This resource has been updated as of September 13th, 2021
It can be a challenge to ensure geese residents have healthy, happy lives after coming to a sanctuary, and there are many different aspects of care to consider each day. Unfortunately, toxic and poisonous hazards are sometimes overlooked in the hustle and bustle of operating a sanctuary. While minor exposure to many of these toxins is unlikely to cause serious problems, large amounts can cause severe health issues and sadly, even death. Many geese may instinctively avoid toxic plants or avoid them because many are bitter to the taste. However, there are also some toxins that are highly dangerous even in small amounts and others that are quite palatable. In order to help ensure you never run into this problem, we have compiled this resource of common plants and other potentially toxic things that have been known to be a problem for geese.
Toxic PlantsThis is not an exhaustive list. There may be particular plants that grow in your region that are not included on the list. Check with your region’s agricultural department to ensure you have a full picture of what could be problematic for geeseUnless explicitly mentioned, we are referring to domesticated goose breeds, not wild geese, who may have unique needs not covered by this resource. in your area!
Ask About Activated CharcoalWhile prevention is imperative when it comes to protecting your residents from toxins, in the event that they accidentally ingest something toxic, the administration of an activated charcoal product may help absorb the toxins. This is not a magic cure and may not be appropriate in all situations, but it can be helpful to have on hand. We suggest asking your veterinarian if there are specific products they recommend for the various species in your care so you can have them ready should you need them. In addition to seeking urgent medical care, if a resident ingests a toxin, ask your veterinarian if the administration of activated charcoal is advised.
Plants That Are Toxic To Geese
We have built a list below of a number of plants known to be toxic in some way to geese. If you’d like a more detailed list and/or pictures of plants toxic to geese and other species, check out The Open Sanctuary Project’s Global Toxic Plant Database and filter Species Afflicted by geese in order to see a list of plants across the world that are toxic to geese. Please note that, while extensive, this list may not contain every single plant toxic to geese!
Other Potential Geese Toxins
Blue-green algae is often found in stagnant water when temperatures are high. This algae can be toxic to geese if they ingest contaminated water. The type of toxin ingested will determine the symptoms. Geese need only ingest but 1.2 oz (40 ml) of algae bloom to be fatal. In most cases of poisoning, geese are usually found dead, due to the potency of the toxin.
- Reduced Responsiveness
- Dilation of cutaneous vessels in webbed feet
- Wing and leg peresis
- Excessive thirst
- Open mouth breathing
- Intermittent seizures
- Sudden death
Botulism can be contracted if geese eat or play in contaminated soil, water, or decaying matter, spoiled feed, or by consuming maggots who harbor the toxins. Signs of botulism in geese include:
- Muscle Tremors
- Limp neck
- Droopy Eyelids
In order to prevent botulism, be sure to inspect water sources for dying or dead animals and promptly dispose of any bodies properly, then dump contaminated water and thoroughly clean the water container and refill with fresh water. Prevent residents from accessing stagnant bodies of water!
Cedar wood 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. Aspen and pine are generally safer options, though there is conflicting information regarding the safety of pine.
Chick Starter (Medicated)
Goslings should be given a waterfowl starter, if at all possible. Many chick starter foods contain medication to treat coccidia; this medication can be fatal to goslings. It can also cause niacin deficiency, leading to a host of joint and leg problems for the gosling.
Sometimes, copper sulfate is used to treat crop mycosis or digestive issues in geese. However, copper sulfate in a single dose of >1 g is fatal and should be used with care. Symptoms of copper toxicosis are listlessness and watery diarrhea. At a necropsy, burns and erosions are found in the lining of the gizzard, along with a green mucous throughout the intestinal tract.
