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Ataxia

By: Dr. Barbara Oglesbee

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Diagnosis In-depth

A thorough history is extremely important in the diagnosis of ataxia. Be prepared to tell your veterinarian:

  • When the problem began and if other symptoms preceded the ataxia. Is the ataxia intermittent or constant? Has it become worse?

  • Are other neurologic signs, such as abnormal mental activity, seizures, star-gazing or circling present?

  • Has there been any exposure to flea products or other insecticides?

  • What is your bird's diet?

  • What are your bird's chewing habits?

  • Are any other symptoms, such as lethargy, gastrointestinal or respiratory signs present?

  • Has your bird been exposed to other birds?

    Your veterinarian will recommend specific diagnostic tests depending on the duration and severity of ataxia and physical examination findings. To find the cause of ataxia, extensive diagnostic testing is usually required. Any combination of the following may be recommended:

  • A complete blood count (CBC). The number of circulating white blood cells may be helpful in distinguishing between infectious and non-infectious causes of ataxia. Anemia (decrease in the number of red blood cells) may cause severe weakness and ataxia.

  • Serum biochemistry panel. This test is needed to look for evidence of electrolyte abnormalities, calcium concentration or metabolic problems, such as diseases of the liver, kidney or pancreas.

  • Plasma protein electrophoresis. This blood test looks at the types of proteins present in the circulation. For example, birds with chronic diseases, especially infectious or inflammatory diseases, will produce antibodies and an increase in one class of proteins (gammaglobulins) will occur. Birds with liver disease or severe intestinal disease usually have low concentrations of another class of protein (albumin).

  • Blood tests or other samples for Chlamydiosis (Psittacosis)

  • Blood tests for Aspergillosis

  • Testing cloacal swabs for polyomavirus, paramyxovirus or other viruses

  • Blood tests that measure the concentration of heavy metals, such as lead or zinc in circulation

  • Radiography (X-Rays) to look at the size and density of the liver, kidneys or other organs or for the presence of heavy metal densities in the intestinal tract.

  • X-rays of the skull to look for damage to the inner ear

  • Fluoroscopy. This is a video or moving X-ray that is performed by a specialist and used to determine if the coordination of peristaltic waves is normal. It is useful in the diagnosis of toxicity (lead or zinc), foreign bodies or viral diseases (proventricular dilatation disease).

  • CT scan or MRI to look for disease of the brain or inner ear

  • Endoscopy. This test is viewing the ear canal or body cavity directly with an endoscope to collect samples for biopsy or culture. A specialist usually performs this test.

  • Crop biopsy. If proventricular dilatation disease is suspected, characteristic lesions are sometimes found on biopsy specimens from the crop. At this time, the only way of definitively diagnosing proventricular dilatation disease is through the observation of characteristic lesions on biopsy specimens from the gastrointestinal tract or nervous system.

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