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Common Bird Diseases
Proventricular Dilatation Disease (PDD)
First recognized in the early 1970's, proventricular dilatation was originally called "Macaw Wasting Disease", as the disease caused a gradual wasting of macaws. Since that time, the disease has affected many species of pet birds.
What is proventricular dilatation syndrome?
Proventricular dilatation syndrome is a condition affecting the nerves supplying the gastrointestinal tract of birds, mainly the proventriculus or true stomach. Nerves supplying other organs may also be affected, and in some cases an encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) may also occur.
What causes the condition?
It is unknown what is the exact cause of proventricular dilatation syndrome, although a virus is suspected. To date, no one virus has been isolated from birds with the condition. Microscopically, the affected nerves are inflamed with an infiltration of certain types of white blood cells.
What are the signs of birds affected with proventricular dilatation syndrome?
The old name, "Macaw Wasting Disease", aptly describes affected birds. Birds have a lack of appetite, show regurgitation, may pass undigested seeds in their feces, and exhibit weight loss. Neurologic signs such as seizures or tremors may also occur. No one sign is definitive for the condition; however, proventricular dilatation should be suspected in birds with chronic unexplained regurgitation, weight loss, and any time undigested foods are seen in the droppings.
How is the condition diagnosed?
Clinical signs may suggest proventricular dilatation syndrome. Radiographs (X-rays), including a barium series may also strongly suggest the condition. The only definitive way to diagnose proventricular dilatation syndrome is with a biopsy of the proventriculus, although a biopsy of the crop (grinding part of the stomach), which is easier to perform, is accurate most of the time.
How do birds acquire the condition?
Because we don't know the exact cause, it's unknown how the condition is spread. Not all birds that are exposed to an infected bird will develop the condition, although the condition can spread throughout a flock of birds. To be safe, birds diagnosed with proventricular dilatation syndrome should be isolated from healthy birds.
Can the disease be treated?
There is unfortunately no treatment for affected birds. Supportive care, including treatment of secondary diseases and forced feeding as needed, can be given, but the condition is ultimately fatal.
Parrot Fever (Chlamydiosis or Psittacosis)
Chlamydiosis, also called "Psittacosis" or "Parrot Fever", is a common disease of birds. The disease can cause chronic infections, asymptomatic infections, or sudden death. The disease can also be transmitted to people. It is not associated with the venereal chlamydia that affects people.
What causes chlamydiosis?
Chlamydiosis is caused by an organism called chlamydia psittici. This organism is similar to a virus or bacteria but is different enough to be classified within its own special group. Like a virus, but unlike many bacteria, it lives right inside the cells of the bird, which makes it difficult to kill with treatment.
What are some common signs of chlamydiosis in birds?
Chlamydiosis can cause many different signs, and therefore should be suspected in any sick bird. Commonly, chlamydiosis causes chronic respiratory (sneezing, runny eyes or nose) or gastrointestinal (change in droppings) signs. Classically, chlamydiosis causes lime green or yellow feces and urates (the normally solid white part of the droppings) due to chlamydial infection of the liver. However, this is not seen all the time and other diseases can also cause these discolored droppings. Chlamydiosis can also be carried asymptomatically by birds, which means they carry the infection, spread it to other birds (and people) but are not sick themselves. This is a good reason for testing all birds for chlamydiosis.
How is chlamydiosis diagnosed?
Several tests are available for diagnosing chlamydiosis. Blood tests can usually tell if your bird is infected even if it is not sick. Sick birds can have their feces checked for the organism as well; however, this test will be negative if the bird is infected but not shedding the organism. As a rule, most healthy birds are checked by one of the available blood tests, and in sick birds, the feces can be checked for a faster result. Finally, special tests can be performed on the liver, spleen, heart, and air sacs of birds that have died to check for a chlamydial performed infection.
How is chlamydiosis treated?
Some doctors use an oral drug called doxycycline; others use an injectable version of the doxycycline, although this may not be available where you live. Since the doxycycline only kills the chlamydia when they are active and dividing, and the chlamydia often cease being active for periods of time, the drug must be used for minimum of 45 days. Since doxycycline often predisposes to yeast infections, your bird should also take an antiyeast drug called nystatin during the treatment. After the 45-day treatment, the bird must be retested for chlamydiosis to make sure the treatment was effective.
Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease
This disease was first described in Australian cockatoos in the early 1970's. Since that time, the disease has infected over 50 different species of birds. The virus causing the disease works slowly; the disease is often called "Bird AIDS" due to some similarities between it and the AIDS condition seen in people.
What causes beak and feather disease?
For many years, the cause was unknown. We now know that a virus causes the disease.
How do birds become infected with the virus?
Susceptible birds can become infected through the oral cavity, nasal passages, and through the cloaca (the common receptical in which the urinary, gastrointestinal and genital tracts empty). The virus is readily shed in the feces and in the crop. Viral particles in the crop (storage part of the stomach) may explain how the virus is passed from parents to offspring. High concentrations of the virus are shed in feather dust from infected birds.
What are the signs of beak and feather disease?
As is the case with the HIV virus in people, infected birds may take months to years before showing any clinical signs. Once signs are seen, most birds die from secondary infections within 6-12 months.
Clinical signs involve lesions affecting the beak, feathers, or both. Most commonly, young birds (less than 3 years old) are infected with the virus. Several forms of the disease may be seen; the forms of the disease are influenced by the age of the bird when infected.
Peracute Form: This occurs in neonatal (recently hatched) birds; signs seen are septicemia (bacteria and bacterial toxins in the blood stream) accompanied by pneumonia, enteritis (infection of the small intestine), weight loss, and death. The diagnosis is easily missed if a necropsy (post mortem / autopsy) is not performed on birds that die suddenly.
Acute Form: The acute form develops in birds infected in young birds as they develop their first feathers. Depression followed by grossly formed developing feathers and often death is seen.
Chronic Form: This form occurs in older birds and is seen as abnormal feathers during molts. Short, clubbed feathers and deformed curled feathers are seen. If birds live long enough they may develop baldness.
Beak deformities may develop, and if they do, these occur after a long course of the disease where substantial feather changes have taken place.
How is the disease diagnosed?
A skin and feather biopsy can be used to eliminate other causes of abnormal skin and feathers. It is not 100% diagnostic for beak and feather disease but can be strongly suggestive of it. A blood test using a DNA probe is the best way to diagnose the disease; it is often performed at the time of the biopsy.
How do I know if my bird is infected?
Birds can be screened for the virus using a simple blood test. New birds should be screened for the disease; if the bird is infected, it probably won't show clinical signs for quite a while and the owner needs to be informed of this. Additionally, many new birds are sold with a health warranty. A bird testing positive should be covered under the warranty and the owner may decide to return it. Any owner purchasing a new bird would have the resident bird and new bird tested before bringing the new bird into the household.
How is beak and feather disease treated?
Unfortunately, there is no treatment for the disease and it is usually fatal. Supportive care can be given and can extend the life of the bird for quite some time. Infected birds should be kept separate from non infected birds as the disease is easily transmitted.