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Vomiting in Birds

By: Dr. Barbara Oglesbee

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Vomiting is the forceful expulsion of the stomach contents through the mouth. The vomiting reflex may be triggered by irritation of receptors in the gastrointestinal tract or the brain. Birds that are vomiting are expelling food from the proventriculus, which is the glandular or first stomach. This food is usually digested or partially digested, and may contain an acidic liquid. Vomiting in birds is always abnormal.

At times, birds may regurgitate, that is, expel food originating from the crop through the mouth. But this is mainly undigested food. Regurgitation may be caused by disease processes, or may be a normal behavior.

Vomiting can be distinguished from regurgitation by observing the bird. Birds that are regurgitating will consciously and vigorously bob their head, and then bring softened, undigested food into the mouth. This food may then be re-ingested, or dropped from the mouth.

Birds that are vomiting will suddenly bring digested food containing an acidic liquid from the proventriculus into their mouth. They will then rapidly spit out the fluid, usually by flinging their head from side to side. Often, the vomitus will spray out onto the bird's head and around the cage. Sometimes a bird will vomit stomach contents into the crop, and then regurgitate vomitus. Nevertheless, as soon as the foul-tasting stomach contents enter the mouth, the bird rapidly spits them out.

Common Causes

  • Bacterial infections
  • Intestinal yeast infections
  • Viral infections
  • Toxins
  • Intestinal obstruction
  • Metabolic diseases, such as liver or kidney disease

    Your veterinarian will recommend specific diagnostic tests depending on how long your bird has been vomiting, and whether any other symptoms, such as anorexia or listlessness, are present.

    If your bird is regurgitating and the act is directed towards a person, animal or object, it may be a normal behavior. However, if your bird is not directing the regurgitation towards anything, or is shaking his head to spit out the vomitus, medical attention is needed.

    What to Watch For

  • Lethargy
  • Ruffled feathers
  • Tucking the head under the wing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Blood in the stool, which appears as dark, green-black tarry stool
  • Lack of feces in the dropping

    Diagnosis

    Your veterinarian will recommend specific diagnostic tests depending on the severity of the vomiting or if other symptoms are present. In almost every case, birds that are vomiting require extensive diagnostic testing.

    A complete history is extremely helpful in reaching a diagnosis. Be prepared to tell your veterinarian when the vomiting began, the consistency of the vomitus, and whether it contains digested or undigested food. Additionally, tell your veterinarian the type of diet your bird is on, describe his chewing habits and note any potential exposure to other birds.

    Diagnostic testing your veterinarian may perform include:                

  • A thorough physical examination
  • A complete blood count (CBC) and serum biochemistry panel
  • Sampling the crop and/or feces for bacterial culture and cytology
  • Radiography (X-Rays) to look for evidence of intestinal disease
  • Endoscopy to view the intestinal tract or body cavity

    Treatment

    Treatment for vomiting may include any of the following:

  • Hospitalization for fluids and injectable medications
  • Antibiotics or antifungal medications
  • Surgery or endoscopy to relieve intestinal obstructions
  • Medications to protect the intestinal tract or alter the motility of the intestinal tract

    Home Care

    If your bird is vomiting, veterinary attention is needed. Immediate attention is necessary if any other symptoms are present in addition to vomiting, or if your bird is unable to keep any food down. In the meantime, keep your bird in a warm environment if his feathers appear fluffed up. If possible, bring the cage to the veterinarian's office with the bird, along with any toys he may have chewed.

    After seeing 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 to your veterinarian. If improvement is not seen, report this to your veterinarian.

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