Written by Dr. Luqman Javed
Chickens can eat a wide range of foods besides their usual diet of seeds and pellets, and many people wonder if it’s alright for them to eat avocado. The answer is no, your chickens should not be fed avocado or any part of the avocado plant, as it is toxic for them.
Keep reading while we explain the dangers of avocado.
The Dangers of Avocado
The avocado plant naturally produces a fatty compound with toxin properties. The compound is known as persin, and is found throughout the entirety of the avocado plant, including the fruit, leaves, stems, and the pit (seed) of the avocado as well. The leaves of the plant contain the highest levels of the toxin. The plant produces persin because this compound, though a toxin, keeps the plant safe from various species of fungi. Within the avocado fruit, the toxin leeches into the flesh from the seed.
The avocado fruit has persin too, though generally speaking, the amount of persin available within the fruit decreases as the fruit ripens. However, there is no way to tell just how much persin is available within an avocado without running tests on the fruit. Persin levels differ depending on the strain of the avocado plant, the location it grows, the fertility of the soil, and the parental plant cross it is derived from.
The amount of persin available in avocado is considered harmless for humans. However, avocado is considered toxic for many animal species (including both domestic and exotic pets).
Please note that the list above isn’t conclusive, other species that aren’t commonly kept as pets (such as ostriches) have also been found to display effects of persin toxicity. The toxicity remains somewhat poorly determined in cats, however, it isn’t advised to feed cats avocado either, as doing so has other health risks as well.
The amount of persin required to produce toxic effects varies by both the species of animal that ingests the avocado, parts of the plant that were consumed, and inherent traits of the avocado plant that was consumed as well.
Among species kept as pets, cage birds (such as cockatiels or canaries) seem especially sensitive to avocado. Chickens and turkeys are thought to be more resistant to the toxin when compared to caged pet birds 1, however, they are nonetheless susceptible to toxicity.
Within the body, persin produces the following toxic effects:
- The necrosis (death) of the muscles of the heart
- Severe pain along the digestive tract (known as colic)
- The pit can be a choking hazard for many species
- The high fat content of avocado may lead to other health issues (such as those involving the pancreas)
- In mammals, persin causes a painful inflammation of the mammary glands (known as mastitis)
The exact mechanisms of toxicity are still not completely understood, however, the prevailing consensus in veterinary literature and poison control literature is to avoid avocado for all animals kept as pets, including chickens.
Studies in Chickens
Though avocado is toxic for chickens, and therefore, not something you should offer to your pets, it is worth exploring its application in chicken nutrition. A study attempted to see if avocado was a viable replacement for corn meal in chicken diets 2. This study concluded that avocado meal cannot replace corn meal for chickens, because of their poor growth and performance when offered the ingredient in their diet. They also thought it plausible that the poor growth was likely due to the effects of persin toxicity.
Studies on chickens kept as pets are scant, possibly because most studies are performed on commercial birds. However, the results of the tests done on commercial poultry should not be discounted, as they are, after all, the same species of chickens that are kept as pets. This means that it is best to not offer your chickens any part of the avocado plant. It is best to offer your chickens a chicken pellet, other foods safe for them, and fresh, clean drinking water.
My Chickens Ate Avocado – What Do I Do?
If your chicken ate avocado – there’s no telling if they will experience toxicity, because, as mentioned above, there are many factors that play a role in producing the effects of avocado toxicity. However, it is best to have a vet look at your chickens to ensure your flock’s health and safety.
During a persin toxicity episode, signs of heart function loss are apparent within 1–2 days of ingestion (depending on how much persin was ingested). As heart function deteriorates, other signs, like the following, appear:
- Difficulty breathing
- Lack of appetite
- Unexplained swellings on the body
- If left untreated, death may occur
There is no diagnostic test that can confirm avocado toxicity, and most cases of avocado toxicity are diagnosed based on the signs an animal presents and the history of possible avocado consumption. Veterinarians typically assume a presumptive diagnosis if all other possibilities are ruled out: these include the ingestion of other toxins or heart diseases.
Treatment of avocado toxicity isn’t specific. No medication can extract persin from the body, and veterinarians assess each case individually. Treatment is focused on controlling the signs of toxicity. It is therefore best to have your vet assess your chicken flock if you’ve accidentally fed them avocado or suspect that they’ve ingested avocado.
Most chickens won’t eat avocado unless you purposefully give it to them, so it is unlikely to cause a health issue. If one of your chickens got into some when you weren’t looking, it is advised to call your vet and tell them how much your chicken ate to see if you need to do anything. Follow your veterinarian’s instructions for any treatment or medication for your flock.
There is no justifiable reason to feed your chickens avocado, there are other healthy, safe treats with plenty of helpful vitamins, minerals and no toxicity concerns.
Looking for more guides on what your chicken can eat? Try: