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Dealing with

Avian Diarrhea


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Every bird owner should have a thorough understanding of what
constitutes normal droppings. Plus, it is important that owners
closely observe their own birds' droppings in order to get a good
idea of what is normal for their own individual birds. You are
correct in stating that changes in droppings can be serious, but
that depends on the kinds of changes that are observed.

A normal bird dropping has three separate components. However,
since the bird passes a dropping out of one orifice, the vent,
all three portions of the dropping are mixed in the cloaca before
being evacuated from the body. The first portion is called the
feces, which is solid and worm-like, and may be dark green in
color (usually in seed-eaters), or brown (usually in
pellet-consuming birds.) Feces may be other colors, as well,
depending on what the bird has recently consumed. For example,
certain berries will cause the feces to take on the color of the
fruits ingested. It can be alarming if droppings suddenly appear
reddish in color, as this may be interpreted as blood, so it is
important that owners keep track of what their bird is consuming,
so that color changes can be correctly evaluated. If a bird
doesn't eat any solid food for about 24 hours, the fecal portion
of the droppings will become dark, dark green (that is almost
black) and very sticky and tarry. This is often mistaken for
digested blood in the droppings, but it is actually a type of
bile (biliverdin) from the liver.

If the feces portion is not formed, this is called diarrhea.
Often, a dropping may have an increase in the urine portion,
resulting in a very wet dropping, but the fecal portion will
still be formed. This situation is often mistakenly called
diarrhea, but it is not. If the feces portion is still solid, no
matter how much urine there is in the dropping, then this is not
diarrhea. Free water (urine) around the feces is evidence of
increased urine in the dropping, not diarrhea. Be sure to check
fresh droppings, as with time, the feces may absorb some urine,
giving the false impression of diarrhea. If the brown or green
solid fecal portion is not formed, or is very watery, then this
is correctly called diarrhea. In some cases of diarrhea, there
may be gas bubbles in the feces.

The next portion of the droppings is called the urates. Urates
are off-white, cream colored or slightly yellowish, and are
opaque. Urates are the result of digestion and metabolism of
proteins in the bird's system. They are removed through the
kidneys. Green or yellow stained urates may be found in the
clinically ill avian patient with liver disease. Green urates can
also be found in birds that are actively suffering from infection
with Chlamydophila. If you notice a change in the color of a
bird's urates, you should bring this to your avian vet's

The third portion of a bird's dropping is the urine. This is the
watery waste from the kidneys. There will be varying amounts of
liquid urine in a dropping depending on the amount of water
ingested. For example, a bird that is consuming a lot of fruits
and vegetables (with high water content) will urinate more than a
bird that is just eating dry pellets. Of course, a bird should
always have access to fresh, clean drinking water, and it is best
delivered by the use of a water bottle to prevent bacterial
contamination from fecal matter and foods dunked in the water

Many people falsely conclude that feeding small birds (such as
budgies, lovebirds and some parrots) greens or fruits will cause
diarrhea. The higher water content in the fruits and vegetables
will cause a bird to urinate more, which is often mistaken for
diarrhea. Many birds, when nervous (such as during a trip to the
veterinary office) will urinate more, due to higher than normal
blood pressure. This is to be expected. So, for an avian
veterinarian to best assess normal droppings, on the day of your
office visit, it is better to place fresh, clean papers in the
bottom of the cage first thing in the morning, and do not change
them prior to the visit. It is possible for a bird to urinate
without passing the other portions of a dropping at the same
time. A bird may also pass urates and urine independent of feces.

To best evaluate your bird's droppings, I recommend using paper
towels, brown butcher paper or newspaper on the bottom of the
cage. This makes it simple to view droppings. While other types
of cage lining material are available, they may make viewing
droppings more difficult.

There can be many changes in the volume, size, color, consistency
or frequency of droppings. Any changes that persist should be
reported to your avian veterinarian. Blood in the urine can
indicate lead poisoning, especially in Amazon parrots, or may
rarely indicate a kidney infection. Diarrhea can be caused by
pathogenic bacteria in the intestinal tract, certain viruses,
toxins or protozoal infections. Roundworms can also cause
diarrhea or impaction, and eggs are infrequently passed in
droppings, making diagnosis difficult by routine testing methods.
Increased urine can be caused by increased thirst, consuming more
fruits and vegetables, certain infections, certain metabolic
diseases or stress.

Depending on what abnormalities are found in a dropping, an avian
veterinarian will perform appropriate diagnostic tests. It is
possible to perform a urinalysis on bird urine, which can be
collected from droppings passed on wax paper under the cage.
While the dipstick information is not as valuable, since the
urine is mixed in the cloaca with urates and fecal material,
microscopic examination of the urine sediment can be very helpful
diagnostically. Fecal Gram's stains can be performed, and
cultures may be helpful, as well. Special tests for protozoal
infections can be sent to specialty labs. Blood tests,
radiographs, serology, DNA PCR tests, toxicology, special stains
and other tests may be necessary.

As a pet bird owner, one of the best ways that you can help your
bird is by frequently evaluating droppings. Changes in droppings
can often be the first, subtle sign that something is amiss. By
catching any illness early before the bird becomes clinically
ill, you'll have the best chance in correcting a problem before
it becomes life-threatening. It is also a very good idea to
purchase a good quality scale that can weigh your bird in grams
(not ounces) and to utilize that scale to monitor your bird's
weight weekly. Any changes of more than a few grams should be an
indication that it is time to contact your avian veterinarian.
These two simple steps can provide you with valuable information
about your bird's general health.

Copyright 2002 Margaret A. Wissman, D.V.M., D.A.B.V.P.
All Rights Reserved

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