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Toxicities of Ratites

By Thomas N. Tully, Jr., BS, DVM, MS, DABVP (Avian), DECZM (Avian), Professor Zoological Medicine, Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine

Many different disease toxicoses have been documented in ratites. Exogenously administered selenium has resulted in acute selenium toxicity in ostriches, leading to pulmonary edema and congestion. The feed additive monensin has been associated with myositis and malabsorption syndrome in ostriches and emus. Gossypol in commercial ostrich feed contaminated with cattle feed resulted in a malabsorption syndrome. Cantharidin from blister beetles has resulted in hemorrhagic gastritis and enteritis in emus. Young chicks are sensitive to insect stings, and death is common when chicks eat and are stung in the oral cavity by red ants or wasps. Nicotine from cigarette butts has resulted in CNS signs. Toxic plants that contain solanine (eg, silverleaf, nightshade) result in vomiting and diarrhea, whereas plants that contain high levels of nitrates result in dyspnea and CNS signs. Ammonia toxicity is seen in birds housed in poorly ventilated barns and results in clinical signs of corneal edema, epiphora, and dyspnea.