Written by Lauren Cahoon Roberts;
A female snow goose recently received care at Cornell’s Janet L. Swanson Wildlife Hospital after suffering from lead toxicity. A wildlife rehabilitator brought the goose in from Varick, New York, where it was found unable to fly and acting sick and lethargic. The wildlife team at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine sent blood samples to their colleagues at the Animal Health Diagnostic Center, which quickly ran the tests and confirmed the diagnosis.
They believe that the goose likely ingested lead from either lead shot or lead-based fishing lures and gear. As a result, the goose had particles of lead both in her GI tract and throughout her system. “When lead pieces stay inside the body long enough, it gets absorbed into the muscles and bones,” says Dr. Cynthia Hopf-Dennis, instructor in the Section of Zoological Medicine.
This required multiple approaches to treat lead toxicity. For the pieces of lead remaining in the bird’s GI system, the team fed her extra grit and sand (a typical part of birds’ diets) to help move those particles along and out of the digestive tract. The systemic lead required chelation therapy, where the clinical team gives the goose an oral medication containing lead-binding chemicals that allow the lead to then be excreted from the body. On top of lead toxicity, the wildlife clinical team also treated the goose for an ulcer in her eye.
After careful treatment and rehabilitation, the goose’s lead levels finally were low enough for her transfer back to the rehabilitator. Just this week, the bird was released back to the wild.
Increasing numbers and species of animals are brought into the wildlife hospital with high levels of lead in their system. “Lead is showing up in all kinds of animals — not just the ones that might directly ingest it,” says Hopf-Dennis, noting that Even pigeons are showing up with lead toxicity. “This is a disturbing sign that the contaminant is everywhere, and that humans are likely getting exposed to it as well.”
Anglers and hunters are encouraged to consider alternatives to lead-based ammunition and fishing gear, as their choices can have direct, devastating impact on local ecosystems and public health.
For information on what to do if you find an injured wild animal, please visit the wildlife hospital’s website.
Help support the care given by the Janet L. Swanson Wildlife Hospital here.
Written by Lauren Cahoon Roberts; the full version of this article appears on the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine website here.