Be Wary of PVC Coated Wire Cages

Be Wary of the PVC Coated Wire Cages!

by Lisa

There is major recall going on with PVC or vinyl-coated wire cages.   Companies that we know have been affected are Martin’s Cages and Pocket Pets.  Martin’s cages has shut down the ability for the general public to purchase sugar glider cages at the time of this writing so that they could test the wire and see if they can discover the source of the problem.  Martin’s Cages are also sold by other folks in the sugar glider cage business and have been warned.  Pocket Pets has issued a recall on their cages with replacement options.

I’m glad both the companies who’ve ended up with these products are being proactive about the problem, which is thought to have originated around October 2010.  If you purchased a sugar glider cage from either company since this time period, please contact them for questions and solutions.  If you purchased PVC coated wire to make you own cage since this time, you might contact the seller for more information on whether your wire might be affected.

Many sugar glider vets are generally aware of the problem and in touch with each other trying to develop medical protocols that can help those animals affected.  The only thing that is certain at the time of this newsletter is that immediate cage replacement is suggested.    This will abate the issue of continued exposure and give the animals a fighting chance.  Symptoms to look for are:

Mild tremors
Tremors progress to more frequent tremors and shaking
Partial paralysis

Onset of symptoms averages two months after the sugar gliders have been in the toxic cage.  One case did not show any signs for four months.  Young sugar gliders are showing signs (symptoms) quicker than adult, mature sugar gliders.

Most of the cases being reported are in the Northeastern part of the US and a couple of cases in the Midwest as well.  If your gliders begin to show any of these signs, get them out of the PVC coated cage immediately.  People who have done so are seeing many of the gliders recover.  Those who continue to use the cages are seeing declines with most of the gliders not surviving the medical treatment. I’ve read on Glider Central it is being advised to encourage more fluid intake, as this may help “flush” the toxins from the sugar gliders’ systems more effectively.  I think this is sage advice.

If you think you might be able to “clean away” this problem, please think again.  Those people who have tried to scrub the cages down and sterilize them to the best of their ability are not experiencing much success.  The cage is toxic and sterilizing it may have no effect on the toxins if they are embedded in the PVC coating or out gassing is present.  I did speak to one woman who used Novalsan, a veterinary grade disinfectant.  She then went back with Dawn, which is an OSHA suggestion for oil-spill animals.  She used a steam cleaner first and in between each application, then used the steam cleaner twice after rinsing and using the Dawn.  She let the cages sit in the sun for over a week.  It did not solve her problem.  The solution is to get the animals out of the cages.

I have suspected for a few years that PVC vinyl coated cages could be toxic to sugar gliders.  We’ve never sold such cages, because honestly, I don’t think they are nearly as attractive as the powder coated cages, but that is just a girl’s perspective; I’ve also been suspect of their safety.  

Many PVC animal cages use a 1/2 inch by 1 inch rectangle cage bar format, though the wire comes in other formats, even “chicken wire” style.  It can come in other colors, but black seems most common and green seemingly the second most popular color.

Many years ago, I suggested to another breeder they buy PVC coated wire to build their own cage setups, as they felt this would be easier on their startup budget.  I regretted making that suggestion.

The breeder ordered and received pallets of this wire.  This breeder had a family member build new cages for their breeding animals.  As each set of new cages were deployed animals were getting sick and dying at an alarming rate.  Necropsies were performed and finding the right mix of medications was a nightmare.  Animals were dying faster than the treatments were taking effect.  They never did actually find a successful treatment and just gave up on their breeding program.

Necropsies were performed, but the results were not definitive.  The  only thing the doctors could ascertain is that it appeared to be a toxicity issue and they believed the source of the problem to be the cages.  This was many years ago but still poignant to me because so many animals were affected at an alarming rate.  I had suggested the breeder discontinue using the PVC cages, but unfortunately my voice fell on deaf ears and action was not taken.

I’ve known many others over the years who purchased this wire with excellent results.  I suspect that some batches just come in “bad”.

I’ve seen message board posts over the years of young gliders having similar symptoms when being housed in PVC cages.  I think it is harder to make a case for “sick cage syndrome” when someone only has one or two sugar gliders, especially if the gliders are young and the owners inexperienced.  I became personally convinced long ago that PVC cages could be toxic, but until now had nothing to really back up my beliefs, and we strive to keep this newsletter factual.

We did some research back then and talked to some of the companies about PVC wire and what we learned is this.  A lot of the PVC 1/2 inch by 1 inch wire looks alike.  Similar looking wire is used for pet cages as that used for crab traps and lobster pots, for example.  This lobster pot wire looks identical to pet cage wire to the naked eye, but the wire intended for use underwater has a special coating to minimize corrosion.  Let’s face it, saltwater can take its toll on man-made tools and designs.

It only takes one person to mis-label bulk wire and a problem could ignite.  It only takes one person on the manufacturing or distribution side to mess up to the point of creating epidemic problems.

Here’s my big concern with PVC cages versus powder coated cages. Companies purchase the wire in batches.  Each batch may vary chemically, so unless they are doing a full test on each batch of wire as it is received; there are no assurances that the base material is not toxic and/or containing heavy metals.  