Hardware Disease refers to the injuries that can result from any animal resident eating something they shouldn’t, especially pieces of human-made hardware like nails, screws, and staples. Hardware disease can have devastating effects on any resident. Check out our resource on Hardware Disease prevention here. Geese are prone to zinc toxicity which is often the result of eating small, shiny metal objects containing zinc. When ingested, a zinc object, such as a penny, is broken down in the gastrointestinal tract and zinc is released into the body. This can cause damage to red blood cells, the pancreas, and the gizzardthe muscular enlargement of the digestive tract of birds that has usually thick muscular walls and a tough horny lining for grinding the food and when the crop is present follows it and the proventriculus. US pennies made after 1983 contain 98% zinc and a single one can be fatal to geese if swallowed. Hardware that may also contain zinc includes, nails, bolts, plumbing nuts, nuts, washers, screws, staples, etc, as well as galvanized metal.
Symptoms of zinc poisoning include:
- Increased thirst
- Green to yellow droppings
- Posterior paresis/paralysis
- Loss of appetite
Lead was once used in paints and pesticides, and can also be found in natural environmental sources. Even if you have never used any products containing lead, it may still be present in old barn or fence paint, or in the soil. Places, where old machinery and leaded gas have been stored, may also have caused the contamination, as would old treated lumber and railroad ties. Geese may ingest the lead in the environment through the consumption of paint flakes, plant material that has absorbed lead in the environment, and tainted surfaces.
Signs of lead poisoning in geese are:
- Greenish droppings commonly seen within 36 hours
- As poisoning progresses, the wings may be extended downward.
- Young birds may die within 36 hours of ingestion.
Having the soil tested at your sanctuary is an easy way to learn if the environment is safe for residents. 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.
Consult a veterinarian immediately if you suspect a gooseUnless explicitly mentioned, we are referring to domesticated goose breeds, not wild geese, who may have unique needs not covered by this resource. has ingested lead or is beginning to show symptoms of lead poisoning.
Mycotoxins are a toxin produced by molds (fungi) that are harmful to many animals, including geese. Mycotoxins, specifically aflatoxins can affect geese through contaminated food or bedding. Moist, warm environments make a perfect recipe for mold reproduction. Aspergillus and Penicillium can produce aflatoxins and can be a particular concern for birds.
Prevention is key in avoiding serious health issues. Luckily, there are a number of steps you can take to help ensure resident geese do not suffer the ill effects of mycotoxin poisoning:
- Be sure to keep food, grain, and hay storage areas clean, dry, and cool.
- Try to keep food storage areas protected from mice and rats and other wildlife, as they can chew holes in food bags, increasing the likelihood of grain being exposed to damp conditions.
- Always feed the oldest sources of food first. Try to use up open food bags within a few weeks after opening in the winter and in even less time in the summer.
- Clean any storage bins or cans thoroughly to remove old grain that may get stuck in cracks and crevices.
- Check with your food manufacturer or supplier to see if they regularly test for the presence of mycotoxins in grains before mixing food. If they do not, avoid using them and find 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 goose that shows initial signs of mycotoxin exposure.
Pesticides, Herbicides, And Rodenticides
It may not come as a surprise that herbicides and rodenticides can cause toxicosis in geese if ingested. If geese ingest plants or insects that have been sprayed with phenoxy acid herbicides, they can become ill or even die. For this reason, it is imperative that geese are not given treated plants or are allowed access to pastures that have been treated with herbicides.
While rats and mice can pose challenges for sanctuaries, it is important to respect them and use compassionate mitigation practices. In addition to the compassion and consideration mice and rats deserve, many rodenticides are anticoagulants that act by preventing the blood to clot and geese may find and attempt to eat the poisoned body of a mouse or rat and become poisoned themselves if poison is used. There are many new and innovative ways to address rodent populations that are more effective and compassionate.
Early treatment is critical. If you suspect a goose may have ingested any of the poisons above, contact your veterinarian immediately. Blood tests may confirm poisoning.
