LBAH Informational Articles

Spay- Pot Bellied Pig

Spaying a pig has similarities to spaying dogs and cats, but not a lot! It is an interesting surgery because of the unique anatomy of the pot bellied pig. They have miles of intestines and a uterus that’s very long because of the large number of piglets that are born at one time.

Graphic surgery photos on this page.

On the day of surgery we need your pet in the hospital between 7:30 AM and 9 AM. Please take away all food and water when you go to bed the evening before surgery, and do not give your pig anything to eat or drink the morning of surgery. It will go home in the late afternoon the day of surgery. Please call our office at 4 PM for pickup time, you will be given post operative instructions then.

This is Elly, a young lady who will be our patient today.


Anesthesia

Pre-anesthetic preparation is important in every surgery we perform, no matter how routine, because surgery is not an area to cut corners. All of our spays receive a physical exam prior to surgery. Only if they pass this exam will we draw a small amount of blood for an in-hospital pre-anesthetic test. When everything is to our satisfaction we will administer a sedative. This will calm the pet down and make the administration of the actual anesthetic, along with post operative recovery, much smoother.

Once a pet is anesthetized, prepared for surgery, and had its monitoring equipment hooked up and reading accurately, the surgery can begin.

Pigs need to be monitored carefully for overheating during anesthesia, which is the opposite of most anesthetized animals. They produce more body heat relative to other animals because of their large muscle mass. Pigs do not sweat or pant, they need to be in contact with something cool to rid of excess body heat. Because of this we constantly monitor their temperature during and after the surgery.

We keep a close tab on important physiologic parameters for all of our surgeries. Monitors like this give us an early warning of an impending problem.

Surgery-Monitor


Surgery

The following area contains graphic pictures of an actual surgical procedure performed at the hospital. It may not be suitable for some children (and some adults also!).

Every major surgery we perform begins with proper patient preparation. This will help prevent infection, which could be a serious complication in this surgery because during a spay we have an opening into the abdomen.


The surgeon makes an incision near the umbilicus and extends it 3-5 inches in the direction of the tail (the tail is at the left in this picture). We try to make our incisions as small as possible to minimize anesthetic time, decrease post operative discomfort, and minimize the healing time.

Our surgeon is using a #10 blade to start the incision


The tissue just underneath the skin is called the subcutaneous layer. It consists mostly of small blood vessels, and of course fat (this is a pig after all).


The final layer we need to cut before we are actually into the abdomen is called the linea alba. It is an area of muscle in the center of the abdomen that is covered by a tough layer of tissue. This is the most important layer resutured at the end of the surgery because it is the only layer strong enough to hold the abdominal muscles together to prevent a hernia.

In this picture the linea is being held up with a forceps, and a scalpel blade (held upside down) is being used to make the incision.


Scissors are commonly used to extend the linea incision and facilitate the removal of the uterus. Care has to be taken not to puncture internal organs like the bladder.

The scissors is sharp and all we have to do is slide it along the tissue for a proper cut


Buried within the abdominal organs and abdominal fat is the uterus. A special instrument called a spay hook is sometimes utilized to gently pull one of the uterine horns through the abdominal incision.

This hook allows us to keep the skin incision small


The uterine horn is traced into the body cavity until the ovary is found. It has to be gently teased from its location near the kidneys in order to be able to pull it out through the abdominal incision. In older pigs this part of the procedure is much more difficult.

This ovary (arrow) has several follices forming, which is the bumpy appearance.


The blood supply to the ovary is extensive, so a special technique is utilized to prevent hemorrhage. This technique involves the use of special clamps. The smaller arrow on the top points to the ovary, which will be removed along with the clamp. The 2 larger arrows on the bottom point to two sutures used to tie off (called ligation) the blood supply to the ovary.

This area is called the pedicle, and will be replaced back into the abdomen when the surgery is complete.


When both ovaries have been removed the body of the uterus is now ligated.

You can see the first suture being placed at the top of the screen.


Another ligature is placed around the body and the uterus is cut away


The linea alba is now securely resutured. Stainless steel sutures are sometimes used because they are very strong, cause minimal tissue reaction, and show up vividly on an x-ray of the abdomen .


The subcutaneous layer is now closed with a type of suture that dissolves over several months.


The last layer sutured is the skin. Sometimes we put the sutures on the outside, which means they have to be removed in 7-10 days. We call this a bikini scar.

It is at this point that we will give a pain injection, which might make this pig groggy for the evening.


Postoperative Care

Most pigs go home late in the afternoon on the day we perform the surgery. They might be groggy from the pain injection which is advantageous because they will remain calm and allow the healing process to start immediately. By the following morning the grogginess will have worn off.