Also, wire that is shipped may have been produced in separate batches, then making it even more complicated.  This would require the companies manufacturing cages to test every roll of wire.  Can we trust that is being done?  Do they know what they are testing for?  Lead tests are coming back negative, so unless it is know what is the chemical or heavy metal causing the problem of sick cage syndrome, testing is ineffective.

PVC vinyl wire is manufactured in batches.  For you technogeeks out there, Google how PVC is made and research health hazards.  PVC is known to “outgas” and the State of CA is considering a ban on the use of PVC in consumer problems due to safety issues according to Wikipedia. Here’s a link to information from Wikipedia describing the process of manufacture of polyvinyl chloride (PVC):

Powder coated cages like the ones we sell at SunCoast are part of a controlled manufacturing process, which stays consistent, so unless the process changes, the cage testing should come out the nearly the same each and every time with only minor insignificant variations.

Different color pigments will contain different levels of the heavy metals.  I have never heard of a toxicity problem with the powder coated cages, but not all powder coated cages are made to the same standards.  Some will start rusting within months and this may introduce health hazards to your pets.  Rusted cages are no good!

If your sugar gliders are in a relatively new cage of the PVC coated type, I implore you to consider cage replacement.  It will be a whole lot less expensive than veterinary bills, this I can be sure of.  I’ve been in this business since 1999 and until now, the incidents were more isolated.  This is a significantly more widespread problem today than any I’ve heard of previously.

We have looked at literally hundreds of cages over the years as and you may notice on our website, we don’t offer many.  The reason is simple.  The cages either don’t meet the specifications that we think are best suited for sugar gliders or the cages fail in quality testing.

I would like to share an example with you.  A lot of different companies sell a cage that looks like our Sturdy Cage.

We’ve tried several of the different brands and they all look nearly identical.  We could offer a similar looking cage at a better price, but these look-alike cages fail quality testing.  The first thing we look for is the actual testing performed on the coated finish to see what the levels of toxic materials are.

I had a lengthy conversation with the Doctor of Toxicology at the Lousiana Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory, a lab affiliated with the LSU Veterinary School.  In interpreting the reports for the HQ cages we sell, this Doctor told me lightheartedly “the animal could eat the whole cage and may still not be affected”.  The lab uses guidelines and it is important to understand that such things are not set in stone, simply indicative of potential for exposure.  This lab uses benchmarks of less than 250 ppm (parts per million) for zinc testing and 400 ppm for lead testing.  These are in line with nationally accredited standards.

We have always preferred HQ cages for a variety of reasons.  They employ safe mechanical design features.  The most important safety feature of any cage is the finish.  HQ applies the polyester finish to the cages using a powder-coated paint process which is the highest standard when it comes to adherence.  We’ve found that the cages we’ve tried that are not HQ brand do not last.  Even if the cages look identical, the paint process employed by other companies just doesn’t hold up as well.

So if you think you are saving a few bucks by getting a cage on Ebay or some other less expensive source, you will find yourself buying a new cage sooner.  Does that really save you money?  

HQ does not pay me to promote them and we’re not the only people selling HQ cages, of course.  We simply continually search and find the best quality at the best value, which in our opinion, is currently HQ.

At SunCoast, most cages we sell are a color we call “charcoal”, which is black with silvery flecks you can only see when close to the cage.  The testing laboratory above calls this color “black”.  Below are the actual results of the most recent test (6/15/2011) on this paint color for HQ cages:  

Acceptable Levels: 400 ppm (parts per million)

Result: 0.6 ppm (this is considered “lead free”)

Acceptable Levels: 250 ppm

Result: 67 ppm (this is practically nothing my friends)

You can view the test results on this HQ cage paint for Arsenic, Cadmium, Chromium, Mercury, and Selenium in the lab report here.

Most of us non-scientist lay people usually think of zinc issues with pet supplies and lead issues with painted products, but we don’t stop testing there.  Results indicate that all of these heavy metals listed above are negligibly present and earning a designation of “free” of these agents based upon acceptable safety limits.

There are MANY people being affected by this cage problem.  People who’ve bought from private breeders and from larger resale organizations are at risk.  It is not my intention to imply that only certain companies are having the problem.  Anyone using PVC coated cages even with sugar gliders they’ve had for awhile may be affected, with risk increasing if they are using a newer cage.  If you bought your cage prior to October 2010 and have been using it for that long with no signs of illness, then your risk is relatively low of a problem developing going forward.

I can only assume that there are only a few manufacturers making the wire that many of the cage builders use.  Even if there are “good” batches of wire and “bad” batches of wire, how will one ever know?  The wire doesn’t look any different, doesn’t feel any different and with most glider keepers being new glider keepers they may not notice the signs of toxicity in their animals until it is too late.

All things considered, when it comes to sugar glider cages, we’ll be sticking with the powder-coated variety.

‘Til next time – in good health for you and your gliders, we sign off in appreciation of all of you who share great glider adventures with us!