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Melena in Birds

By: Dr. Barbara Oglesbee

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Melena is the presence of digested blood in the fecal component of the droppings. In birds, the droppings are composed of three elements: feces, urates and urine. The droppings are stored in the cloaca, the common emptying chamber for the gastrointestinal, urinary and reproductive tract. Feces are produced in the intestinal tract and are normally light green or brown in color. Urine and urates are produced in the kidneys. Usually, birds only produce a very small volume of liquid urine, and the majority of the waste from the kidneys is in the form of semi-solid, white/beige urates.

Melena usually appears as green-black, tarry stool. The feces may be firm or liquid in consistency (diarrhea). In most cases melena is caused by bleeding in the upper gastrointestinal tract. Occasionally, however, melena may be seen when blood is ingested.

There are many causes of melena in birds. A few of the more common causes include:

  • Gastrointestinal foreign bodies
  • Gastrointestinal cancer
  • Bacterial infections
  • Gastrointestinal ulcers
  • Toxins

    If your bird occasionally has a few droppings that are dark green or black in appearance but has no other symptoms, the color change may be caused by the diet. For example, birds fed a colored commercial pelleted diet sometimes pick out and eat only green colored pellets. This will give the feces a temporary green color. Other dietary pigments may have a similar effect. If, however, the color change is persistent (lasts more than a day), recurrent (returns frequently) or other symptoms occur, medical attention is needed.

    What to Watch For

  • Lethargy
  • Ruffled feathers
  • Tucking the head under the wing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting or regurgitation
  • Fresh blood in the feces

    Diagnosis

    Your veterinarian will recommend specific diagnostic tests depending on how severe the melena is and what other symptoms are present. Birds with melena usually have serious disease requiring extensive diagnostic testing.

    A complete history is extremely helpful in reaching a diagnosis. Be able to answer the following questions:

  • When did the melena began?
  • Have the droppings changed in consistency or color?
  • Does your bird chew on toys or other objects?
  • What type of diet does your bird eat?
  • Is there any potential exposure to other birds?

    Diagnostic tests your veterinarian may recommend include:                

  • A thorough physical examination
  • A fecal occult blood test
  • Sampling the feces or cloaca for bacterial culture and cytology
  • A complete blood count (CBC) and serum biochemistry panel
  • Blood tests or other samples for Chlamydiosis (Psittacosis)
  • Radiography (X-Rays)
  • Endoscopy

    Treatment

    Treatment for melena may include any combination of the following:

  • Hospitalization for fluid administration and injectable medications
  • Surgical or endoscopic removal of foreign bodies
  • Dietary change or forced-feeding
  • Antibiotics or antifungal medications
  • Medications to protect the intestinal tract
  • Medications to alter the motility of the intestinal tract

    Home Care and Prevention

    If only one or two of the droppings appear melenic and the bird has no other symptoms, return the bird to his usual diet, without fruits, vegetables or colored pellets for 24 hours. Be sure that plenty of fresh water is available and that the bird is drinking.
                                                                                    
    Use only paper (no litter of any type) on the cage bottom, and change the paper daily so that you can monitor the droppings. If droppings do not return to normal within 24 hours, or any other symptoms develop, contact your veterinarian.

    After being treated by your veterinarian, be sure to give all medication as directed, for as long as directed, even after the symptoms appear to be gone. Watch for a change in the droppings, and report any changes or lack of improvement to your veterinarian.

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