When you first get home do not be in a big rush to feed. After 1 hour at home offer a small amount of food and water. If the appetite is good, offer more several hours later. Do not over do the feeding the first night because anesthesia can make them nauseous.

Keep contact with children and other pets to a minimum the first night, and restrict activity for several days to allow the incision to heal. Try not let your pig go outside until healing is complete.

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Neuter- Pot Bellied Pig

At the Long Beach Animal Hospital use of the laster is mandatory for all neuters.  The advantages of using the laser will be obvious.

Sometimes people get a jaded mindset when it comes to routine surgeries like neuters, that are performed by the thousands, especially at low cost spay and neuter clinics. It is a major surgery, and we treat it as such at the Long Beach Animal Hospital, which you will learn about in this page.

One of the more interesting surgeries we perform is a pig neuter, know medically as an orchectomy. It has similarities to neutering other animals, particularly dogs, yet it is not the same thing as a dog neuter. You should not try this surgery at home….

Several days prior to any surgery please bring in your pet for a preanesthetic exam and blood panel to confirm your pet is ready for anesthesia. At that time one of our doctors will go over any questions you have.

On the day of surgery we need your pet in the hospital between 7:30 AM and 8 AM. Please take away all food and water when you go to bed the evening before surgery, and do not give your pig anything to eat or drink the morning of surgery. It will go home in the late afternoon the day of surgery. Please call our office at 4 PM for pickup time, you will be given post operative instructions then.

Our surgeon will call you after the surgery is complete and your pig is awake. It can go home in the late afternoon the day of surgery unless instructed otherwise. Please call our office at 4 PM for pickup time, you will be given written post operative instructions then. We are open in the evening if you need to pick up later.

This is Bailey, our victim (oops, we mean patient). Isn’t he just cute enough to hug!

Anesthesia

Pre-anesthetic preparation is important in every surgery we perform, no matter how routine. All of our neuters receive a pre-anesthetic test several days prior to surgery.

Bailey is a good patient and held still for his blood sample

When everything is in order we will give a sedative. This will calm Daisy down and make the administration of the actual anesthetic, along with post operative recovery, much smoother. Once a pet is anesthetized, prepared for surgery, and had its monitoring equipment hooked up and reading accurately, the surgery can begin.

Pigs need to be monitored carefully for overheating during anesthesia, which is the opposite of most anesthetized animals. They produce more body heat relative to other animals because of their large muscle mass. Pigs do not sweat or pant, they need to be in contact with something cool to rid of excess body heat. Because of this we constantly monitor their temperature during and after the surgery.

We keep a close tab on important physiologic parameters for all of our surgeries. Monitors like this give us an early warning of an impending problem.

Surgery-Monitor

Once our surgeon has scrubbed up and is  in sterile gown, gloves, and mask, the surgery begins

_D2A8630

Surgery

The following area contains graphic pictures of an actual surgical procedure performed at the hospital.

Bailey is being readied for surgery. His anesthesia has been given and we are ready for our surgical prep.


We make our skin incision just in front of the scrotum. We used the laser to make the incision because of its tremendous advantages.

There is no bleeding from the the skin incision when we use the laser. This is an advantage for the surgeon and the patient.

The testicle bulges out of the incision cover by its internal layers called tunics

The testicle is carefully exteriorized giving us access to the base where the blood vessels reside

Special suture is used to tie off the blood supply before we remove the testicle

The blood supply is so extensive we use more than one strong suture. These sutures will dissolve over the next several months.

The sutures we place in the skin are removed in 10 days.

Bailey is a little groggy right after the surgery, but at least he is feeling minimal pain. This is because we use the laser and we gave him post-operative medication for pain.

Postoperative Care

Most pigs go home late in the afternoon on the day we perform the surgery. They might be groggy from the pain injection which is advantageous because they will remain calm and allow the healing process to start immediately. By the following morning the grogginess will have worn off.

When you first get home do not be in a big rush to feed. After 1 hour at home offer a small amount of food and water. If the appetite is good, offer more several hours later. Do not over do the feeding the first night because anesthesia can make them nauseous.

Keep contact with children and other pets to a minimum the first night, and restrict activity for several days to allow the incision to heal. Try not let your pig go outside until healing is complete.

Laser Surgery

Using the laser has many advantages over using a scalpel blade. These include negligible bleeding during the procedure and post operative pain. Our Laser Page has detailed information on the use of the laser for various surgeries.

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Bird X-Rays

The first series of radiographs are before we had our digital radiography. As you scroll down and come to the rad’s taken by our digital machine you will see the increase in quality.