Polytetrafluoroethylene Toxicosis (Teflon Flu, Polymer Fume Fever)
Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) is found in many household items but those that are intended to be heated are the main source of toxicity. At high temperatures, items containing PTFE can put out highly toxic fumes, resulting in toxicity or even death. Make sure any heat sources you use in resident living spaces, such as a radiant heater or heat lamp, are free of PTFE. We advise against the use of glass bulb heat lamps due to their associated fire risk, but another reason to steer clear is that some are coated in PTFE. Other sources of concern include some hairdryers, heating pads, irons and ironing board covers, computer wires, and non-stick cookware. While polytetrafluoroethylene toxicosis is a concern for any avian resident, be especially vigilant if you share your home with an avian companion, since there are many household items that could contain PTFE.
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 varies by species, and the severity of a bite can also be influenced by size, age, and the number of bites. Most venoms can impair blood clotting and damage the heart, while some others contain neurotoxins. Signs of snakebite may include:
- 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
Seek veterinary care immediately if a goose is bitten by a venomous snake. Do NOT try to suck the venom out or place a tourniquet. Keep the goose calm while seeking immediate veterinary care. Depending on the severity of the bite, treatments may include antivenin, pain medications, fluid therapy, wound treatment, tetanus vaccination, and antibiotics. Check out our Compassionate Wildlife Practices At Your Animal Sanctuary for some tips on how to dissuade snakes from your property.
Wood Stains And Paints
Some wood stains and paints can be toxic to residents. Geese may try to peck at painted or stained surfaces and can become ill if the stain or paint is toxic. When painting or staining fencing or the exteriors of buildings, look for products that are specially made for barns and fencing and listed as animal or “livestockAnother term for farmed animals; different regions of the world specify different species of farmed animals as “livestock”.” friendly. If you choose to paint the interior of an enclosure, we suggest you opt for a zero VOC paint- some are even labeled “petAn animal who spends regular time with humans in their home and life for companionship or human pleasure. Typically a small subset of animal species are considered to be pets by the general public. friendly.” Birds are very sensitive to fumes and should be kept away from freshly painted or stained areas until you are absolutely certain there are no residual fumes.
Foods That Can Be Toxic To Geese
Consider These VariablesYou may see food on this list that you have fed to your residents without any apparent issue. That may be because some foods are toxic in higher amounts while others are toxic in small amounts or whether they are being consistently offered the food over a period of time. It can also depend on the individual. We all have sensitivities to different things. Just as there are dogs who have eaten chocolate and don’t show clinical or subclinical signs of poisoning, there are many dogs that weren’t so lucky. The amount that may cause one goose to become ill (or even die) may be different for another goose. Different breeds or species of birds can also affect their sensitivity to a toxin. In addition to these considerations, certain plants, fruits, vegetables, and other foods listed below may contain varying amounts of the toxin. The toxicity in some fruits and vegetables may even depend on their ripeness, the amount of sun exposure, the temperature, and more! Below we have put together a list of foods that are known to contain some toxin that is potentially harmful to geese. It is our hope that providing this information will help you provide the best care possible to your residents. When possible, we have researched scientific papers to provide solid sources and tried to give more details. However, it is not an exhaustive list and is not meant to replace veterinary advice.
If You Have The Slightest Doubt…Just because something might not be listed here as a toxic food or substance for geese, please do not take that to mean it’s safe to give them! Even normally non-toxic produce can cause health issues if given in large amounts. Check our Daily Diet, Supplement, & Treats For Geese resource and see if it’s listed as a safe treat for geese residents. If you aren’t positive that it will be safe for geese, it’s best to avoid feeding it to them in order to be as safe as possible!
The following is a list of foods that can be toxic to geese. While we were able to find some sources directly referring to geese, the following list also uses sources on birds in general, as well as sources that refer more specifically to chickens, or more generally to “poultry”.
- Avocados: Avocados should be avoided. Skin, leaves, and pits are particularly dangerous, containing high amounts of the toxin persin, but feeding the fruit has potential risk as well and should be avoided altogether to be safe and prevent poisoning. Symptoms of persin poisoning include weakness, trouble perching, ruffled feathers, and respiratory distress. If not caught early, it could be fatal. If you notice someone has been eating an avocado (especially the skin, leaves, or pit), get them to the vet ASAP. Don’t wait for clinical signs, as it is often too late once they start appearing. The vet may recommend or perform a cropA crop is a pouched enlargement of the esophagus of many birds that serves as a receptacle for food and for its preliminary maceration. lavage and administer activated charcoal to bind with the toxin, preventing it from being absorbed into the body.
