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Ataxia

By: Dr. Barbara Oglesbee

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Ataxia may be defined as the inability to coordinate the voluntary movement of muscles. Birds that are ataxic appear wobbly or clumsy and will often stand with the legs spread far apart in order to balance or hook their beak on the side of the cage. When severely ataxic, they will stumble and fall from the perch.

Ataxia may occur due to disorders of the nervous system or musculoskeletal system.

  • Nervous system disorders. These are often caused by damage to the spinal cord, inner ear or brain. They often result in an inability of the brain to perceive the position of the limbs, body or head in space or an inability of the brain to coordinate movement.

  • Musculoskeletal damage. Birds with musculoskeletal damage may also appear uncoordinated, as the muscles are unable to respond properly to signals from the brain.

    What to Watch For

  • Standing with the legs wide apart in an attempt to keep balance.

  • Hanging on to the cage or objects in the cage in order to remain standing on the perch.

  • Uncoordinated movements of the head, legs or wings.

  • Falling from the perch.

  • Lethargy, which appears as excessive sleepiness, ruffled feathers, tucking the head under the wing.
  • Difficulty breathing. This includes leaning forward and stretching the neck out to breathe, open-mouthed breathing, puffing out of the cheeks with each breath, or bobbing of the tail with each breath.

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