Is Turkey Poisonous When Stressed? Unraveling the Myth

As of October 15, 2021, this resource has been thoroughly examined and updated by a staff member of The Open Sanctuary Project.

After arriving at a sanctuary, it can be difficult to guarantee that the turkeys live happy, healthy lives because there are so many different aspects of care to take into account every day. Unfortunately, toxic and poisonous hazards are sometimes overlooked in the hustle and bustle of operating a sanctuary. While small amounts of exposure to many of these toxins are unlikely to result in significant health problems, large amounts can, tragically, even result in death. Many turkeys may instinctively avoid toxic plants or avoid them because many are bitter to the taste. However, some toxins are highly dangerous even in small amounts and others are quite palatable. We have put together this list of common plants and other potentially toxic items that have been known to cause issues for turkeys in order to help ensure you never encounter this issue.

Although the best defense against toxins is prevention, administering an activated charcoal product to your residents in the unlikely event that they unintentionally consume something toxic may help absorb the toxins. Although it’s not a miracle remedy and might not be suitable in every circumstance, having this on hand can be beneficial. To ensure you have the necessary supplies on hand in case you need them, we advise you to ask your veterinarian if there are any particular products they recommend for the different species under your care. If a resident ingests a toxin, ask your veterinarian whether administering activated charcoal is recommended in addition to seeking emergency medical attention.

Is the meat of an angry or stressed turkey poisonous? This question sparked a debate on the Answer Me This! Podcast, leaving listeners wondering if the “turkey-keeper’s” claim held any truth.

The Verdict: The claim is likely a myth.

While there’s no scientific evidence to support the idea that a turkey’s emotional state affects the toxicity of its meat. several responses on the podcast debunk the myth:

  • “No, it’s not poisonous. To me, this is a myth,” says Ambitious lily Bundi, a self-proclaimed farmer.
  • “Considering the brutal way that turkeys have been treated and killed for years… I would have to go with that statement being false,” adds Deborah Witt, highlighting the lack of evidence despite the harsh treatment turkeys often endure.
  • “Too much of anything is poison,” concludes Connor, suggesting that while stress hormones might be present in the meat, they wouldn’t be harmful in typical consumption quantities.

The Science Behind the Myth:

The claim might stem from the observation that adrenaline, released during stress, can affect the taste and texture of meat. However, this doesn’t translate to “poisonous.”

Additional Insights:

  • A fishmonger’s anecdote: The podcast mentions a fishmonger who claimed that fish experiencing pain or distress have less tasty flesh due to adrenaline. This aligns with the idea that stress hormones can impact meat quality, but not its safety.
  • The “turkey expert” plea: The podcast calls upon turkey farmers and experts to share their knowledge on the topic, highlighting the need for reliable information beyond anecdotal claims.

While the “poisonous turkey” claim lacks scientific backing, it serves as a reminder to be critical of information, especially when it comes to food safety. Consulting reliable sources and seeking expert opinions are crucial for separating fact from fiction.

Plants That Are Toxic To Turkeys

To view a list of plants worldwide that are toxic to turkeys, please visit The Open Sanctuary Project’s Global Toxic Plant Database and select Species Affected by Turkeys. Please note that, while extensive, this list may not contain every single plant toxic to turkeys!.

Other Potential Turkey Toxins

Blue-green algae are often found in stagnant water when temperatures are high. These algae can be toxic to turkeys if they ingest contaminated water. The type of toxin ingested will determine the symptoms. In many cases of poisoning, turkeys are usually found dead, due to the potency of the toxin. Symptoms could include:

  • Excessive salivation
  • Diarrhea
  • Tremors
  • Unresponsive
  • Lethargy
  • Lack of coordination
  • Recumbency
  • Wing and leg weakness; paralysis
  • skin discoloration that is blue because of inadequate oxygen flow
  • Excessive thirst
  • Open mouth breathing
  • Seizures
  • Sudden death

Make sure to routinely clean water sources, especially in the summer, to avoid algae toxicity in turkeys and other locals. You can keep residents safe by preventing access to other sources of stagnant or slowly moving water, such as ponds, bogs, and lakes.