- Citrus Fruits: If fed in large amounts or frequent small amounts over time, citrus fruits can interfere with calcium absorption. It may also cause gastric symptoms in geese due to the amount of acid. With so many other treats to offer, steering clear of citrus is likely best. If you decide to offer them a bit of citrus (many don’t care for it), don’t feed residents citrus frequently and don’t feed much. Removing any seeds is a good idea as well.
- Coffee or Tea: Though there are some studies that show coffee pulp meal can be fed and have some benefits, it has gone through a special process that reduces caffeine. Caffeine has been studied to see if it can be used to medicate under certain circumstances after undergoing different processes and at specific amounts, but coffee, coffee grounds, beans, and anything with coffee should be avoided. Caffeine has been shown to cause lung and heart-related deaths and should be avoided altogether.
- Chocolate: Chocolate contains the toxin theobromine (and caffeine) and can cause diarrhea, vomiting, and death. The darker the chocolate, the more theobromine it contains. However, all chocolate contains the toxin and should be avoided.
- Alcohol: This may seem obvious, but do not give your geese residents any form of alcohol. Signs may include incoordination, disorientation, lethargy, symptoms of organ damage, and death.
- Salt: While geese do need some salt in their diet, this should be provided in their commercial food. Don’t give geese any additional edibles containing much salt (Sodium Chloride). Excess salt in their diet can lead to salt poisoning, causing abdominal swelling from fluid, excessive drinking, and excessive urination, among other things. You may notice their bedding or ground covering is wetter and they have watery droppings. They may become uncoordinated, experience respiratory distress, tremors, and spasming. Salt poisoning can be fatal. If you suspect salt poisoning, remove food or other sources of salt and call your veterinarian ASAP.
- Green Potatoes: Green potatoes, particularly the skins and “eyes”, contain solanine (as do any green bits from peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant, which are in the same family), which can be poisonous to geese. Solanine is part of a natural defense against insects and fungus, but acts as a neurotoxin in geese and can cause serious illness and even death in high enough amounts. Symptoms include diarrhea, respiratory issues, convulsions, and paralysis. The most solanine is found just under the skin, so potato peels are best avoided entirely. Potatoes that have been in the sun will have increased solanine. Avoiding potatoes altogether will ensure no one is accidentally poisoned by a green potato. Solanine is heat stable, meaning just boiling won’t necessarily reduce the solanine, though it has been posited that the toxin leeches into the water from the potato, which would reduce the amount in the actual potato.
- Green Tomatoes: Green tomatoes, as well as leaves and stems of the plant, contain a solanine-like glycoalkaloid, tomatine, among other chemicals. Like solanine in potatoes, tomatine is part of a tomato plant’s natural defense against insects and fungus. However, their isn’t much evidence of it being toxic to chickens (or humans, think fired green tomatoes). There is one study where chicken embryos were exposed to different levels of tomatine. Exposure caused skull, eye, and beak deformities, as well as swelling, due to an excess of liquid in the tissues, in the head and neck. The amount of tomatine reduces drastically as the fruit matures though there are certain specialty varieties that have higher levels of tomatine than others, even when they are ripe. To be safe, avoid providing green tomatoes and any part of the plant and only offer ripe tomatoes as treats.
- Raw Or Uncooked Dried Beans: These contains phytohemagglutinin (among other things). This is a toxin that affects a number of species in addition to geese, including humans. In geese, eating just a few raw or dried uncooked beans could cause poisoning. Red kidney beans contain the most of this toxin out of all the beans, but others contain the toxin as well and should never be fed to chickens. Studies have shown that raw kidney bean meal causes intestinal and liver changes and pancreas issues, among other health issues, and could result in death in high enough doses. Avoid any raw beans and dry beans, and be sure any beans have been well-cooked, for their sake AND yours. (Slow cookers are not hot enough to break down the toxin.) Canned beans often contain a significant amount of sodium and should be washed thoroughly, though different beans contain different amounts of this and other substances that could be toxic to geese in certain amounts. Steering clear entirely might be the way to go.
