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Diarrhea in Birds

By: Dr. Barbara Oglesbee

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Your veterinarian will do a thorough history to help in the diagnosis of diarrhea. Be able to answer the following questions:

  • When did the problem begin?
  • Is the diarrhea intermittent?
  • Are all of the droppings abnormal?
  • Is there a change in the number and frequency of droppings?
  • Has the character of the diarrhea changed?
  • Is there an increase in the amount of liquid urine in the dropping?
  • Is there fresh blood in the dropping?
  • Has the diet changed?
  • Are fresh foods, such as fruits and vegetables, fed regularly?
  • Is the bird still eating a normal amount of food?
  • What are the bird's chewing habits?
  • Does he have access to metal objects or plants?
  • Does the bird chew apart wood, rubber or string toys?
  • Are any other symptoms such as lethargy or vomiting present?
  • Has the bird been exposed to other birds?
  • How often is the cage, the food and water dishes cleaned, and how are they cleaned?

    Your veterinarian will recommend specific diagnostic tests depending on how severe the diarrhea is, whether other symptoms are present or how long the problem has been going on. Birds that have other symptoms or have had chronic diarrhea (lasting for days to weeks) or recurrent diarrhea may require extensive diagnostic testing. Any combination of the following may be recommended:
  • A thorough physical examination

  • Sampling of the feces or cloaca for bacterial culture and cytology (looking at cell types for evidence of infection or inflammation)

  • Sampling of the feces, sometimes over a period of several days, to look for intestinal parasites

  • A complete blood count (CBC) will determine the number of circulating white blood cells. This may be helpful in distinguishing between infectious and non-infectious causes of diarrhea. The number of red blood cells may be diminished if bleeding in the intestinal tract is present

  • A serum biochemistry panel is needed to look for evidence of metabolic problems, such as diseases of the liver, kidney or pancreas

  • Plasma protein electrophoresis 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 that measure the amount of heavy metals, such as lead or zinc in circulation

  • Radiography (X-Rays) to look for evidence of intestinal disease, size and density of the liver, kidneys or other organs

  • Contrast radiographs, such as barium studies, to look for tumors or foreign bodies, ulcerations or thickening of the lining of the intestinal tract. This test will also determine how quickly ingested material is moved through the intestinal tract

  • Fluoroscopy (a video or moving X-ray) to determine if the coordination of peristaltic waves is normal. It is useful in the diagnosis of toxicity (lead or zinc) or viral diseases (proventricular dilatation disease)

  • Abdominal ultrasound is only possible in birds with enlargement of the liver or fluid in the abdomen. It allows visualization of the intestinal tract for evidence of intestinal wall thickening, gastrointestinal masses and foreign bodies. A specialist usually performs this test

  • Endoscopy is a procedure that allows viewing of the intestinal tract or body cavity to collect samples for biopsy or culture. A specialist usually performs this test.

  • Exploratory surgery (laparotomy) may need to be performed to obtain segments of the intestinal tract for biopsy in order to determine the cause of diarrhea

    While waiting for a diagnosis, treatment of the symptoms might be necessary, especially if the problem is severe. The following treatments may be applicable to some, but not all birds with diarrhea. These treatments may reduce the severity of symptoms or provide relief for your bird. However, nonspecific therapy is not a substitute for definite treatment of the underlying disease responsible for your bird's condition.

  • Hospitalization. Birds with moderate-to-severe diarrhea and other symptoms such as lethargy and anorexia usually require hospitalization and 24-hour care.

  • Fluid therapy. Many birds with diarrhea become dehydrated and require fluids. Fluids may be given by an intravenous catheter, an interosseous catheter (into the bone marrow) or subcutaneously (under the skin). The route of administration will depend on the severity of the dehydration.

  • Dietary change. Birds that are still willing to eat will often benefit from a diet that is low in fat and easy to digest. Usually, food is not withheld from birds with diarrhea. Birds have a very high metabolic rate and require a constant source of energy.

  • Forced feeding. Birds which refuse food may require forced-feeding of an easily digestible liquid food. Your veterinarian may pass a tube into the bird's crop to deliver this food.

  • Medication. Antibiotics or antifungal medications may be needed to treat or prevent an overgrowth of bacteria or yeast.

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