HealthyParrot articles appear in each edition of In Your Flock magazine.

Fund the Cure for PDD

PDD Parrot Magazineby In Your Flock Staff

from the Winter 2018 IYF column

Researchers and avian veterinarians have been working toward finding a cause, a cure and a vaccine for Proventricular Dilatation Disease (PDD). Earlier in this century, the avian community rejoiced at the idea that a correlation had been found between Avian Bornavirus and PDD, thus giving researchers a direction in which to work. We reported in an early edition of In Your Flock about the well-known research from University of California San Francisco 2008 studies where Bornavirus was first described in psittaciforms. That research team isolated a negative-strand RNA virus and designated it the culprit behind PDD. The Avian Bornavirus was designated an RNA virus, which means—among other things—it requires a host cell to hold it to keep it alive. The type of cell it seeks as a host is a nerve cells according to Dr. Arne deKloet of Animal Genetics. It tends to break down nerve endings. Once outside of the host cell, the RNA virus cannot survive.

The Journal of Virology published online an article by Peter Staeheli, Monika Rinder and Bernd Kaspers March 10, 2010, that gave a robust definition of PDD as: “a fatal disease of mainly psittacine birds which was initially reported as a unique disease entity in macaws in the late 1970s but subsequently also described as occurring in a growing number of other parrots. Even though the disease is now commonly referred to as PDD, several synonyms have been used in the literature, including macaw wasting syndrome, proventricular dilatation syndrome, neuropathic gastric dilatation of psittaciforms, myenteric ganglioneuritis, and others. Birds presenting with PDD frequently show weight loss associated with reduced appetite or polyphagia and various degrees of gastrointestinal dysfunction. Regurgitation, undigested seeds in the feces, impactation of the proventriculus, and diarrhea are commonly reported clinical features. Affected birds may also show abdominal enlargement, muscle atrophy, weakness, and polyuria to different degrees. Central nervous system symptoms, such as seizure, ataxia, abnormal head movement, reduced proprioceptive skills, and motor deficit, can be observed with some but not all cases of PDD.”

One of the facts that the authors included in their definition is also one of the reasons the somewhat widely accepted research of the disease’s cause(s) is still open to debate. “Clinical laboratory parameters are generally inconclusive in PDD and may simply reflect the gastrointestinal dysfunction (hyproprteinemia, hypoglycemia) or the presence of opportunistic infections (heterophilia) which are frequently associated with the disease,” the authors wrote.

In other words, more factors go into diagnosis than what’s listed herein. Likewise, more factors go into deciding what causes PDD. More factors go into building a vaccine and finding a cure.

Dr. Branson W. Ritchie, DVM, PhD, DABVP and DECZM, is well versed in developing tests and vaccines. His research team developed the serological tests and DNA probes for beak-and-feather disease and polyoma diseases as well as diagnostic tests for avian adenovirus. He isolated and characterized the viruses that cause psittacine beak-and-feather disease and PVD disease. His research group also developed a vaccine for Pacheco’s disease, Chlamydia, and polyomavirus, which causes a fatal disease in psittacine birds. To summarize, Ritchie knows how to get results for the well-being of our birds.

During a talk at the Ziggy’s Haven Bird Sanctuary, Inverness, Florida, in 2017, Ritchie explained to the audience that the correlation between ABV and PDD is not the 100 percent scientific proof of cause that researchers need it to be.

Consider this: if 100 birds have PDD and the cause of PDD is ABV, then those 100 birds should also have ABV. For scientists studying the cause of PDD, to have a sample of 100 birds on the necropsy table with serology tests from their brain matter that prove the presence of PDD, each of those birds with PDD must also have another common trait. They must also exhibit the cause. Ritchie has explained that researchers have sampled groups of birds with PDD without discovering the presence of ABV in all of them. A percentage of the PDD birds did have ABV.

Not all birds with ABV progress to PDD.

Not all birds necropsied with PDD have traces of ABV in their bodies.

The correlation happens. But it doesn’t always happen.

