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Common Conditions


  • Fat Tumours


  • Feather Picking

  • Blocked Gizzard


Fat Tumours


Fatty tumours that lie beneath the skin (subcutaneous lipomas or xanthomas) are the most common neoplasms of birds. These encapsulated benign tumours are composed of mature fat cells. They generally occur in overweight birds and are most commonly seen in budgerigars, galahs and sulphur crested cockatoos.


Development of lipomas is associated with obesity, hypothyroidism and genetic factors. In addition to being unsightly, lipomas may become large enough to restrict movement and may become centrally necrotic or ulcerated. Pain and discomfort is associated with necrotic and ulcerated lipomas and xanthomas. Birds will pick at themselves (self mutilate) with this form of tumor. The resulting bleeding and infection becomes a life threatening situation.


If the tumour is not ulcerated or necrotic, initial treatment involves dietary modification and additional exercise. Iodine supplementation in the form of Ioford in the drinking water is also recommended at this stage. Lipomas that do not respond to this treatment often become ulcerated or begin to interfere with locomotion.


Management of Lipomas (Non-Ulcerated and Non-Necrotic)
  • Introduce a low fat diet (low sunflower seed content).


  • Balance nutrition by following the Ongoing Health Programme.

  • Use an Iodine supplement to stimulate the thyroid gland and metabolism of fatty tissues.

  • Stimulate exercise twice daily to help with weight and fat reduction.

  • Return in 2 weeks for re-assessment of the tumour.


Fat tumours are associated with normal fat depots throughout the body. The presence of these fat depots may lead to multi-focal development of lipomas. The aim of the above regime is to remove or minimise these surrounding fat depots to allow complete removal of the lipoma. If the tumour is completely removed, removal is usually curative.


Management of Xanthomas (Ulcerated and Necrotic)

Once the tumour becomes ulcerated or necrotic the tumour changes in nature to a serious life-threatening form called a Xanthoma. Xanthomas tend to overly fat deposits, hernias and chronic abscesses, and are non-discrete thickened areas of yellow, friable skin that bleeds easily. In these cases surgical removal is required. If the tumour is left untreated, the bird becomes susceptible to sudden bleeding episodes and may bleed to death.


Surgical Removal of Xanthomas

Once the fat tumour becomes ulcerated or necrotic, immediate surgical removal becomes necessary. The ulcerated and necrotic skin associated with xanthomas often complicates surgical removal of these tumours. Our aim for surgery is to completely remove the xanthoma and any surrounding necrotic or ulcerated skin. If this is achieved, recurrence is less likely.


Post Operative Complications


There is very little chance of post surgical complication following the routine removal of non ulcerated/necrotic fat tumours. The removal of xanthomas and ulcerated lipomas is a more complex procedure because of an increased likelihood of bleeding and stroke like syndrome (see surgery pamphlet overleaf). As well, the likelihood of self mutilation is increased following surgery because the bird has developed a habit of picking itself. Self mutilation lessens the chance of recovery as the wound is not allowed adequate time to heal.


Programme to help decrease size of tumour and prevent recurrence:



1. Ioford (10 drops) is mixed into 100mls of drinking water each day for three weeks. The iodine in Ioford stimulates the thyroid gland and helps reduce the size of the tumor and associated fat depots. Dufoplus and Ioford are safely left in the drinking water for two consecutive days, as they are sugar free. They provide the vitamins and trace elements necessary for good health. The signs of improved health are visible by the more intense green, blue and yellow colour of the plumage, beak and feet, together with whiter whites in the feathers and an increased activity and talking ability.


2. Into 100mls of drinking water add 5 drops of Dufoplus.


3. 6 drops of Turbobooster is mixed thoroughly into 100gm of seed, then a green 1 gm spoon of an energy supplement and F-vite are mixed into it. These powders stick to the Turbobooster oil impregnated seed providing your ill bird with immediate energy, protein, vitamin and mineral supplements to help restore its health as quickly as possible.


4. Fvite should be made available from Monday to Friday in a small side dish.


Feather Picking


Feather loss as a result of feather picking can be a difficult problem to cure when the picking behaviour is already established. In order to best help a feather picking problem, birds should be presented to Dr. Marshall at the first signs of picking. Feather picking that has persisted for a prolonged period of time may become a habit and difficult to cure.


In this article feather picking may be either plucking, chewing of the feathers or both.


There are many possible causes of feather picking and special diagnostic tests are recommended by Dr Marshall as a starting point for unravelling the cause of feather picking in your bird.


