Lead Toxicosis in a Red Tailed Hawk

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An adult red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) of unknown gender was found down in Franklin, NY. A licensed rehabilitator easily captured the bird, and suspecting vehicular injury, transported the animal to Cornell’s Wildlife hospital. On presentation, the animal was noted to be a large adult red-tailed hawk, likely female due to its size and weight. It was bright, alert, responsive, and mentally appropriate. Physical exam revealed no obvious external injuries and there were no palpable fractures. The animal was knuckling on both feet, and had bilaterally increased extensor tone throughout the pelvic limbs. Two superficial wounds were present on the second digit of both feet, and animal’s tail feathers were encrusted with dried urates. In accordance with hospital protocol, a swab was obtained to test for Avian Influenza, which was not detected. As avian wildlife are highly susceptible to disease at the time of injury, prophylactic antibiotic and antifungal treatments were initiated. One dose of meloxicam was administered for pain control. Blood was drawn for a complete blood count, chemistry, and bench-top lead level. The blood lead was too high to detect on the bench-top analyzer, and a lead level was sent to the laboratory for quantification. The complete blood count was within normal limits, as was the chemistry, outside of an elevation of creatinine kinase of 4910 U/L, which was attributed to muscle injury during the initial insult, capture, or transport. Lead levels were quantified as 91.77 ug/dL. The animal was anesthetized for radiographs, which did not reveal evidence of a foreign metal object. Chelation with calcium EDTA was initiated at 30mg/kg by subcutaneous injection for a course of 5 days. This was followed by chelation with dimercaptosuccinic acid at 30mg/kg by mouth every 12 hours for 9 days. The hawk received supportive care of subcutaneous fluids and B vitamins during its course of chelation, gabapentin for anxiety and suspected lead neuropathy, and fenbendazole to treat gastrointestinal parasitism. The wounds on its feet were monitored and treated with A&D ointment. Lead levels were reassessed throughout chelation, and the animal was discharged to a licensed rehabilitator 24 days after intake due to progressive improvement and successful chelation.

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Lead; chelation; calcium EDTA; dimercaptosuccinic acid; Buteo jamaicensis


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