eyes, metal loops, chain, and wire. Components like screw eyes and quick links are generally easy to replace. In some cases you may be able to figure out a way to “hide” the non-safe part. For example, one of my bird’s favorite toys is a coiled rope-covered hanging toy (“Boing”) that contains an unsafe metal wire core. All of the wire is completely covered, however, except for a small section at the top that is connected to a quick link to hang it. Naturally, this was the part of the toy that Scooter prefers to chew on. I made a small extension loop out of stainless steel wire and used a hollow wooden toy part to cover the exposed metal. The stainless steel wire loop fastens to the unsafe metal wire, goes through the wooden toy part, and has a loop at the top that is used to hang the toy using a stainless steel quick link. I have also replaced the wire in several toys with stainless steel wire, metal loops with stainless steel loops, etc. Be creative – you can often figure out a way to modify or rebuild many toys or at least use the safe wooden or plastic parts to make new toys.
4. Stainless steel is much harder than normal zinc-coated steel. You will need heavy-duty wire cutters to cut through stainless steel wire and long nose pliers to bend it. Also note that even though the wire used to string together a toy may be larger in diameter, you should probably not use stainless steel wire thicker than 1/16” because it will be very hard to cut and bend. Stainless steel chain can be cut with a hacksaw or with a heavy-duty bolt cutter. Make sure you wear safety goggles when you cut or bend stainless steel parts.
Having tested a great number of metal toy parts and play gym components, I can give you some guidelines as to what to look for if you do not want to go through the testing process.
· Any metal parts that are not shiny are probably zinc-plated steel. For example, many perches have large washers at one end that are used to fasten the perch to the bars of the cage. Generally these washers are zinc-plated. On some of the perches you can easily replace the washers with stainless steel washers to make the perch safe. However, the cholla wood perches mostly seem to have one of the washers glued to the wood, which makes replacing the washer difficult to do.
· If the toy contains a wire core used to string wooden or plastic parts, the wire itself is probably zinc-plated. Wire is also sometimes used to fasten parts of the toy together. If the wire is magnetic, it is almost certainly zinc-plated.
· Screw eyes on play gyms are likely to be zinc-plated. You can easily use a magnet to see if they are stainless steel.
· Metal chain is a mixed bag. Some chain is nickel-plated and is safe. Other chain is zinc-plated and is not safe. You generally cannot tell the difference unless you test it.
· Quick links are also a mixed bag. Some are nickel-plated and safe; others are zinc-plated and unsafe. You need to check for zinc or replace them with stainless steel quick links.
· The brass used to make brass-plated steel is made up of copper and zinc. Depending on the proportions of copper and zinc the platings can potentially be toxic. I have tested some samples of brass-plated steel and gotten no zinc reaction indicating that they are probably safe, but it is probably not a good idea to assume that all brass-plated steel is safe. With pure brass, the zinc and copper are tightly bound so it would be necessary to ingest a piece of a brass object to get a significant amount of zinc into the system. I would recommend avoiding brass if possible.
In this article I have tried to address the issue of zinc toxicity in pet birds and how you can make sure that your toys are free from zinc. If you have any questions, I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: A current list of companies that sell bird safe toys and toy parts is maintained on my website at: http://www.synnovation.com/zinctesting.html. Please contact me at email@example.com to suggest additional companies to add to this resource list.)
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