This first x-ray is from a normal cockatoo that is laying on its side, with the head towards the right. To see a diagram that labels these structures click here, then return for our x-ray tour of birds.

This is another normal cockatoo, this time it is laying on its back. The important organs have been labeled. Note the hourglass appearance of how the heart and liver connect.

These first two x-rays show a bird that has an abdomen filled with fluid. You cannot identify individual organs when the fluid is this extensive. Unfortunately, this is a serious condition.


This is an x-ray of a bird with an enlarged liver. The hourglass appearance between the heart and liver is not present.

This patient has lead toxicity (click here to learn more about lead toxicity). The arrow points to lead particles in the gizzard (stomach). Do you see the fractured leg also? The next x-ray shows the lead and fracture from a different view.

This same bird is now laying on its back, and emphasizes the importance of analyzing two views of an x-ray. The fracture (arrow) in the tibiotarsal (shin) bone is more apparent now. The other arrow points to the lead particles in the gizzard. Now go back and see if you can find the fracture in the view above (hint-it is in the leg to the left). This type of fracture can be handled with a splint.


Here is another bird with lead particles in the gizzard. You know how to recognize it now without an arrow.

The arrow is pointing to a metallic object that is in the bone marrow of the femur (thigh bone). Can you guess what this object is? The next x-ray shows you a side view of this object.

Birdrad-intraosseus

This is called an intraosseus (IO) catheter. It is used to give fluids, especially during an emergency. Birds have very thin walled veins and sometimes they do not hold up when we need to administer fluids. The IO catheter remedies this problem

The following radiographs are from our new digital radiography machine. You can click on them to enlarge.

Egg bound

Birdrad- egg

Fish hook in crop

Birdrad- fishook

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Barium in crop

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

BB in skull

Birdrad-BB

Hawk with BB’s in wing

Birdrad-digitalhawkpellets

Detail of digital radiography in a normal bird

Birdrad-digitallateral

Birdrad-digitalvd

Fractured tibiotarsal (shin) bone

Pelican Fx

Fish hook in gizzard (ventriculus)

Birdrad-gizzardfishook

Heron neck

Birdrad-heronneck

Repair of fractured ulna in red tailed hawk. The metal object is an IM (intramdeullary) pin. The fuzziness around the pin is normal healing bone, called callus

Birdrad-impin

Egg bound bird with egg almost out (in the cloaca)

Birdrad-lateralegg

Fracture repair using external pins

Birdrad-pinrads

Birdrad-pins

 

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Proventricular Dilatation Syndrome (PDS)

Proventricular Dilatation Syndrome (PDS) , also known as Macaw Wasting Disease (it was first seen in macaws), is a devastating disease of mostly young psittacines. The proventriculus is the chamber of the digestive tract just in front of the ventriculus (gizzard). When it dilates there is an inability of the stomach to digest food. It can be a problem in any psittacine, but is found most commonly in macaws and cockatoos.

Cause

A virus is the most likely cause.

Symptoms

Birds that have this problem are weak, have lost weight, and can have difficulty perching. Many of them will regurgitate and pass undigested seeds in their droppings.

Regurgitation of a mucous like fluid is one of the classic signs of PDS. There might be seeds adhered to the mouth and feathers around the face.

Diagnosis

Young cockatoos and macaws that have symptoms of this disease warrant further diagnostic tests. Other diseases can mimic PDS, so it is important to follow a thorough diagnostic process. Baby birds and those with infections, cancer or toxicities can also have a dilated proventriculus. Sometimes a biopsy of the crop or proventriculus is needed to confirm the diagnosis.

X-rays are a significant aid in making this diagnosis. The chambers of the stomach will show enlargement, which can be outlined with barium. Barium allows us to see the structures of the digestive tract more clearly. It also lets us know if the digestive tract is normal by assessing how long it takes for the barium to pass through to the end.

To understand how we perform a radiographic analysis of this problem it is important to understand the radiographic anatomy of a bird:

This is a normal x-ray of a bird laying on its right side. The head is towards the left. The diagram below explains the structures.

AS- air sac

PV- proventriculus

Vent- ventriculus (gizzard)

S- spleen

H- heart

This bird has PDS. The arrows circle the hugely dilated proventriculus.

We frequently give barium to help in outlining the digestive tract and to look for causes of the dilated proventriculus other than PDS.

In this x-ray the barium filled crop is on the far left (arrow on far left), there is barium in the esophagus (arrow in middle) and the ventriculus has barium in it (arrow on far right). The dilated proventriculus, without any barium in it, can be seen just to the left of the ventriculus.

