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Papillomatosis in Psittacine Birds

By: Dr. Branson Ritchie

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Papillomatosis is the term used to define the occurrence of proliferative, wart-like masses on the surface of the cloaca or anywhere along the alimentary tract, such as the oral cavity, crop, proventriculus and intestines, in psittacine birds.

While the cause of papillomatosis remains unconfirmed, it is probably caused by a virus. Until ongoing research is completed, this disease should be differentiated from papillomas, or warts, which are known to be caused by papillomaviruses.

Some research demonstrated that the papillomavirus may be involved. Other research indicates herpesvirus. While the cause of papillomatosis is only speculative, both papillomaviruses and herpesviruses are generally host-specific. The representatives of these viruses that are known to infect birds have not been shown to infect humans or to cause disease in unrelated species of birds following natural exposure.

The incubation period of development of papillomatosis remains unconfirmed. Field observations suggest it can take months or years for detectable lesions to occur.

Papillomatosis of the cloaca has been linked to some types of liver and pancreatic cancers.

What to Watch For

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Straining to pass excrement from the cloaca
  • Putrid smelling or blood tinged excrement
  • Bad breath
  • Difficulty breathing or wheezing
  • Accumulation of excrement around the vent
  • Chronic weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Yellowish or greenish discoloration of the urates and urine

    Diagnosis

    Diagnosing papillomatosis can be challenging. Microscopic examination of tissue collected from the mass is necessary to confirm the diagnosis. Addtional test may include:

  • Complete blood count (CBC)
  • Blood chemistries
  • Radiographs (X-rays)
  • Endoscopy
  • Serology
  • DNA probe-based test (PCR) on choanal and cloacal swab

    Treatment

    Treatment for papillomatosis is usually unnecessary unless the growth is interfering with swallowing, breathing or defecating.

    When necessary, papillomatous growths can be removed with surgery or, in some cases, chemical cauterization. Fluids, supportive nutrition and antimicrobials may be needed in birds with severe chronic lesions, secondary problems or after surgical removal of a mass. High quality diets rich in Vitamin A are also recommended.

    Unfortunately, there has been no successful treatment reported for the liver and pancreatic cancers associated with papillomatosis.

    Home Care and Prevention

    Keep birds with lesions and those to which they have been exposed separated from other birds. On a daily basis, monitor fecal output to ensure proper food consumption and digestion and monitor your bird's weight daily.

    The most important prevenative measure is to keep your bird out of direct or indirect contact with other birds. If you decide to add a new bird to your family, he should be quarantined for at least 90 days and be examined by an avian veterinarian at the beginning and end of quarantine. Be aware that there is currently no proven method for documenting that a bird does not have papillomatosis.

    There is currently no vaccine available to help prevent the unrestricted spread of papillomatosis in birds.

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