Turkeys can get botulism by eating or playing in contaminated soil, water, or decomposing matter. They can also get it by eating spoiled feed or maggots that carry the toxin. Signs of botulism in turkeys include:

  • Paralysis
  • Weakness
  • Ruffled feathers
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle tremors
  • Stumbling
  • Recumbency
  • Limp neck
  • Droopy Eyelids
  • Labored breathing
  • Death

In order to prevent botulism, make sure you check for dead or dying animals in living areas and near water sources. Then, dispose of any bodies in a timely and respectful manner. After disposing of contaminated water, thoroughly disinfect the water container and fill it with fresh water. Prevent residents from accessing stagnant bodies of water!.

Blister beetles contain cantharidin, a toxic substance that is used as a defense mechanism against predators. Although horses and other mammals are the most vulnerable to these beetle poisonings, your turkey residents may also be at risk. While many turkeys will avoid eating these beetles, some may be accidentally ingested. Younger birds are more likely to make the mistake of ingesting a blister beetle. They can cause erosive lesions and death if consumed. If you suspect Blister Beetle Poisoning, contact your veterinarian immediately.

Cedar should be avoided in avian living spaces because it can cause respiratory issues. If you use wood shavings for bedding, make sure you are not buying cedar shavings. Additionally, pine is known to contain phenols, which may pose a risk to turkeys and should be avoided.

The term “hardware disease” describes the harm that can happen when an animal lives there and eats something they shouldn’t, particularly parts of hardware made by humans, such as staples, screws, and nails. Hardware disease can have devastating effects on any resident. Check out our resource on Hardware Disease prevention here.

Lead was once used in paints and pesticides, and can also be found in natural environmental sources. Lead may be found in soil or old barn or fence paint, even if you have never used any lead-containing products. Old treated lumber and railroad ties, as well as locations where leaded gas and machinery have been stored, could also be to blame for the contamination. Turkeys can consume paint flakes, plant material that has absorbed lead from the environment, and contaminated surfaces to ingest lead from the environment. Symptoms include:

  • Depression
  • Lack of appetite
  • Emaciation
  • Anemia
  • Increased thirst
  • Excessive urination
  • Weakness
  • Greenish droppings
  • Siezures
  • Downward extended wings
  • Young birds may die within 36 hours of ingesting

Finding out if the environment is safe for residents at your sanctuary is as simple as having the soil tested. You can check with a local environmental conservation service, or agricultural extension office to inquire about testing. It is usually a fairly quick and easy process. Prevent your residents from accessing buildings and fences with old paint.

If you think a turkey may have eaten lead or is starting to exhibit signs of lead poisoning, get in touch with a veterinarian right away.

Mycotoxins are a toxin produced by molds (fungi) that are harmful to many animals, including turkeys. Mycotoxins, specifically aflatoxins can affect turkeys through contaminated food or bedding. Moist, warm environments make a perfect recipe for mold reproduction. Aspergillus can produce aflatoxins that can be a particular concern for birds.

Symptoms include:

  • Lack of appetite
  • Impaired coordination
  • Weakness
  • Oral irritation, lesions
  • Anemia
  • Convulsions
  • Increases susceptibility to infection and disease
  • Muscle spasms
  • Depression
  • Death

Prevention is key in avoiding serious health issues. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to lessen the likelihood that resident turkeys will become ill from mycotoxin poisoning:

  • Ensure that the areas used to store food, grain, and hay are dry, clean, and cool.
  • Mice, rats, and other wildlife can chew holes in food bags, increasing the possibility that grain will be exposed to damp conditions, so try to keep these areas free of them.
  • Always feed the oldest sources of food first. In the winter, try to finish open food bags within a few weeks of opening, and in the summer, even sooner.
  • To ensure that no old grain gets trapped in the cracks and crevices, make sure to thoroughly clean any storage bins or cans.
  • Before combining foods, find out if your food manufacturer or supplier tests for the presence of mycotoxins in grains on a regular basis. If not, stay away from them and look for another supplier.