Treatment

PDS carries a poor prognosis. Medication to minimize vomiting and supportive care with fluids, antibiotics, and feeding small amounts of food at each meal might be helpful temporarily.

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Lead Toxicity

Lead is a heavy metal and can easily cause a toxicity (called plumbism). Other heavy metals, notably zinc, can also cause toxicity.

Cause

Birds are sometimes drawn to shiny objects, hence they will eat metallic objects that can contain lead. Birds are natural chewers and will chew cage bars and painted walls. In older homes there are sometimes layers of paint below the surface layer that contain lead. Lead particles can build up on the ventriculus (gizzard) and become toxic if in large enough quantity.

Lead is a heavy metal that is poorly absorbed by the intestines. Unfortunately, only a small amount is needed to cause problems. It eventually gets distributed to all body tissues, with particular emphasis on the digestive system, the red blood cells, the bone marrow, the liver and the nervous system.

Sources of lead could include; old paint, old cages, solder, stained glass, curtain weights, foil, fishing weights, batteries, linoleum, plaster, and putty.

Symptoms

Symptoms depend on how much lead is ingested over how long a period of time. The disease is sometimes broken down into acute lead toxicity and chronic lead toxicity.

In the acute version birds might be weak, depressed, produce abnormal droppings, and vomit. Neurologic signs could include walking in circles, twitching, incoordination and even convulsions.

Here is a short video of a bird with neurologic signs that could be caused by lead toxicity

Lead Toxicity Bird

Chronically infected birds can have similar symptoms to acute toxicity. In addition, they might lose weight, be partially or fully paralyzed, and even blind.

Diagnosis

History

In some lead infected birds there is a history of recent chewing of paint on the walls. In some cases the owners did not suspect any exposure to lead.

Physical Exam

The physical exam may or may not reveal significant abnormalities. It all depends on how much lead has been ingested over how long a period of time.

This bird has lead toxicity. It chewed the paint on the floor after the owner did some remodeling in an old home. He is alert and eating well but cannot walk well on his back legs.

Diagnostic Tests

A blood panel might be useful in this disease. In some birds we might see anemia or evidence of liver disease. When we suspect lead toxicity we can run a lead level on the blood.

A blood lead level gives us a more accurate indication if lead toxicity is present

This is from the bird above. His lead level is 0.5 parts per million, far above the normal range of less than 0.06

Some brids can have a zinc toxicity also.

One of the most consistent ways to diagnose lead toxicity is with an x-ray. Lead is a heavy metal and will show up vividly on a radiograph, usually in the ventriculus (gizzard).

This radiograph is also from the above bird. It has normal grit in the gizzard, but if you look closely some of the grit looks brighter than normal. The brighter objects are lead particles, not grit.

Treatment

Birds that are weak, losing weight, or not eating need supportive care. This consists of fluids and supplemental feeding. We will frequently hospitalize them until they regain their strength. If they are having seizures we can put them on anticonvulsant medication.

It is important to try to remove the lead from the ventriculus. Treatment with lubricating agents or even peanut butter will help pull the lead out of the gizzard to be passed in the droppings. On rare occasions, especially if the lead particles in the ventriculus are too large to pass, we will perform surgery to remove them.

Once your bird is stable and we have attempted to remove the lead from its ventriculus we use a class of medications called chelating agents. Their job is to go into the organs, especially the bone, where the lead has accumulated and counteract its affects. It can take several courses of treatment to completely treat your bird. These medications are not without risk, so they are used intermittently to give your bird a rest period in between doses.

We will treat until the lead level in the blood test is back to normal and there is no more radiographic evidence of lead in the ventriculus.

Prevention

It is the nature of birds to be chewers and put metallic objects in their mouth. Minimizing their exposure to lead containing objects is an obvious way to prevent this problem. Also, feeding them a balanced diet (not just seed) will help keep them from looking for nutrients they need and are not receiving in their diets.

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Egg Binding

Egg Binding is a problem that occurs most often in the smaller female birds. Canaries, lovebirds, cockatiels, budgies (parakeets) and finches are the commonly affected breeds. Egg binding can be a serious problem, and is considered an emergency, requiring delicate and professional care. Unfortunately, some birds can succumb in spite of this care.


Cause

Infection, trauma to the reproductive tract, inadequate nesting area, excessive egg laying, obesity, and nutritional problems are some of the factors involved with this problem. Those birds on all seed diets or those with an inadequate calcium intake are particularly prone. An egg that is too soft can also cause the problem. Some birds are just prone to the problem, and even environmental factors like hypothermia can be involved. Determining the exact cause can be difficult.

