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Zinc Toxicity

New Wire Disease

Zinc toxicity is a serious condition caused by ingestion of excessive amounts of zinc (Zn). Zinc is an important mineral needed in a chicken's diet, however high levels can be toxic. The dietary zinc requirement (based on young "broiler" chickens) is approximately 35 to 40 ppm (mg/kg). Anything greater than 2200 ppm (mg/kg) of zinc are considered to be toxic (pertaining to chicks). Chickens will absorb zinc in their proventriculus and small intestine. The rate of absorption depends on the amount and form of zinc ingested. Once absorbed, zinc is distributed throughout their bodies---specifically the liver, kidneys, bones, muscles, brain, intestinal mucosa, skin, pancreas, and retinas, where it damages these tissues.

Potential Sources of Zinc Exposure

Besides its use as a dietary mineral, zinc in it's metallic form is used as a protective coating for metals, such as steel and iron (known as galvanizing). Pretty much any metal intended for use outdoors is likely galvanized. This is why it's really important that when erecting poultry enclosures, to pay attention to any bits of metal cut from hardware wire so that they don't scatter across the ground for the birds to eventually ingest. The same goes for any small bits of hardware---such as nails, washers, nuts, and bolts. Also, any US pennies mited after 1982 contain 97% zinc and 2.5% copper. Other less common zinc toxicity sources include: any products containing zinc oxide (aka Desitin and generic diaper rash ointments, sunscreen, deodorant, and anti-dandruff shampoos), zippers, monopoly game pieces, and other metallic toys or cheap jewelry. Free ranging chickens may potentially pick up and ingest buried metal, coins, galvanized nails and other zinc produced products hidden in the soil, especially following a rainstorm.

Clinical Signs of Zinc Poisoning

Clinical signs of zinc poisoning in chickens are nonspecific and varied. Most common signs observed in affected birds include:
  • Lethargy
  • Pallor
  • Regurgitation
  • Paresis
  • Reduced appetite
  • Polyuria (production of abnormally large volumes of dilute urine)
  • Polydipsia (excessive or excess drinking)
  • Hematuria (the presence of red blood cells in the urine).
  • Hematochezia (the passing of fresh blood per the anus, usually in or with feces).
  • Dark or bright green diarrhea
  • Foul-smelling feces
  • Seizures
  • Sudden death

Clinical Signs

Dark or bright green diarrhea
Foul-smelling feces
Increased thirst
Reduced appetite
Sudden death


  • History of exposure
  • Clinical signs
  • Blood test - plasma zinc concentrations greater than 2 ppm
  • Necropsy - levels greater than 1000 u/g in pancreatic tissue


Chelation therapy
Edetate calcium disodium (CaEDTA)10 to 40 mg/kg IM q12 x 5 to 10 days. Followed by 3 to 5 day rest periods between intervals.
Succimer20 to 40 mg/kg BID given orally for 5 to 10 days and followed by 3 to 5 day rest periods between intervals.
D-Penicillamine55 mg/kg given orally BID x 5 days and repeat after 5 days if needed. Easy to mix and be tube-fed to reduce treatment cost (125 mg capsule in 15 ml lactulose1 drop/100 g PO).
Control of seizuresDiazepam (0.5 to 1.0 mg/kg IV or IM) or midazolam (0.1 mg/kg IM).
Supportive care
Concurrent parenteral fluid therapyVery important to prevent dehydration and to aid in getting rid of the toxic metals from the bird's system



Be careful when erecting poultry enclosures to ensure bits of hardware wire are collected and discarded in the trash--not in the soil or where chickens have access.

Scientific References

Risk Factors

  • Letting chickens free range in areas with possible contamination of zinc metal bits
  • Chickens kept inside as house pets and left unsupervised access to small objects.

Also Consider