The cause of feather picking may be behavioural, an underlying disease or parasite, or a combination of both. Dr Marshall believes poor nutrition and contaminated food to be the single most common initiating cause of feather picking. Behaviour induced feather picking is a close second.


Diagnostic tests are used to reveal possible disease causes of feather picking. Wet smears and gram stains are used to check for internal parasites and the presence of thrush and disease forming bacteria. Cultures from the throat and dropping are recommended in order to identify fungal or bacterial infections that may be the cause or result of feather picking.


Psittacosis is a common disease involved with feather picking and a Psittacosis test is always recommended. This disease may be the cause of feather picking or occur as a result of it. Recovery from feather picking is unlikely if Psittacosis is present and left untreated. Similarly if a fungal, thrush or bacterial infection is present then these must also be treated before it is possible to cure feather picking.


Feather picking is a sign of an unhappy or unwell pet bird. Diseases may occur as a result of the agitation produced by feather picking irrespective of whether the underlying cause is a behavioural problem or a disease.


Sudden onset of agitated feather picking is most commonly associated with a disease process. Psittacosis, fungal, thrush, staph infections and heavy metal poisons are the most common causes. Behavioural disturbances cause feather picking that starts as an over-grooming activity.


X-rays are often recommended when pain is associated with feather picking and when the distribution of feather picking is over the back, neck or chest. The X-ray may reveal problems such as blocked gizzard, a gas extended proventriculus or cloaca, heavy metal poisoning, foreign bodies, enlarged spleen and airsac disease. These are all possible causes of feather picking that need to be identified in order to cure the problem.


Behavioural disturbances are often the trigger to a disease-based feather picking problem. In fact, in many cases both a behavioural problem and disease may cause feather picking. A behavioural cause of feather picking is diagnosed when the diagnostic tests return as normal. However behaviour interactions are always explored even when a disease has been diagnosed as the cause of feather picking. The distribution of feather picking with behavioural problems starts on the feet and neck regions. Tail pulling may also be seen when a behavioural problem is the cause of feather picking. Dr Marshall will recommend a consultation with a bird behaviouralist when the cause of feather plucking has been identified as behavioural in nature.


Recovery from feather picking requires that both the underlying disease be treated and that the abnormal behaviour be altered.


It is always a challenge to diagnose and treat pet birds that have been feather picking for a prolonged time. The best outcomes occur when your bird is presented to Dr Marshall at the onset of feather picking activity.


Treatment Options


Treat for Lice and Mites


Treatment against lice and mites is always recommended as a first line of attack against feather picking. Avian Liquidator Spray is applied to the bird's wings, tail, chest and back. Ivermectin should be administered in the drinking water as instructed by Dr Marshall.


Nutritional Health Programme


Poor nutrition or food quality cause birds to become easily agitated and therefore more likely to start feather picking. We recommend that your bird receive sterile food and a Special Nutrional Health Programme whatever the underlying cause of feather picking.


Specific Treatment for Disease


Administration of injections for diseases such as Psittacosis, hormonal imbalances and heavy metal poisoning may be recommended. Special medications (antidepressants, tranquilisers, narcotic antagonists) are rarely prescribed except when there is possibility of self mutilation or to help break an established feather picking habit.


Emergency Treatment Options


Some tests take up to 72 hours to be processed and in order to prevent self mutilation your bird may require immediate steps to be taken. Dr Marshall may recommend your bird be confined to a dark room, cupboard or moved to a covered darkened carrier/transport cage and be allowed out for half an hour under supervision to eat and drink. Medical treatment (drugs) may be prescribed by Dr Marshall when he is worried about self mutilation inflicting further harm whilst we await the culture and psittacosis test results.


Blocked Gizzard


Your bird has been diagnosed with a blocked gizzard. This is a life threatening disease and your bird may need to stay in hospital until it starts eating. It may take as short as one day, or as long as three days to unblock the gizzard. When the blockage has been present for too long, or when excessive amounts of material are blocking the gizzard, it may be impossible to save your bird. Soft materials and plastic objects may be difficult to unblock as they become impacted and "cement" in the gizzard. Recent sand, wood or dirt blockages are more likely to be unblocked. We manage to save more than 90% of birds presented to us with a blocked gizzard or foreign body obstruction. We always do our best for your much loved pets. Please phone twice daily to check on your bird's progress.


What is a blocked gizzard?


