Diarrhea is an increase in frequency and liquid content of 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 tracts.
Feces are produced in the intestinal tract, and are normally 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.
Occasionally, a larger volume of urine is produced (polyuria), which is often mistaken for diarrhea. Birds that are polyuric have a more liquid dropping, but the fecal component remains solid and formed. Birds with diarrhea have a more liquid consistency to the fecal component.
- Bacterial infections
- Fungal infections
- Viral infections
- Dietary changes
- Foreign bodies lodged in the intestinal tract
Your veterinarian will recommend specific diagnostic tests depending on how severe the diarrhea is, how long the bird has had diarrhea, and if other symptoms are present. Birds that are showing other symptoms, such as vomiting, anorexia or lethargy may require extensive diagnostic testing.
If your bird occasionally has a few droppings with a liquid or loosely formed fecal component and has no other symptoms, it may be normal. If, however, the diarrhea is persistent (lasts more than a day), recurrent (returns frequently) or other symptoms occur, medical attention is needed.
What to Watch For
- Ruffled feathers
- Tucking the head under the wing
- Loss of appetite
- Vomiting or regurgitation
- Blood in the stool, which appears as dark, green-black tarry stool
- Lack of feces in the dropping
Your veterinarian will recommend specific diagnostic tests depending on the severity of diarrhea, or if other symptoms are present.
A complete history is extremely helpful in reaching a diagnosis. Be prepared to tell your veterinarian when diarrhea began, the consistency of diarrhea, and if it contains blood. 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 for diarrhea may include any combination of:
- 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
If only one or two of the droppings appear to be diarrhea and your bird has no other symptoms, return him to his usual diet, without fruits and vegetables, 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, diarrhea worsens, or any other symptoms develop, contact your veterinarian.
If your bird was treated for diarrhea, make 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, the discharge is worsening or the bird develops other symptoms, alert your veterinarian immediately.
Diarrhea occurs when the intestinal tract is unable to absorb fluid or when the cells lining the intestines secrete excessive amounts of fluid. Many factors can alter the intestinal tract’s ability to absorb or secrete fluids properly. For example, if food is not properly digested, it will tend to pull fluid into the intestines. Or, if the lining of the intestinal tract is irritated by a toxin, infection or irritation, cellular changes will cause an increase in secretion of fluid into the intestines.
Peristaltic waves, which are rhythmic contractions of the intestinal tract that serve to push digested food forward, occur at regular controlled intervals in normal birds. In some birds with diarrhea, these waves lack coordination, so that food moves through the intestinal tract too quickly. This results in an increase in frequency of defecation, and an increase in the liquid content since fluid does not have a chance to be absorbed.