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Dyspnea in Birds

By: Dr. Barbara Oglesbee

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The veterinarian will recommend specific diagnostic tests depending on how severely dyspneic your bird is, how long the problems have been going on and physical examination findings. As dyspnea and tachypnea may be caused by several respiratory and non-respiratory disorders, extensive diagnostic testing may be necessary. Any combination of the following may be recommended:

  • Radiography (X-Rays) are needed to evaluate the lungs, air sacs and abdominal cavity. Usually, the entire thoracoabdominal cavity is radiographed. Radiographs may reveal pneumonia, pulmonary edema, air sac disease or space-occupying lesions in the abdominal cavity. The bird must be held completely motionless, so general anesthesia is often used.

  • A complete blood count (CBC) is needed to look for evidence of infectious disease, allergies or inflammation. Certain types of white blood cells will be elevated in number with specific diseases. Many types of infectious diseases, such as Chlamydiosis and Aspergillosis have characteristic patterns of white blood cell increases.

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

  • Blood tests (Serology) or choanal samples for Chlamydiosis. These tests look for the body's response to the organism causing Chlamydiosis (antibodies), or for the presence of the organism itself (antigen).

  • Serology for Aspergillosis

  • Endoscopic examination of the choana and/or trachea. Tumors, abscesses, granulomas or foreign bodies may be detected by directly visualizing these areas. Specialized equipment is required, and this procedure is usually performed by an avian specialist.

  • Tracheal wash - sampling the trachea for bacterial culture and cytology (looking at cell types for evidence of infection or inflammation).

  • Endoscopic examination of the air sacs – By directly viewing the air sacs, the veterinarian can assess the severity of disease and collect biopsy specimens for histopathologic examination and culture. Additionally, biopsy samples may be obtained from the lungs if indicated. The entire abdominal cavity can be visualized through the endoscope, making it possible to obtain samples of enlarged organs or some tumors as well. This procedure is performed by an avian specialist.

  • Sampling of the nasal cavity or choana for bacterial culture or cytology. Samples may be taken directly from the nostril after dried material has been removed, or by flushing the nostril out with saline (salt) solution, or by removing some cells through a needle (fine needle aspirate).

  • Serum protein electrophoresis – Certain protein fractions (gammaglobulins) circulate in the blood with many infectious diseases. Analyzing the types of proteins that are elevated in circulation will aid the veterinarian in the diagnosis of these diseases.

  • Abdominocentesis – If fluid is present in the abdominal cavity, samples may be obtained via a catheter for analysis.

    Treatment In-depth

    There are many causes of dyspnea and tachypnea, and the cause must be identified for proper treatment. Your veterinarian may recommend one or more of the diagnostic tests described above. In the meantime, treatment of the symptoms is needed, especially if the problem is severe. The following treatments may be applicable to some, but not all birds that are dyspneic or tachypneic. 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.

  • Dyspneic birds, especially birds with additional symptoms such as lethargy and anorexia usually require hospitalization and 24-hour care.

  • Birds with severe dyspnea require oxygen supplementation, and are placed in an oxygen cage.

  • If the trachea is obstructed, it may be bypassed by placing a small endotracheal into the abdominal air sac. The bird can temporarily breathe through this tube, while the obstruction is being cleared.

  • Nebulization with humidified air, antibiotics or antifungals may be needed in birds with respiratory tract disease.

  • Cleaning dried exudate or secretions from the nasal cavities and/or sinuses may often be accomplished by flushing the sinuses with a saline solution. If the material is dried, it may be cleaned out with forceps under magnification. This process sometimes requires general anesthesia.

  • Antibiotics or antifungal therapy is often given both systemically (by mouth or injection) and topically (by instilling antibiotics directly into the trachea).

  • Birds that are dehydrated may require fluid therapy, administered by injection under the skin (subcutaneous) or intravenously.


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