Approximately 200 chickens were found dead after the flooring of a slat-and-litter house was breached. No clinical signs of illness were observed in the surviving birds. During necropsy, rolled oats were found in the chickens' crops and gizzards, and the contents had a petroleum-like odor. Histopathologic examination revealed severe pulmonary edema and congestion of the chickens' lungs, hearts, livers, and kidneys. Based on the history and necropsy findings, zinc phosphide exposure was suspected. Diagnosis of zinc phosphide poisoning has previously been based on history of exposure, identification of the bait material in the gastrointestinal tract, and chemical detection of phosphine gas. However, currently available diagnostic methods are nonconfirmatory, and may produce false positive results. The objective of this case report was to determine whether the sudden death described in these chickens was caused by the ingestion of zinc phosphide, by developing a sensitive and highly specific gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS) methodology for analysis of the gastrointestinal samples submitted to the laboratory. It was also found that the determination of zinc concentrations in liver or kidney tissue or stomach contents is not a reliable indicator of zinc phosphide poisoning.
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Vol. 49 • No. 2