January 13, 2014

Kahler: Routine-oriented cockatoo’s behavioral, physical changes a red flag

Pebbles, a 9-year-old sulfur crested cockatoo, has begun to deviate from this trained behavior and has been defecating in various areas in the house.

Pebbles is a 9-year-old sulfur crested cockatoo living with Dawn, her husband Nate and their two children. She is very interactive with her family, sharing meals and lots of play time outside her cage. She is trained to urinate and defecate in her cage while spending time throughout the house.

Recently, she has begun to deviate from this trained behavior and has been defecating in various areas in the house. Initially, her accidents were infrequent and ignored by her caretakers, but that is no longer the case as this new behavior has become quite prevalent. Most recently, Dawn reports finding blood in Pebbles’ stool.

Birds are very routine oriented and Pebbles is no exception. They usually live very organized lives and this characteristic makes them very amendable to training. The fact that Pebbles’ trained defecation behavior is currently out the window tells me there is something wrong. It’s likely not simply a behavioral change but instead likely reflects some type of physical problem. The blood in her stool is a significant clue.

Fresh blood in the stool of a bird can come from several areas. It can be as simple as a wound on the vent or it can come from the cloaca or the digestive tract. It is important to first figure out if the blood is indeed within the stool or on the outside. It is also important to note if it is not truly involving the stool at all, but instead is part of the urates, which is the urine of a bird. This can be determined by close examination of the stool/urates. Determining if a wound is on the vent involves a simple visual diagnosis, however bleeding from areas farther up inside the bird requires more investigation.

Another one of the possibilities that come to mind in Pebbles’ case is colitis, which is inflammation of the colon. If this inflammation is severe enough, it can cause the colon wall to bleed thus producing blood in the stool.

This is often an underlying dietary problem. Bleeding also can occur in the cloaca, the common area in birds that accepts material from the digestive tract, the urinary tract and the reproductive tract. It is just inside the vent. If there is trauma to the wall of the cloaca, bleeding can occur. Certain lesions in the reproductive tract can lead to bleeding, which can show up as blood on the stool coming from the vent. Obviously there are a number of possibilities.

Another disease process I need to mention is papillomatosis. This is a disease caused by a papilloma virus in birds that leads to the development of fleshy masses within the digestive tract from the oral cavity to the vent. These masses can bleed very easily with the blood showing up on the stool.

Papillomas, when they occur, are commonly found inside the vent on the cloacal wall. If they are few and not too large, they can be removed. However it they are farther up the digestive tract, removal is usually not possible. Another area where they commonly occur is the oral cavity. When these oral papillomas bleed, the blood does not show up in the stool as fresh blood but instead it shows in the stool as dark, tarry material that is digested blood swallowed from the oral cavity.

It is likely obvious that Pebbles needs to be evaluated. She almost definitely is dealing with a physical problem and the sooner it is diagnosed, the sooner she may be helped. Hopefully her problem will have a simple underlying cause and correspondingly simple solution as a result.

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