The Vet's Corner - Avian Axioms

Walter J. Rosskopf, Richard W. Woerpel


Birds are unique in their manifestions of, and response(s) to disease (Axiom #1). A thorough understanding of this axiom and its ramifications are essential if one is to design a rational treatment protocol for caged birds.

All animals possess the limited ability to physiologically compensate for one or more medical problems involving one or more organ systems. An example of this would be chronic kidney disease in the dog. Definite clinical symptoms of illness are not usually exhibited until that fraction of the entire organ which is absolutely necessary to sustain normal homeostasis is consumed by the disease process. The onset of clinical symptoms is, therefore, usually associated with a state of physiological decompensation. Birds seem to possess this compensatory ability to an even greater extent. Indeed, birds appear to "hide" their symptoms (Axiom #2). Caged birds possess the unique ability to physiologically compensate for organic dysfunction and maintain this compensatory state for a surprisingly long period of time. Sustained subclinical illness results. Often, obvious symptoms of illness are not exhibited by ill birds until one or two weeks after acquisition of the disease agent.

Most people clients are much less observant of their caged bird(s) than of their pet dog or cat (Axiom #3). Therefore, subtle symptoms ofillness are initially ignored or overlooked. Presentation of the avian patient to the veterinarian usually occurs at the time of obvious physical illness at which time the disease process is usually well advanced.

The number one misconception among bird owners regarding symptomatology is that an eating bird is a healthy bird. Most clients are lulled into overlooking subtle changes in their caged bird because its appetite remains unchanged. A "healthy appetite is not synonomous with a healthy bird (Axiom #4). Indeed, many birds will continue to eat right up until the time of death. Bird owners should always become concerned when there is a quantitative change in diet. More importantly, they should become suspicious when a bird with a substantial appetite exhibits even subtle symptoms of illness.

Stress plays an unusually significant role in the pathogenesis of avian disease (Axiom #5). Stress is any condition or situation that compromises the state of well-being of an individual. Poor husbandry (especially inadequate diet), environmental changes, handling (taming), and trauma are common stresses experienced by caged birds and, as a result, they are also common precipitating causes of disease.

A special comment on diet: No individual or organization (including the National Research Council) has determined the actual nutritional requirements for exotic birds. This is not likely to become a reality either, because of economic restraints and the tremendous number of species that would, of necessity, demand inclusion in the study. Therefore, there are no truly scientifically formulated, completely balanced diets available for exotic birds. The alternative is a varied diet with mandatory vitamin and mineral supplementation, or a diet that has proved to be efficacious (ability to successfully breed, etc.).

Ignorance of the need to offer a variety of foodstuffs in an effort to provide all of the vital nutrients in their proper amounts and proportions is a universal problem. Malnutrition results, and represents chronic stress to caged birds, and is a leading cause of disease (Axiom #6).

A comment on drafts as a form of stress; a draft represents a sudden change in the ambient temperature precipitated by movement of air. Healthy birds can usually tolerate them, whereas diseased birds, or those incubating illnesses, are stressed by them. Drafts are, in my opinion, over-rated with regards to their direct role in the pathogenesis of disease.

Generally, the degree of stress experienced by an animal in captivity is in indirect proportion to the degree of domestication of that animal. The domestic dog or cat, for example, when ill is rarely seriously stressed by a visit to the veterinarian in the same way that an exotic bird, exhibiting the same degree of illness, is stressed by a mere routine physical exam.

Imported exotic birds experience an inordinate amount of stress during their capture, transport to the United States, quarantine, confinement in the retail...

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