Vomiting in Birds
Dr. Barbara Oglesbee
When did the problem begin?
A thorough history is extremely important in the diagnosis of vomiting. Be able to answer the following questions:
How often does the bird vomit?
Has there been an increase (or decrease) in the frequency?
What does the vomit look like?
Is the vomit digested or undigested food?
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 diarrhea, present?
Has the bird been exposed to other birds?
How often is the cage, especially the food and water dishes, cleaned, and how are they cleaned?
Your veterinarian will recommend specific diagnostic tests depending on how severe the vomiting is, if other symptoms are present, or how long the problem has been going on. In most cases, extensive diagnostic testing is required. Any combination of the following may be recommended:
A thorough physical examination.
Sampling the crop, feces or cloaca for bacterial culture and cytology (looking at cell types for evidence of infection or inflammation).
Sampling of the crop or feces to look for intestinal parasites.
A complete blood count (CBC) to determine the number of circulating white blood cells. This may be helpful in distinguishing between infectious and non-infectious causes of vomiting. 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 concentration of heavy metals, such as lead or zinc in circulation.
Radiography (X-Rays) to look for evidence of intestinal disease, foreign bodies, and the size and density of the liver, kidneys or other organs.
Contrast radiographs, such a 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), foreign bodies or viral diseases (proventricular dilatation disease).
Abdominal ultrasound to visualize the intestinal tract for evidence intestinal wall thickening, gastrointestinal masses and foreign bodies. This procedure is only possible in birds with enlargement of the liver or fluid in the abdomen and is performed by a specialist.
Endoscopy to view the intestinal tract or body cavity directly and to collect samples for biopsy or culture. Some foreign bodies may be removed with an endoscope. A specialist usually performs this test.
Exploratory surgery (laparotomy) to observe and obtain segments of the intestinal tract for biopsy in order to determine the cause of vomiting.
Until a diagnosis is made, 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 that are vomiting. Theses 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 vomiting and other symptoms such as lethargy and anorexia usually require hospitalization and 24-hour care.
Fluid therapy. Many birds that are vomiting 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.
Food is usually withheld until vomiting stops. However, birds have a high metabolic rate and require a constant source of energy. If vomiting is continuous, the intestinal tract may need to be completely bypassed by administering parenteral nutrition (intravenous feeding).
Dietary change. When vomiting stops, feed your bird a diet that is low in fat and easy to digest.
Antibiotics or antifungal medications may be needed to treat or prevent an overgrowth of bacteria or yeast.
Drugs that coat the intestinal tract, or intestinal protectants, such as sucralfate (Carafate®) and cimetidine (Tagamet®).
Drugs that reduce the peristalsis, or intestinal motility modifiers, such as metoclopramide (Reglan®)or cisapride (Propulsid®).