Following wet weather or fluctuating temperatures pet birds may over-engorge on minerals (sand, soil, potting mix or grit). The reason for this activity is unknown, however, there may be an underlying health problem (eg. Bowel infection, worms or eating contaminated food) that leads to this behaviour. Once a small amount of sand, grit or soil has been ingested, the bird is likely to develop a stomach ache and will scavenge for further minerals. The build up of these materials cause a blockage in the gizzard. The presence of a blocked gizzard or foreign body obstruction is confirmed through an X-ray.


What predisposes the bird to blocked gizzard?


There are a number of underlying causes of a blocked gizzard. Birds with a mineral deficiency or imbalance will seek minerals from other sources in the cage or environment. This often means they will ingest contaminated substances such as potting mix and grout between the tiles, to satisfy their mineral cravings. Egg laying hens have a heightened mineral need and if minerals are deficient during egg laying they become predisposed to a blocked gizzard. Similarly, birds with bowel infections are susceptible to a blocked gizzard because they are unable to absorb sufficient minerals. Cold spells are the most likely times for such birds to develop a blocked gizzard.


Foreign body obstructions occur mostly in perfectly healthy birds who are inquisitive and playful. The most common causes of foreign body obstructions are toweling, rope fibres, toys, paper, and plastics found within the birds play environment. Foreign bodies also occur after cold spells and in birds who have behavioural problems, such as boredom or sexual frustration. These birds like to chew on wood and tear up paper. Nutritional problems may also cause birds to chew on abnormal objects.


What are the signs and symptoms of a blocked gizzard?


The symptoms of a foreign body obstruction and a blocked gizzard are similar. The first signs are an increased thirst and fluffed up appearance. Birds will develop a stomach ache and will lean forward on the perch. Droppings will have no faecal component and may be watery and appear clear or white. Birds may vomit and stop eating. Symptoms of a blocked gizzard or foreign body obstruction appear suddenly, over a period of a day or two. It is important to recognize these symptoms early, so treatment can be implemented as early as possible. The likelihood of recovery is dramatically increased when the problem is identified and treated early. If left unattended for a period of time, the chances of recovery are slim.


How is it treated?


A blocked gizzard or foreign body obstruction must be treated as an emergency. Treatment starts by injecting a lubricating feed mix into the crop, using a crop needle. The birds must be hospitalized in a warmed cage and fed three times a day, in an effort to flush the obstruction through. A high energy formula is incorporated in the feed mix and is critical in re-establishing the sick bird's mineral and fluid levels. At this time it may also be necessary to give anti-spasm injections, antibiotics or additional fluids. A culture of the droppings is taken to treat concurrent infections and help identify any underlying cause. The procedure of unblocking the gizzard with an injection into the crop may be stressful to critically ill birds and birds with a longstanding obstruction or low resilience. Unfortunately, shock and sudden death following this procedure is possible. We make every effort that this does not occur.


We can recognize when the blockage has been flushed through by the re-appearance of a faecal component (green) in the droppings. If no faecal component is seen after three days of treatment, the likelihood of recovery is poor. It may not be possible to clear longstanding obstructions. We will keep your bird hospitalized until a normal dropping has been passed.


How can a blocked gizzard or foreign body obstruction be prevented from recurring?


To prevent this problem from recurring it is important to ensure your bird receives the correct nutritional balance by following an Ongoing Health Programme. With the correct nutritional balance, birds will be less likely to seek minerals from contaminated sources. A Water Cleanser in the drinking water forms a very important part of a prevention programme as it cleans food stuff of any contamination. This health programme is comprised of Turbobooster, Energy supplement, Fvite, Ioford, Dufoplus and Water Cleanser, and provides your pet bird with all the minerals and nutrients it requires for ongoing health and vitality.


Are there any other special instructions?


Make sure your bird is eating and drinking at home. If not, it will need to return for further feeding in hospital. To accelerate the healing process, Turbobooster, Fvite and an energy supplement should be mixed into a sterile seed for three weeks. Turbobooster helps lubricate the blockage down through the bowel, the energy supplement helps accelerate recovery and Fvite restores the mineral imbalances.


Are there any long term problems?


Long term obstructions can harm the kidneys and liver and leave the bird susceptible to illness in the future. To protect your bird from repeat obstructions follow Dr Marshall's Ongoing Health Programme.

Quik gel is a broad spectrum first aid treatment that is given whenever you feel your bird is tired or unwell.

Emergency rescue formula is best administered using a crop needle, but it can also be given by spoon or syringe.

Click for information on high cholesterol and fatty liver disease, including causes, symptoms and treatment.

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