For a scientist to draw the conclusion that ABV causes PDD, the correlation must be proved. At this time, it is not. What Ritchie wants to do is move onward to get to the root cause, get to the cure, and get a vaccine.

Sadly, finding cures takes funding. The University of Georgia, where Ritchie is a Distinguished Research Professor, the Director of Emerging Diseases Research Group and Co-Director of the Infectious Diseases Laboratory, has added another prestigious post to Ritchie’s resume—Director of Technology Development and Implementation, New Materials Institute.

“Adding the Directorship responsibilities to an already full plate have been challenging but the opportunities to improve the health and happiness of animals and people are immense,” Ritchie shared.

Another fact Ritchie shared with the audience back in spring of 2016 and again in 2017 was the large dollar figure required to work on testing and vaccine-building. With a need for $800,000 to get the project fully funded, Ritchie and team have a long way to go before our pet birds have their answer.

That’s where the power of crowd funding comes in, but without the fees and percentages crowd funding platforms keep. Leave out the middleman and make a tax-deductible contribution to avian health by giving directly to the project team. You can write a check and send it directly to the University of Georgia. Here’s how:

Contributions for PDD Research can be made out to: Comparative Medicine Fund, PDD Project

Then mail it to:

Fran Cantrell

University of Georgia, College of Veterinary Medicine

501 D.W. Brooks Drive

Athens, GA 30602


Pay For the CBC

From Winter 2017 IYF Column

It’s important to have your avian vet do a complete blood count (CBC) during your parrot’s annual wellness exam, especially as your bird ages. You have scheduled his well-bird checkup for 2017, haven’t you? Let’s talk about that first.

The yearly wellness exam by an avian veterinarian gives you and your vet the opportunity for more than a nail trim and getting an annual weight on file. Hopefully you’ve subscribed to In Your Flock companion parrot magazine because you wish to learn more about caring for your pet parrot than you can find with random online searches. To that end, let me reiterate that a good avian veterinarian is an indispensable partner in augmenting the quality of care you offer your companion birds.

I don’t want to disparage veterinarians who have put in the time to get a medical degree to care for canines, felines, bovines, equines, etc. Those medical professionals have vast knowledge that can assist pet owners in expanding our bird care. But it is a fact that avians have different health concerns than the two most numerous pets (dogs and cats) in North America. Our pet birds have different dietary, physical and psychological needs, just to name a few. In fact, depending on the species of bird you have in your life, the dietary needs change.

Depending on the species of bird—I’m looking at the Amazons (Amazona) in our living rooms—the predilection for obesity increases. Yes, parrots can develop diabetes.

Depending on the species of bird—I’m looking at the eclectus (Eclectus roratus) in our aviaries—the use of fortified vitamins and supplements could be dangerous. Yes, we can poison our parrots with the buildup of toxins.

By taking your parrot in for his annual well-bird checkup with a veterinarian who understands and treats birds, you are being proactive and responsible.

When you go in, the vet will ask if you want to do blood work. She might call it labs. Either way, what she’s asking is if you’d like to have a small amount of blood drawn from your bird so the sample can be checked for indicators of disease. She’s looking for anything that might be wrong inside your feathered friend that high numbers of white blood cells or misshapen blood cells in general could indicate. The Veterinary Clinical Pathology Laboratory spells out on its website, “The complete blood count (CBC) forms the foundation of diagnostic blood work by providing information regarding the numbers and morphology of white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets.”

One of the challenges veterinarians—and their techs—have when it comes to looking at a bird’s blood is the sample size. Think about that for a minute.

When you have a physical, your doctor orders a blood draw, which may involve two or three—or more—vials of blood taken from your arm. That gives a technician a great deal of material to plug into centrifuges and analyzers. Vet techs don’t have that volume of material to work with, and the Veterinary Clinical Pathology Laboratory researchers explain that they end up using automated analyzers that have been validated over the years. “Automation does not supplant the need for a personal review, so every sample is also examined microscopically by a trained technician.”