Symptoms

Birds that have this problem might exhibit depression, labored breathing, straining, abdominal distention, lack of droppings, whitish droppings only, fluffed appearance, and poor appetite. There might even be a broken bone due to inadequate calcium. These are also the symptoms of other avian diseases. Pressure from a stuck egg can even interfere with nerve function to the legs. Sometimes the only symptom is your bird sitting at the bottom of the cage. Unfortunately, the only symptom in some cases is a dead bird found at the bottom of the cage.

Even a bird that is eating can have serious illness

Avian-BottomOfCage

Diagnosis

In many egg bound birds there is a history of recent egg laying. Some birds exhibit sexual behavior and even build nests. During physical examination of a bird with a distended abdomen an egg can sometimes be palpated. There are other causes besides egg binding in sick birds with distended abdomens, so it is important to follow a thorough diagnostic process.

X-rays are a significant aid in making this diagnosis, but only if a bird is strong enough. Eggs shells have a high level of calcium, so depending on how well they are developed, might show up vividly on an x-ray. Some eggs are poorly calcified and do not show up well on a radiograph.

It’s not difficult to see the egg on this bird that is laying on its back. The circular whitish material just above the egg is grit in the gizzard (ventriculus).

Treatment

Egg bound birds are very ill and require emergency care. Many are hypothermic and require immediate warming. They can be toxic from the inability to eliminate waste products and dehydrated from poor appetites and weakness, so warm fluids are also administered. If the bird is in shock we will give these fluids via an intraosseus catheter. Calcium is also administered to aid in muscle contractions and hopefully expulsion of the egg on its own. Medications to stimulate the uterus to contract are also used. Whether or not they help depends on the cause of the problem.

If medical therapy does not work we attempt to help in the removal of the stuck egg. Once the bird is more stable we can sometimes gently expel the egg with liberal lubrication and digital pressure. If the egg is adhered to the uterus digital pressure might not work. Inserting a needle with a syringe attached directly into the egg allows us to collapse the egg and make expulsion easier.

This female is being examined with a lubricated speculum to determine the exact nature of her problem. We can deflate the egg by passing the needle through the speculum. The arrow points to a high intensity cool light that allows greater visualization.

Prevention

There are factors involved with this problem that we have no control over. Factors we can control are good nutrition, a clean environment, spaying birds that are predisposed to egg binding or are excessive egg layers, minimizing obesity and stimulating exercise.

Careful daily observation of your pets daily habits will help you recognize the early symptoms of this disease. No matter what the problem, any time your pet bird shows any symptoms of a disease, no matter how subtle, it is considered significant and requires immediate veterinary care. This is because birds are masters at hiding illness, and we are all too often presented with sick birds in advanced stages of disease. Our ability to return these birds to normal health is diminished because proper care has not been given early on in the disease process where it is most beneficial.

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Scaley Face Mites

Birds are occasionally infected with a mite called Knemidicoptes (if you want to make an effort at pronouncing this word the K is silent). We usually encounter this problem in parakeets (Budgies) at our hospital. This parasite causes extensive crusting and hair loss, fortunately it is readily treatable.

Cause

Scaley face disease is caused by a mite called Knemidicoptes that is spread from bird to bird by contact. Some birds acquire this parasite while young and do not develop symptoms until they are young adults.

Diagnosis

This disease is diagnosed by the character of the lesions and the fact that it has occurred in a Budgie. Microscopic examination by a skin scraping will reveal the mite.

This bird has the telltale lesions of scaley face mites. There is crusting on the neck and face, and a honeycombed appearance to the beak. This is a severe case. In addition, this bird has a growth on its beak.

Lesions also occur in other areas, most noticeably in the vent and on the feet.

Treatment

Years ago the only treatment we had was an ointment that was used to treat pubic lice in people. It was messy and had to be applied daily, but it usually worked. Now we use the drug Ivermectin, given every week or two until the problem is gone, usually within 3-4 weeks.

This is the same bird as above 10 days after its first Ivermectin treatment. We removed the growth on its head a few days before this.

Here he is 2 weeks after his second treatment. He is almost completely healed and feeling a million times better. Hard to believe its the same bird.

He was brought into our clinic and dropped off as part of our wildlife program since he was a stray and was found by one of our clients. He has a great personality, and once we got him looking like this we had no problem finding him a home (with a girlfriend).

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Parrot Fever (Psittacosis)

Parrot fever has many names, including Chlamydiosis, Psittacosis and Ornithosis. It is called Psittacosis when it occurs in people and psittacine (parrot types) birds, and Ornithosis when it occurs in passerine (pigeons, doves, etc.) birds. Psittacosis is difficult to diagnose, and is a mysterious disease that does not “follow the rules” of typical avian diseases.

