Ann M. Bourke, DVM
Kensington Bird and Animal Hospital
977 Farmington Avenue
Kensington, CT 06037
What is giardia?
Giardia is a parasite that lives in the intestinal tract of numerous species. It is a protozoan -- a type of motile parasite -- and appears most prevalent in cockatiels. Birds and other animals become infected by ingesting the cysts of giardia, usually by means of contaminated water, but also directly by ingestion of feces containing the cysts. Giardia can survive for a substantial amount of time in the environment, so infection can occur simply by placing a bird in a contaminated cage or aviary. No one is certain as to why cockatiels are over-represented with this disease, but some believe there may be a genetic predisposition or immune deficiency, making this species poorly able to fight off infection on their own.
What are giardia's symptoms of infection?
Cockatiels with giardiasis are often asymptomatic. They carry the parasite but do not seemed harmed by the infection. The parasite may be detected during routine examination of an otherwise healthy bird. Those showing symptoms can exhibit signs of poor weight gain, shabby feathering, feather plucking, itchiness, or watery droppings. The most common presentation at our practice is a bird with watery droppings and ripping feathers out as if they were painful.
How is giardia diagnosed?
Infections with giardia often go undiagnosed, as it is an extremely difficult parasite to detect. A fresh (examined within 5-10 minutes) dropping can be checked under a microscope and examined for the characteristic movement and appearance of adult giardia, or the less easily recognized cyst form. Droppings may also be sent to a laboratory where a trichrome stain technique can be used to detect it. Both methods are unreliable, however, because they depend on the affected bird shedding giardia at the time of examination. More often than not, birds are not shedding the organisms in the droppings, so negative results are common. Currently, research is being done to develop a blood test to detect antibodies to giardia.
What if my bird is affected?
Treatment for giardia infection is difficult. The most common treatment is with metronidazole. Our experience with this drug has shown rapid improvement in the bird's condition, but frequent relapses once the medication has been discontinued. recently we have been using a more holistic treatment recommended by Dr. Greg Harrison of Lake Worth, Florida. This involves oral dosing of a combination of lactulose and Echinacea, and administration of apple cider vinegar in the drinking water. There has been remarkable success with this procedure, but it is not a 100% cure. During and after treatment, proper disinfecting is important, as birds can easily reinfect themselves by ingestion of contaminated feces. The cage floor must be changed frequently to prevent access to droppings. Use of a grate is advisable. Disinfecting with a 1:10 dilution of bleach in warm water will aid in killing the parasite. If well water is the primary water source, owners may want to consider testing for this parasite, or simply boil the water to kill giardia cysts.
What else do I need to know?
Giardia in cockatiels is usually asymptomatic or causes relatively mild symptoms. Rarely do we see a bird become ill as a result of this parasite. Take your bird for an annual well-bird checkup and have your veterinarian check its fresh droppings. Frequent monitoring is your best bet for early diagnosis and treatment of giardia.
Candida can lead to slow crop and is usually a secondary infection. A bird with candida (a yeast infection) will have a stringy, sticky white substance inside the beak which can be easily removed with a Q-tip. There is a certain amount of yeast in the body normally. However, when the balance between the natural flora and fauna becomes skewed, the yeast will reproduce very quickly. If left unchecked, candida can become very serious by infecting the respiratory system.
Improper hygiene can exaserbate the growth of candida. All handfeeding supplies must be properly disinfected after every use, and the brooder needs to be cleaned every day! Depending on the number of baby birds in the brooder, it may have to be cleaned several times a day. I have found Dentagene, Wavicide, and Vanodine all work very well as disinfectants on the handfeeding utensils and the brooder.
There are several medicines available from your veternarian to treat candida. One of the most widely used is Nystatin. It must come in contact with the infected area in order to work. The treatment lasts usually 5-10 days, depending on the severity. Your veternarian will be able to make that determination for you.
One home remedy that has worked very well for us was given to us by a very dear friend. Mix a 1" ribbon of Mycelex-7 (yes, the feminine product) to a gallon of water. Since the Mycelex-7 is difficult to mix, you may want to use a blender or mixer. Use this as the bird's only water source for 3 days. This mixture is only effective for 12 hours; therefore, it must be made fresh twice a day. After 3 days the yeast infection should be gone.