If you are concerned about the possibility of mycotoxin contamination, have your food stores tested. This could be especially important if you have a turkey that shows initial signs of mycotoxin exposure.

It may not come as a surprise that herbicides and rodenticides can cause toxicosis in turkeys if ingested. If turkeys ingest plants or insects that have been sprayed they can become ill or even die. Turkeys must therefore not be given treated plants or permitted access to pastures that have received herbicide treatment.

Rats and mice can be problematic for sanctuaries, but it’s crucial to treat them with respect and employ humane mitigation techniques. Apart from the empathy and decency that mice and rats merit, numerous rodenticides function as anticoagulants, hindering blood clotting. Turkeys may come across and try to consume a poisoned mouse or rat, potentially becoming poisoned themselves if poison is applied. There are many new and innovative ways to address rodent populations that are more effective and compassionate.

Early treatment is critical. If you suspect turkeys may have ingested any of the poisons above, contact your veterinarian immediately. Blood tests may confirm poisoning.

Many household items contain polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), but the majority of the toxic effects are found in those that are meant to be heated. At high temperatures, items containing PTFE can put out highly toxic fumes, resulting in toxicity or even death. Ensure that no PTFE is present in any heat sources you use in resident living areas, such as heat lamps or radiant heaters. In addition to the fire risk that comes with using glass bulb heat lamps, another reason to avoid them is that some of them are coated in PTFE. Some hairdryers, heating pads, irons and ironing board covers, computer cables, and non-stick cookware are additional sources of concern. Although polytetrafluoroethylene toxicosis is a concern for all birds, if you live with an avian companion, you should exercise extra caution because many household items may contain PTFE.

Symptoms Include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Lethargy
  • Impaired coordination
  • Weakness
  • Convulsions
  • Laying on side
  • Coma
  • Death

If turkeys have access to rock salt or salt meant for other animals, or if food or treats contain an excessive amount of salt, they could eat too much and get salt poisoning.

Symptoms Include:

You may notice their bedding or ground covering is wetter and they have watery droppings. Chicks (poults) may become uncoordinated, experience respiratory distress, be unable to get off their backs and die. If you suspect salt poisoning, remove food or other sources of salt and call your veterinarian ASAP.

Venomous snakebites are not common, but when they occur, should be treated seriously and immediately. If you notice a snakebite, look for others. Snake venom differs from species to species, and factors such as size, age, and frequency of bites can affect how severe a bite is. Most venoms can impair blood clotting and damage the heart, while some others contain neurotoxins. Signs of snakebite may include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling at the bite site
  • One or more puncture wounds
  • Sloughing of tissues near the bite site
  • Cardiac arrhythmias
  • Impaired ability for their blood to clot
  • Salivation
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Muscle twitches
  • Shock
  • Collapse
  • Paralysis
  • Death

Seek veterinary care immediately if a turkey is bitten by a venomous snake. Do NOT try to suck the venom out or place a tourniquet. Keep the turkey calm while seeking immediate veterinary care. Treatment options may include antivenin, analgesics, fluid therapy, wound care, tetanus shots, and antibiotics, depending on how severe the bite was. For advice on keeping snakes off your land, see our Compassionate Wildlife Practices At Your Animal Sanctuary.

Some wood stains and paints can be toxic to residents. Turkeys may attempt to peck at painted or stained surfaces, but if the paint or stain is toxic, they risk getting sick. Look for products labeled as “livestock” or “animal” friendly and specifically designed for barns and fencing when painting or staining the exteriors of buildings. When painting an enclosure’s interior, we advise using zero-VOC paint—some are even designated as “pet friendly.” Turkeys should not be near freshly painted or stained areas until you are positive there are no leftover fumes because they are highly sensitive to fumes.

See a list of sources for this section of the resource here.

Does turkey poison its meat?

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