by Dr Phil Sacks BSc BVSc Hons MACVs( Avian Health) Bird Veterinarian
Vomiting is common in pet birds. It can be a sign of illness or part of courtship or parenting. Common causes of vomiting in birds as seen by the avian vets will be discussed with a brief mention of the most common causes of bird vomiting and how we work up a vomiting case in our Avian Veterinary clinic using a real example. Can birds vomit? The answer is YES – but it quite different from that in mammals. Firstly birds do not have a diaphragm and so there are no strong abdominal contractions when vomiting. Secondly many birds can vomit voluntarily and do so as part normal life e.g. a mother bird bringing up “crop” contents to feed her babies or partner (See Fig 1). Thirdly the vomit usually comes from the crop – which is a food storage organ located in the lower neck rather than from the stomach or intestines as in mammals like us.
The birds may present with one or more of the following symptoms to Bird Vet Melbourne:
Lethargic and fluffed
Vomiting or regurgitation - there is usually mucus in the birds head! Often there is ongoing "pumping" action of the neck.
Sometimes they will seizure
Pass watery green droppings
Severely affected birds may die suddenly
A more common syndrome is that of low level poisoning with vague clinical signs and pet birds that are just “not well”.
Fig 1 A red tailed Black Cockatoo inappropriately regurgitating food for its owner. (Melbourne Bird Vet.)
Disease Causing Vomiting in Birds - Avian Vet
1) Infectious disease– which include bacterial, viral fungal and parasitic disease
2) Metabolic disease– e.g. enlarged Thyroid , liver disease, peritonitis
3) Nutritional cause e.g. high protein diets.
4) Toxicity – Heavy metal toxicity (Zinc and lead are most common), plant toxicities - Is the most common disease we see that cause vomiting
5) Physical obstructions – e.g. foreign body in the crop, overfeeding, tumors - especially fibre from ropes and toys
6) Trauma esp. crop burn
7) Allergic – food
8) Behavioural – usually not pathological e.g. courtship behaviour, crop milk feeding in pigeons (SEE FIGURE 1}
9) Cancer – causing nausea and obstructions
10) Iatrogenic / caused by treatments– from drugs esp. doxycycline, nitoimadazoles
11) Other – e.g. motion sickness when travelling to vet – show.
To help avian veterinarians work up medical caused of vomiting veterinarians often use the term regurgitation
for finely controlled vomiting that is part of normal physiology that a healthy bird may do. They bob their head up and down and then bring up softened undigested food into their mouth and place the regurgitated food carefully in a desired place. Vomiting
is more uncontrolled ejection of food from both the crop and stomach that is spat out, and flicked around the cage, often landing on the head and neck and is always a sign of disease.
Figure 2 A male budgerigar regurgitation fluid onto his whiskers and side of his head called “wet whiskers”.- Birdvet Melbourne
>The four most common causes of vomiting in pet birds that we see in our bird vet clinic are:
1) Trichomoniasis or canker in budgies or budgerigars is a protozoan disease . Left untreated it is often fatal – we do crop washes (see figure 3) in newly purchased. budgerigars and birds we see for health checks for diagnosis.. Often the birds may show disease signs months after purchase. This is the same organism that causes canker in pigeons and doves.
2) Another common cause of vomiting is megabacterial associated fungal disease. This fugal disease often has a long incubation period i.e. it takes a long time for disease to develop after infection. And along with vomiting the birds show other gastrointestinal signs like loose droppings, undigested seeds in the droppings and generally “ going light”, with gradual weight loss. Most common in budgerigars.
3) Heavy metal poisoning associated with the ingestion of lead and or zinc is the most common cause in large parrots.
4) After crop dosing and injecting certain medications some birds will vomit..
Tzippy a 7-year-old male budgerigar was presented to Melbourne Bird Vet :
HISTORY: The owner described repeated muscular neck movements and regurgitation. The vomitus had matted his little head feathers, and his droppings were becoming looser. He appeared to be losing weight. He had times of appearing normal, i.e. bright alert and active and then there were times he appeared quiet – sometimes sleeping longer that usual during the day.
Examination revealed: matted head feathers from vomiting – and low body weight evidenced by decreased pectoral muscle mass -
Routine testing was done:
1) A crop wash see Figure 3 - Dr Phil Bird Veterinarain
Fig 3 A crop wash in a budgerigar. Inserting a tube containing warm sterile lactate into the crop, injecting the fluid, massaging the crop and then drawing back on the syringe. In our case the result was negative – no trichomonas, no megabacteria, no infection or inflammation of the crop evident. (Budgie vet)
Step 2 A faecal smear of the budgerigar droppings evaluated under a microscope. The clinical pathology result showed normal intestinal bacterial flora.
Step 3 Bloods were taken from the birds jugular vein - We took about 1/8th of a ml enough to do the following tests: Kidney function, liver function, electrolytes, muscle enzymes, proteins and full blood count .. Results showed mild anaemia and low blood proteins, and low calcium. Still No diagnosis. We can take blood from budgerigars.
Step 4 X RAYS or Radiographs (see figure 4) Avian Vet -
Figure 4: The X-ray of a budgerigar shows an enlarged proventriculus (see arrows) with delayed emptying of ingesta. (Birdvet)
Diagnosis: Tzippy was suffering from an adenocarcinoma of the proventriculus. This is an invasive tumor and had infiltrated the stomach muscle wall and affected the nerve supply and motility of the stomach. He was slowly starving. This was not the expected diagnosis, as malignant tumors of the stomach are unusual.