Important Regulations

The United States Department of Agriculture regulates the importation of domestic birds in order to protect the domestic poultry industry. These imported birds must be accompanied by a health certificate. Upon admission they are quarantined for 30 days at a special facility and tested for Newcastle disease. During the 30 days they are given food supplemented with medication that will treat Psittacosis. This medicated feed needs to be continued for at least an additional 15 days when the bird is released from quarantine.

State Health Regulations

Psittacosis is a reportable disease. When a positive diagnosis of Psittacosis is made an inspection might occur to determine the cause of the outbreak, number of birds affected, and any human exposure. Depending on the specifics of the situation a quarantine and treatment might be initiated.

Human Health Significance

Humans can get Psittacosis (Chlamydia psittaci) from birds. Cats get Chlamydia psittaci and show evidence of eye problems, but there is no evidence that cats can spread this disease to people. Other species of the Chlamydia bacteria that occur in sheep, goats, and cattle can cause disease in humans, but those diseases are not called Psittacosis.

Exposure is usually due to the inhalation of dried bird droppings that contain the organism, incubation is 6-19 days. Other potential sources of infection are from respiratory secretions and feathers. Symptoms in people range from nothing to severe disease with pneumonia. Typical symptoms include fever, chills, headache, muscle aches and cough. Inflammation of the heart, liver, and nervous system can occur, with even fatal cases reported. With proper treatment most people recover. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 50-100 cases of human Psittacosis are reported each year, with probably many more undiagnosed. Probably due to increased awareness and diagnostic testing, annual incidence of Psittacosis in humans is decreasing.

Cause

Psittacosis is caused by a bacterium called Chlamydia psittaci that is an obligate intracellular parasite. It has been isolated from many birds, especially cockatiels and parakeets. After exposure the incubation period can vary from 3 days to weeks.

Healthy birds can be carriers of Psittacosis, shedding the organism in their droppings intermittently. It is also found in respiratory discharge. Shedding is stimulated in birds by stress like overcrowding, chilling, and shipping. The shed Psittacosis bacteria can remain infectious in the environment for several months.

Symptoms

Birds are masters at hiding any symptoms of illness, especially in Psittacosis. An apparently healthy bird that is singing and eating in the morning can be gravely ill or be found dead by the same afternoon. It is imperative that you tune in to subtle signs of disease in your pet bird, and bring it in for an exam at the first sign of a problem. If you are unsure, it is better to be safe than sorry.

Some birds with Psittacosis do not show any symptoms and can become carriers, shedding the bacterium intermittently, especially when stressed. Others might get a chronic illness or become severely ill and die. Symptoms depend on age at infection, species, virulence of the specific strain of the bacterium, exposure amount, and stress factors.

Typical symptoms, if present, might include a fluffed appearance, poor appetite, weight loss, respiratory disease, and lime green droppings. The droppings might appear to be diarrhea, but in reality they are usually watery urates, the equivalent of bird urine. Some birds have ocular discharge, leading to the term “one eyed cold”. These symptoms occur with many other avian diseases, so it is imperative to follow proper diagnostic parameters when making this diagnosis.

This parrot has a problem as evidenced by its fluffed appearance. It is fluffed because a disease process is preventing it from keeping itself warm, so it is trapping air under its feathers in order to insulate itself. Birds that do this consistently are ill. Psittacosis can cause this, but so can many other bird diseases.

Diagnosis

History

In some cases we have a high degree of suspicion because a bird has been imported into the country illegally. This means it has bypassed the USDA quarantine and treatment facility. These smuggled birds commonly come from Mexico. They can be purchased at swap meets for a low price, so you must be wary of these potential disease carriers.

Physical Exam

The physical exam may or may not reveal significant abnormalities. An exam of a bird gives us limited information compared to dogs and cats. This is because of the unique anatomy and physiology of a bird. Several examples will elucidate this point.

  • A birds body temperature can go well over 107 degrees F and still be normal
  • They do not have external lymph nodes that can be felt during an exam
  • Their heart rate can easily be up to 500 beats per minute, making it almost impossible to detect murmurs and arrythmias
  • They do not have a diaphragm, the muscle of breathing that separates the abdomen from the chest
  • They use air sacs as a major part of their respiratory physiology, as opposed to dogs and cats using only lungs.
  • Their keel bone extends far down over their abdomen, making it impossible to accurately palpate abdominal organs.