- Onions: Onions contain thiosulphate, which can affect red blood cells and cause hemolytic anemiaAnemia is a condition in which you don’t have enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to the body’s tissues. in birds, and can cause irregularly sized red blood cells in large quantities. This goes for powders, juice, raw, and cooked onions. They have been shown to cause stomach upset, weakness, tachycardia, lethargy, collapse, and even death in chickens and swelling and necrosisNecrosis is the death of most or all of the cells in an organ or tissue due to disease, injury, or failure of the blood supply. of the liver and enlargement and swelling of the spleen, damage to the kidneys, and death in geese who were freely fed green onions.
- Tobacco: Tobacco contains nicotine and should never be fed to a goose resident. They should never be around smoke from tobacco products. Ingestion of tobacco can cause terrible symptoms, and even death. Signs of nicotine poisoning include hyperexcitability, diarrhea, seizures, and vomiting. If subjected to tobacco smoke, they can develop respiratory disease, eye diseases, skin conditions, and even malformation of the heart, beak, and kidneys. (Cannabis smoke, while not containing nicotine, can still cause vomiting and depression in birds and should be avoided.)
- Mango Peels: While there isn’t a lot of information available, it is known that the skin of mangos contain urushiol, a chemical also contained in poison ivy. It can act as a skin irritant or cause stomach upset in humans and other species. Just food for thought.
- Nuts: Care should be taken with nuts as they can be a choking hazard or cause a crop impaction if they are too big. There is also the risk of aflatoxins, which geese are particularly susceptible to. While some geese may enjoy eating certain nuts, remember, they are high in fat, which could lead to excess weight gain.
- Unshelled Nuts: Some shells may contain toxic substances (like aflatoxins caused by improper storage or age) or cause digestive problems if the bits of shell are consumed (like walnut shells). Symptoms of aflatoxin poisoning are feather picking, purple legs and feet, lameness, loss of appetite, reduced growth, and abnormal vocalizations. Convulsions, incoordination, and spasming of muscles (straining back of the neck and head) may also occur before death.
- Raw Nuts: While sweet almonds may contain a small amount of cyanide, bitter almonds are highly toxic, containing relatively large amounts of cyanide. The nuts you find at the store are generally sweet almonds that have been processed. However, for those living in areas where almond trees abound, be sure you know the difference and keep residents far away. Symptoms of cyanide poisoning include heart issues, GI distress, weakness, seizures, stumbling, respiratory changes, and death.
- Old Peanuts: Older, damp shelled peanuts may become moldy and contain aflatoxins. It is important to err on the side of caution if you aren’t sure about the peanuts you have.
- Rhubarb Leaves: Don’t give your geese residents rhubarb leaves, particularly in large quantities, which contains oxalate crystals, a toxin. In birds, ingesting rhubarb leaves can result in swelling of the mucous membranes in the mouth, lethargy, depression, frequent drinking and excessive urination, diarrhea, dehydration, loss of control over body, weight loss and lameness. These are signs of renal damage. They also contain anthraquinones, which can have a laxative effect. There are varying amounts of the toxins in the plant depending on different factors.
- Spinach: Spinach also contains oxalate like rhubarb and can interfere with calcium absorption and contribute to egg-binding. Small amounts occasionally may be fine. Discuss with your veterinarian before offering to residents.
- Visibly Moldy Or Rotten Foods: Rotten or moldy foods can contain mycotoxins. These can cause a host of health issues and even death. If ingested, you may notice ulcers in their mouth or crusty surfaces inside their mouth. A common type of mycotoxin, aflotoxins, are caused by Aspergillusany of a genus (Aspergillus) of ascomycetous fungi with branched radiate sporophores including many common molds