OBJECTIVES: Pharmaceuticals and heavy metals such as diclofenac and lead, respectively, have been identified as environmental contaminants toxic to birds and posing serious threats to declining populations of raptors worldwide. The aim of the present study was to test the hypothesis that a sublethal combination of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and lead induces more pronounced effects than single exposures in birds.
METHODS: A total of 40 Japanese quails (Coturnix coturnix japonica) at the age of 2 months and average weight of 180g were on a random basis divided into four experimental groups of 10 specimens (i.e., control, diclofenac, lead, and lead+diclofenac exposures). Six lead shots in the total weight of 1.5 grams were inserted into the crop on day 0 of the experiment, while a total of 5 mg/kg of diclofenac administered intramuscularly were divided into treatments on days 0 and 5. Group responses were compared using haematology and biochemistry after 10 days.
RESULTS: There was no mortality in control and both single and combined diclofenac and lead exposure groups, nor did the birds show any clinical signs of intoxication. Univariate analyses of blood parameters yielded a decrease in haematocrit in birds exposed to both substances when compared with the control, a lower haemoglobin level of the lead-exposed group, increased activity of aspartate aminotransferase in the NSAIDs-exposed group, increased activity of alkaline phosphatase in birds exposed to a combination of diclofenac and lead, and a higher phosphorus level in the lead-exposed group. The principal component analysis revealed no multivariate pattern of responses of blood parameters and did not allow separation of exposure groups from controls when the variables and samples were projected onto a two dimensional space.
CONCLUSIONS: Results of the present study can enhance understanding of combination toxicity of veterinary drugs and heavy metals in birds, i.e. a scenario that has become environmentally relevant in recent decades. Fortunately, individual blood parameter effects prevailed and no joint mortal effects were recognised in Japanese quails exposed to a combination of sublethal doses of diclofenac and lead.