Diagnostic Tests

Since a physical exam on birds yields significantly less information compared to a dog or cat, we need to rely more on diagnostic tests.

Taking a blood sample from the small veins of a bird is a refined art. One of our nurses is taking one from the leg vein of a cockatoo.

A blood panel might be perfectly normal, or it might show significant problems. This is a blood panel from a bird positive for Psittacosis on the ELISA test. The arrows point to the significant abnormalities. The white blood cells (WBC count) are elevated, it is anemic (HCT is low), and its liver test (AST) is high. These findings give us an indication that this bird might have Psittacosis, but they can also occur with other avian diseases though.

Another diagnostic test helpful in Psittacosis is radiology because it allows us to visualize internal organs. This radiograph is also from the above bird. It has an enlarged spleen (S), the circular structure in the middle of its coelomic cavity.

If you would like to learn more about reading a bird radiograph click here.

Culture

Culture is used to detect the Chlamydia organism itself, and is one of the most accurate methods of making an accurate diagnosis. It is time consuming, requires special techniques and laboratories, and since shedding of the bacteria can be intermittent, samples need to be collected for several days. Also, it can take up to several weeks before the result is available, which defeats the purpose of the test for many ill birds. Unfortunately, the laboratories that perform this culture are not readily available to us.

Psittacosis tests

Psittacosis tests have been developed to aid us in our diagnosis. No test is perfect or applies to every situation and species. In some cases we will perform several of these tests to increase accuracy:

  • Antibody Tests- These tests check for antibodies made by the immune system when it is exposed to the Chlamydia organism. Birds that are stressed, in poor nutritional state, or have other diseases, might not produce antibodies at all. Also, it is possible for these tests to be negative early in the course of the disease when the immune system has not had enough time to produce antibodies.
    • EBA- Elementary Body Agglutination checks the antibody called IgM (immunoglobulin M), which is found early in the course of the disease. As a result, it is used as a screening tool for healthy birds or if a bird is suspected to be early in the course of the disease. A positive result does not easily differentiate a bird that actively has the disease from a bird that has been exposed in the past and is currently not ill. It only requires a small amount of blood in relation to other blood tests. IFA- Immunofluorescent Antibody checks for IgG (immunoglobulin G) that builds up in the bloodstream later in the course of the disease. It gives a better long term perspective as a result.
  • Antigen Tests- These tests check for the shedding of the Chlamydia organism in the feces. Viable Chlamydia are not needed for a positive diagnosis since they test for antigen or DNA of Chlamydia.
    • ELISA-Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay is used on ill birds. It was originally developed to detect human Chlamydia. Like the culture, samples should be taken over several days to increase the chance of finding the problem in intermittent shedders. It is an easy test to administer and can be performed as an outpatient basis with immediate results. False negatives and false positives can occur. a bird with a negative on this test still could have Psittacosis. A bird with a positive on this test might have Psittacosis.PCR- Polymerase Chain reaction is another antigen test. It has great promise and might become the test of choice in the future.

Autopsy (Necropsy)

Unfortunately, Psittacosis is sometimes accurately diagnosed only at necropsy.

This dark red organ is the enlarged spleen of a bird that died of Psittacosis.

This air sac is cloudy, an indication of an infection. Psittacosis could be a cause of this.

Treatment

Birds that are suspected of having Psittacosis are immediately isolated. Protective clothing should be worn at all times when treating these suspects. Routine surgical masks might not be adequate to prevent exposure.

Birds that are weak, losing weight, or not eating need supportive care. This consists of fluids and supplemental feeding. We will frequently hospitalize them until they regain their strength. The mainstay of treatment is with the tetracyclines.

There are several different methods to get this medication into a birds system in order to achieve adequate blood levels.

  • Medicated Feed- Medicated foods can be purchased or made up that contain 1% chlortetracycline (CTC). These need to be fed for 45 days. Acceptance is variable, so monitoring of food consumption is imperative. Calcium should not be greater than >7% in this diet because it can interfere with the tetracycline.
  • Oral Doxycycline- This is the drug of choice for oral treatment. It is also used for 45 days, and is given to birds that are cooperative.
  • Injectable Doxycycline- This drug, also know as Vibravenous, is given once every 5-7 days. Treatment is given for at least 6 weeks. Irritation can occur at the injection site, so it must be given under the direction of a veterinarian.

Prevention

Do not purchase a bird that seems ill or you suspect has been brought into this country illegally. New birds should be examined, tested, and quarantined for at least 45 days. During this 45 days these new birds can be treated also.

People with compromised immune systems should not be exposed to birds that might have Psittacosis. Gloves, masks, and protective clothing should be used when cleaning cages and working around birds suspected of this disease.

