and related species

Chapter 5 Parrots and related species

Members of the parrot family are the commonest avian pet and, therefore, the most likely to be presented to the veterinarian. Table 5.1 shows the most commonly encountered species.

Consultation and handling

Psychologically, most pet birds are little different from their wild ancestors – the veterinary surgeon constitutes a potential predator so the bird is likely to exhibit a flight or fight response when handled. Exceptions to this are hand-reared parrots (or imprinted raptors and owls). However, in extremis, birds vary in their susceptibility to stress, and while some, such as the larger psittacines, can be handled relatively safely, others, such as canaries, carry a greater risk.

A great many captive-bred, hand-reared birds can be superficially examined while perched on the owner or on a freestanding perch, thereby minimizing stress. If care and patience is undertaken, then auscultation of the lungs and air sacs, plus some assessment of body condition can be achieved in this way.

It is important to weigh parrots at every consultation (Fig. 5.1); tame birds can be accurately weighed using a small perch designed to fit on to standard weighing scales.

Aggressive birds, or birds unused to handling, may require to be ‘towelled’ in order to examine them. Use a large towel that will cover most of the bird. Drop or place it over the bird such that the head is covered and the bird cannot see your hands. With one hand, grab the bird’s head or neck from behind so that there is control of the beak, and use the other hand to gather up the rest of the bird into the towel. Do not in any way compress the sternum, as this will seriously compromise the bird’s breathing.

Birds will attempt to mask signs of illness and so may not exhibit clinical signs until a disease course is quite advanced. It is important to observe the bird from a distance for several minutes prior to handling, as a relaxed bird is more likely to show signs of ill-health.

Nursing care

Fluid administration

Intravenous. Birds can tolerate fluid replacement rates of up to 10 mL/kg given in a bolus, if given slowly over 5–7 min. Sites include the right jugular vein, brachial vein (Fig. 5.2) and the medial metatarsal vein. Intravenous catheters are difficult to maintain in birds so bolus administration is preferred. Isotonic solutions should be administered slowly at a rate of 10–15 mL/kg. A ‘shock’ dose of 90 mL/kg can be used if large volumes are needed rapidly. Suggested individual bolus volumes are listed in Table 5.3.

Table 5.2 Parrots and related species: Cloacal administration

Species Suggested volumes for cloacal administration (mL)
Budgerigar 0.5
Cockatiel 1
Amazon 4
Macaw 6–7

Table 5.3 Parrots and related species: Suggested individual bolus volumes

Species Bolus volume (mL)
Budgerigar 1–2
Cockatiel 2–3
Conure 4–6
Amazon 8–10
Macaw 15–25


From a practical point of view, induction and maintenance with gaseous anaesthesia is of choice. Atropine can be given as pre-medication at 0.05–0.1 mg/kg s.c. This reduces mucus and counters bradycardia from vagal stimulation during surgery.

Air sac perfusion anaesthesia

Avian respiratory anatomy means that the trachea can be ‘bypassed’ by insertion of a suitable cannula into one of the caudal air sacs (abdominal or caudal thoracic) for delivery of oxygen and anaesthetic gasses. This technique is suitable for oral or tracheal obstructions or if surgery is required at or around oral cavity. Glottal or tracheal foreign bodies or other obstructions will usually give their presence away by producing a whistling sound during the respiratory cycle. These birds are extremely liable to sudden death. The main priority is to establish a patent airway as quickly as possible, therefore the need to anaesthetize and insert an air sac tube.

Skin disorders

Avian skin is very thin with the epidermis only up to 10 cells thick in feathered areas. There are few cutaneous glands:

Commensal bacterial numbers on the skin of birds are considered to be lower than those found on mammals. Yeasts are infrequent commensals. Malassezia not isolated from normal or self-mutilating birds (Preziosi et al 2006); in the same study, Candida albicans was isolated but significance was unclear.

Feathers serve a number of functions including insulation, protection from trauma, accessories to flight, species recognition patterns and display. There are several types and sub-groups of feathers.

Signs of skin disease

Feather damage, pathology and loss

Psittacine beak and feather disease (PBFD) (circovirus) (Fig. 5.5). Usually affects birds less than 3 years of age. Signs include loss of feathers, decrease in down feathers on flanks, retained pin feathers, short clubbed feathers, deformed feathers. Beak may change in colour, grow abnormally and become necrotic beginning with a palatine crust in the maxillary beak. Secondary bacterial infections make the condition worse. Older, chronically infected African grey parrots may produce red feathers in abnormal position such as the covert feathers (Fig. 5.6).


Lipomas (Fig. 5.8), fibrosarcomas, liposarcomas and squamous cell carcinomas are some of the commoner skin neoplasms reported from birds. Xanthomas common especially in budgerigars. These are non-neoplastic yellowish nodules or plaques caused by an accumulation of cholesterol and fats. Can be ulcerative. Often found over an area of pathology such as a lipoma.


Treatment/specific therapy


Cisplatin given intralesional at 17.5 mg/m2 (Klaphake et al 2006). Cisplatin is potentially nephrotoxic, ototoxic and has been linked with anorexia, diarrhoea, seizures, peripheral neuropathies and haematological disturbances. A dose rate of 30 mg/m2 has been linked with fatal toxicity (Manucy et al 1998)

The self-mutilating parrot

Self-mutilation, like stereotypies, is a form of abnormal repetitive behaviour exhibited in captive parrots. Often psychological in origin, the alternative of an underlying causal disease should not be ruled out, either as differential diagnoses or as contributing factors. Epidemiological evidence (Garner et al 2005) points towards there being an inherited susceptibility, an increased incidence in females and a link to certain stressful environmental conditions. There are no ‘quick fixes’ and investigation is often prolonged and expensive. A methodical and holistic approach is required. This should take into account the background of the bird, its environment, its disease status and its psychological well-being.



Environmental toxins

Findings on clinical examination



Upper respiratory tract disorders

Aug 21, 2016 | Posted by in EXOTIC, WILD, ZOO | Comments Off on and related species

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