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:
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
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:
Diagnostic tests your veterinarian may recommend include:
Treatment for melena may include any combination of the following:
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.
Melena is the presence of digested blood in the feces, and usually occurs as a result of bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract, including the crop, esophagus, proventriculus, ventriculus or small intestine. Occasionally, melena occurs as a result of blood being ingested. For example this might occur if blood from the nose or mouth were swallowed.
Melena should be differentiated from fresh blood in the feces, which is bright red, and usually comes from the colon or the cloaca (common emptying and storage chamber for the intestinal, urinary and reproductive tract). The color of the feces can also change due to alterations in the diet, and may be mistaken for melena. For example, if birds are fed heavily pigmented foods, such as berries, tomato products or colored pellets, the stool may turn the color of the food. If the stool ever appears to be a very dark green-black color, and has a shiny consistency, your veterinarian should be notified immediately, since this is likely to be caused by digested blood.
Anorexia, weight loss, crop stasis, vomiting or regurgitation often accompany melena. Feces may be a normal or loose consistency.
There are many causes of melena in birds. In most cases, bleeding within the gastrointestinal tract is reason for serious concern. There are many contagious diseases which cause melena, so it is important to inform your veterinarian of any potential contact – direct or indirect – with other birds. Possible causes of melena in birds include:
A thorough history is extremely important in the diagnosis of diarrhea. Be prepared to answer the following questions:
Your veterinarian will recommend specific diagnostic tests depending on other symptoms present and physical examination findings. Most birds with melena have a serious disease that requires extensive diagnostic testing. Any combination of the following may be recommended:
Before a diagnosis is reached, treatment of the symptoms might be needed, especially if the problem is severe. The following treatments may be applicable to some, but not all birds with melena. These 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.