Clean cages and feeding bowls frequently, and set up housing so droppings, food, and feathers do not contaminate other cages.

Chlamydia psittaci is susceptible to routine disinfectants. Common ones include Lysol, bleach, 70% isopropyl alcohol, and Roccal.

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Prolapsed Cloaca

Introduction

A cloacal prolapse is a serious problem requiring immediate veterinary care. Trauma to the internal organs that are prolapsed through the opening can seriously affect the bird. It is seen in cockatoos and the smaller breed birds like budgies and cockatiels. It requires immediate replacement of the prolapsed organs.

Cause

Straining due to parasites, abdominal masses or tumors, chronic egg laying, abnormal eggs and poor nutrition are all predisposing factors. Determining the exact cause can be
difficult.

Symptoms

Birds that have this problem might exhibit depression, straining, lack of droppings, fluffed appearance, and poor appetite. Sometimes the only symptom you notice at home is blood in the droppings. These symptoms occur in other diseases, so the diagnostic approach has to be thorough.

Diagnosis

In many prolapsed birds there is a history of recent egg laying. During the physical exam internal organs (intestines or reproductive usually) are apparent at the cloaca. When diagnostic tests are used their main indication is to find the underlying cause to the problem in order to prevent recurrence. These tests include fecal exams for parasites, x-rays for abdominal masses pushing on the abdominal contents, and blood panels to determine general health and organ function.

Treatment

Birds with prolapsed cloaca’s require emergency care. Many are hypothermic and require immediate warming. Others can be dehydrated so warm fluids are also administered. Antibiotics are usually administered to prevent infection in the affected organs.

Once a bird is stabilized the prolapse is replaced back into the abdomen. The sooner the better because internal organs that are exposed to the environment are easily traumatized and infected. Amputation could be needed on infected tissue or tissue that has inadequate blood supply.

In some cases we anesthetize the bird to allow muscle relaxation and subsequent easier replacement of the affected organs. This patient is in a special anesthetic chamber allowing us to safely administer the anesthetic.


This prolapse has been present for several hours. The coloration tells us it is healthy enough to allow replacement back into the abdomen. It will be gently cleansed and flushed with sterile saline. It is an internal organ and requires delicate handling.


The area is lubricated copiously with K-Y jelly and the prolapse is gently manipulated back into the abdomen using Q-tips. This process takes several minutes because the organ is swollen and predisposed to tearing.


After it is replaced special sutures (at the arrows) are used to prevent it from coming out again. They are put in tight enough to keep the organs inside but loose enough to allow droppings to pass. These sutures will be kept in for at least several days to allow the prolapsed tissue to heal.

Prevention

There are factors involved with this problem that we have no control over. Factors we can control are good nutrition, a clean environment, spaying birds that are predisposed to egg binding or are excessive egg layers, minimizing obesity and stimulating exercise.

Careful daily observation of your pets daily habits will help you recognize the early symptoms of this disease. No matter what the problem, any time your pet bird shows any symptoms of a disease, no matter how subtle, it is considered significant and requires immediate veterinary care. This is because birds are masters at hiding illness, and we are all too often presented with sick birds in advanced stages of disease. Our ability to return these birds to normal health is diminished because proper care has not been given early on in the disease process where it is most beneficial.

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Budgie Growth Removal

This little guy had a growth near his cloaca that weighed almost as much as he did. We removed it because it was getting larger and interfering with bowel movements.

Birds this size have little blood, so bleeding control (hemostasis) is critical. We removed it using the laser, taking advantage of its tremendous bleeding control and lack of post operative inflammation and pain control.

Graphic photos on this page.


Anesthesia

Birds tend to be more sensitive to anesthesia than most mammals, so special precautions are taken to minimize the risk. We always perform pre-anesthetic diagnostic tests prior to surgery to make sure there are no internal problems.

We use special monitoring equipment during the surgery in all our recent surgeries

Surgery-Monitor

Lisa is just starting the anesthetic process. This bird will also have hot water bottles keeping it warm during the surgery

LaserSurgery-BudgieCloacaMass

Surgery

The growth is large for a bird this size, and has probably been there for months. Luckily it was benign.

LaserSurgery-BudgieCloacaMass-2

When our patient is draped and under the proper plan of anesthesia we start the laser surgery

LaserSurgery-BudgieCloacaMass-3

Half way through and there is no bleeding at all

LaserSurgery-BudgieCloacaMass-4

No suture are needed, and healing will be complete in a few days, with no pain or post operative swelling

LaserSurgery-BudgieCloacaMass-5

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