You want a competent, trained technician studying the sample because this step is important. He or she is essentially comparing your bird’s blood to a standard of a healthy animal.

The cost of the CBC pays for itself in early detection and treatment of problems, or in peace of mind. When you schedule your pet bird’s annual wellness exam, let your avian vet know that you’re proactive and responsible on every level; you’re ready to have a CBC to rule out any disease or illness in your feathered charge. ><



Evaluate Your Bird’s Droppings to See Health Changes

By Dr. Peter S. Sakas

From Aug/Sept 2014 IYF Column

One of the most important indicators of the health of your bird is its droppings. Changes in the droppings are usually one of the early signs of illness in pet birds. You don’t have to make the diagnosis yourself. Understanding that the droppings have changed in some manner should prompt you to seek veterinary assistance and identify a disease condition in an early state, which leads to a much better prognosis.

Ideally you should examine the droppings daily so you can properly evaluate the character and number of the droppings. For example, a parakeet should have 30+ droppings daily, a cockatiel 20+ (yes, I know it seems like they have an endless supply). A reduction in this number could indicate a decrease in eating or an interference with the passage of fecal matter.

Paper on the bottom of the cage is ideal to allow for ease of viewing/evaluating the droppings. If you use corncob bedding or wood shavings on the bottom of the cage, you should have the means to check the droppings, as with these materials it is difficult to visualize the dropping as it becomes mixed in the substrate.

parrot droppings PDD
Examples of Parrot Droppings. All images in this sidebar courtesy Dr. Peter Sakas

A normal dropping consists of three basic parts: a formed fecal portion, an off white urate (crystal) portion, and a liquid urine portion. The fecal portion is usually green in seed eating birds because seed imparts no color to the droppings allowing the green bile color to predominate. However, if the bird eats foods other than seed the color of the fecal portion will change. For example, a bird eating pellets will have brownish droppings. A bird fed strawberries would have reddish droppings.

The consistency of the droppings will vary with the variety of bird and its diet. A bird that eats fruit, vegetables and other succulent foods will have more watery droppings. Pelleted diets, in addition to causing brownish droppings, may also lead to increased water intake and hence more watery droppings with a less formed fecal portion and increased urine.

Droppings that have suddenly changed consistency and color could indicate disease. The amount of fecal portion should be checked. If the bird is not eating, there may be a scant fecal element or a dropping that is mainly urine with a small amount of bile.

One of the important determinations to be made is whether or not the bird is eating. Even though a bird may appear to be in the food bowl it may not be eating. Is seed being hulled or scooped out of the cup onto the floor? Check for seed hulls in the food cup. Sometimes a bird may hull the seed but not ingest it. Hulled, uneaten seeds may be found on the cage floor. This is common in newly weaned parrots that have been taken off formula because the owner thought that the bird was ingesting the seed, but actually only playing with it.

It is normal for a bird to “urinate,” which is when it will pass only liquid urine and urate crystals with no fecal matter. However, this is only an occasional occurrence. If it happens predominantly, a problem exists. Remember that although a reduction in the number of droppings or amount of fecal portion indicates reduced food intake, it may also indicate interference with normal passage of fecal matter, such as with vomiting.

If there is hulled seed on the bottom of the cage, you must determine whether the bird is regurgitating or vomiting. Regurgitation is a normal part of courtship behavior. During courtship, regurgitated seeds may be seen on or near a mirror or toys. However, vomited seeds can be seen in sticky clusters throughout the cage—often adhering to the bars. Further evidence of vomiting is that the head feathers of the vomiting bird are pasted with vomitus, sometimes mixed with seed.

parrot dropping, poop
This is an example of a healthy conure dropping. Photo courtesy Editor Sandy Lender
watery droppings Eclectus parrot
This picture shows watery droppings from a female Eclectus. Photo courtesy Editor Sandy Lender
male Eclectus healthy dropping
This dropping is from a healthy male Eclectus. Photo courtesy Editor Sandy Lender