Another treatment, available through Wanda Barras from Cage'n Bird at (318)394-6683, is Gentian Violet. If the candida is located in the crop, inside the beak, etc., a cotton swab is used to apply the Gentian Violet. The Gentian Violet must come in contact with the infected area in order to be effective. In unfeathered birds, the infected crop areas will show up as mottled once the Gentian Violet is applied.. The healthy tissue will be purple. This will be very easy to see. In feathered birds,of course, this is more difficult. Usually the Gentian Violet corrects the problem with 2-3 applications. We have used this in the past and have had great success.
If you wish to print this page, please give proper credit.
- Wanda Barra, Cage'n Bird, St. Martinville, LA
- A Guide to Cockatiels and Their Mutations.... By Peggy Cross and Diane Andersen.
- You and Your Pet Bird by David Alderton
- The New Cockatiel Handbook... By Matthew Vriends, PHD
- Diseases of Cage & Aviary Birds By Walter J. Rosskopf (editor) and Richard W. Woerpel (editor)
- Dr. Tom Tester, DMV, Hayden Lake, Id
by Hannis L. Stoddard, III, DVM
PDD was first recognized in macaws by Dr. H. L. Stoddard III in 1978. The condition was initially called "macaw wasting syndrome" and is also known as "psittacine wasting syndrome " or "neuropathic gastric dilation". Proventricular dilatation disease can occur in any psittacine but the most common birds affected are macaws, cockatoos and conures.
PDD is caused by a virus that progressively destroys the nerve supply to the proventriculus (forestomach), ventriculus (gizzard), and portions of the small intestines. As a result of the damage, birds are unable to digest their food properly. As food stays in the digestive tract bacteria accumulates and increases the chances of infection with other organisms. In some birds with PDD, the severely dilated thin wall of the proventriculus may rupture, resulting in the movement of the food into the abdominal cavity causing severe infection which many times leads to death.
Clinical Signs and Diagnosis
Signs suggestive of PDD include weight loss over a period of weeks to months despite a good appetite, passage of undigested food, vomiting, neurological signs, abdominal distention and impaction of the crop. All of these signs may or may not be present. Although PDD is considered to be a fatal illness, this disease can persist for months. Diagnosis of PDD is done by taking a biopsy of the proventriculus. Unfortunately these biopsies are done many times after the bird dies . In some rare cases biopsy of the crop can be done to diagnose PDD. Radiographs can reveal enlarged proventriculus in adult birds which can be highly suggestive of PDD. A contrast study can determine the time it takes for food to pass from the crop through the rest the digestive tract. Many times in birds with PDD, the contrast material is delayed and hours later the ingesta is still retained in the crop.
Incubation and Transmission
At the present time the mode of transmission has not been established. It has been thought that the incubation may be as long as eight years but there has been cases of acute outbreaks which suggest that there is a shorter incubation period. In some cases several birds in an aviary may show clinical signs while in other cases a single bird in a breeding pair may die, with no subsequent losses in the aviary even four or five years later. It is common for many birds exposed directly or indirectly to an affected bird to remain asymptomatic. PDD has been detected in birds as young as ten weeks of age.
Treatment and Control
There is no treatment for PDD at this time. Control and prevention of PDD will require confirmation of the cause of the disease. Exposed birds should be isolated and preferably housed in single bird families.
by Hannis L. Stoddard III, DMV
Aspergillosis is the most common fungal infection in birds caused by aspergella fumigates. Although birds are commonly exposed to the spores of this fungus, they develop the disease only under certain conditions. If a bird's immune system is suppressed by a concurrent illness, malnutrition or stress, it may become sick after exposure. Stress-induced Aspergillosis is frequently seen in birds subjected to surgery, reproduction, environmental changes, capture, confinement or shipping.
Aspergella, as well as other fungi, grows readily in damp, dark conditions with poor ventilation. Encrusted fecal matter, damp feed, dirty feeding utensils and food that falls through cage grates all encourage mold growth. Interestingly, we see a high incidence of Aspergillosis in birds in the southwest where the environment is dry and not conducive to fungal replication. The speculation is the low humidity, coupled with the dusty environment, interferes with the normal mucous secretion in the birds' respiratory tracts and predisposes them to mycoses.
Two forms of Aspergillosis are commonly seen in Amazons. The first is an acute generalized form characterized by the fungus in the lower respiratory tree as well as in the intestinal tract and other organs. Patients with this form of Aspergillosis exhibit labored respiration, severe depression and extreme emaciation, and are generally very ill. Unfortunately, the mortality rate is exceptionally high in this form. The second form is called a chronic localized form. This is the most common type of infection seen in Amazons. This chronic Aspergillosis tends to develop localized aspergellomas (pockets of fungal infection). The location will determine the clinical signs. A common place for aspergellomas to localize in Amazons is in the sinus cavity, characterized by intermittent mucoid exudation.
Diagnosis of avian Aspergillosis can be difficult, at best, other than by autopsy. Tentative diagnosis can be made with clinical signs as well as the absence of bacterial infection in moist exudates. A blood test showing an elevation in white blood cell count, mild anemia and an elevation in the monocytes also supports this diagnosis. X-rays should be taken on any suspect patient-many times the radiograph will reveal densities or nodules consistent with aspergellomas. Additionally, your avian veterinarian should take samples and attempt to culture the fungus in specially prepared culture media. Blood should also be submitted for serologic evaluation.
Once a bird is diagnosed as having Aspergillosis, appropriate treatment should be instituted by a qualified avian veterinarian. Each treatment protocol has to be tailored to the individual bird. A prerequisite for success is removing the concurrent immunosuppression that exists. This can be accomplished by management, by treating concurrent maladies and by the judicious use of immunostimulants. Aggressive antifungal treatment is in order, either localized or systemic. Surgery may be necessary with certain localized Aspergellomas, while aggressive nebulization and sinus flushings are warranted in certain other cases. Additionally, a long-term treatment schedule should be instituted
by Tiffany Margolin, DVM
Does your bird have a "cold"? Is his nose runny, is he sneezing, or having other signs of a respiratory infection? There are many causes of respiratory problems in birds, but one of the most stubborn and elusive culprits is Pseudomonas.
Recently, a green wing macaw named Jackpot was brought to our clinic because he had signs similar to those described above. A simple culture revealed that he had a sever Pseudomonas infection.
What exactly is Pseudomonas? It is pronounced "sudamonas", and is a water-loving organism. It is most often found in water sources such as hoses, taps and even water-filtering systems. It is a gram-negative rod-like organism that is not normally found in a healthy bird. If it gains a foothold, it readily proliferates in the warm, moist environment of a bird's respiratory system. Unfortunately for both the bird and its owner, Pseudomonas can be very resistant to many commonly used antibiotics.
Pseudomonal infections, by and large, involve the respiratory system. Signs of the infection may include clear or yellowish discharge from one or both nostrils, sneezing, scratching at the nose and ears, and conjuctivitis (red eyes). If the problem is detected early enough, much subtler signs may be the only ones present. For example, the feathers around the nostrils may just be slightly crusty.
When an orange winged amazon named ET was brought in, its owner said that he was, "Sneezing a bit, and just not acting himself.) ET turned out to have a very resistant form of Pseudomonas. It could be treated only with injectable antibiotics. Although we have most commonly observed the infection in psittacines, it is not limited to that group. Most adult birds have immune systems strong enough to wall the infection off to the upper respiratory system. As an infection progresses and becomes more severe, signs can include swollen sinuses around the eyes and complete obstruction of the nostrils.
Juvenile psittacines are at greater risk if exposed to Pseudomonas, because of their immature immune systems. Instead of localizing the bacteria to the respiratory tract, their systems may be overwhelmed and become septicemic (Carrying the bacteria in the bloodstream to all of the organ systems). This danger is very real if the formula water is contaminated. This can be avoided if one is careful to boil the water before using it. Also be sure that all utensils are thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before each use.
Recently, a four week old cockatiel was afflicted. The bird became extremely ill and died within 24 hours. It was brought to our clinic for necropsy. The environmeent was investigated for months before finding the bacteria living in the filters that purified her aviary water! One must culture taps, surfaces, and other areas that the water may contact. Even if bottled water is used --the most likely spot to find a problem is inside the cap.
We have discussed treatment in the individual bird, but how does one address aviary contamination? Surface disinfectants must be employed here. Nolvasan does not kill Pseudomonas. For surface disinfection with bleach, use a dilution of one part bleach to thirty parts water and rinse thoroughly. Remove all bleach residue from cages and bowls before contact with birds is allowed. Roccal-D, Kennelsol and many other disinfectants also labeled for use against Pseudomonas. Follow manufacturer's instructions.
If the water lines are contaminated, they must be flushed with an appropriate disinfectant and recultured. Check water filtering devices on a regular basis. It is also recommended to run the tap for several seconds before filling bowls to reduce the overall bacterial count.
I cannot overstress the importance of having a known Pseudomonas bird rechecked and recultured on a regular basis. This bacteria has an extremely high rate of recurrence if this is not done. If often becomes stronger and more resistant with each subsequent generation. Consult your avian veterinarian if you suspect a problem with your aviary or pet bird.