(Bright Eyes health department of Aug/Sept 2014 In Your Flock)
By Dr. Peter S. Sakas
(Editor’s Note: For the August/September 2014 Bright Eyes department, Dr. Peter Sakas shared with readers not only the importance of evaluating parrot droppings on a regular basis, but also what different consistencies in droppings might indicate. Please refer to the article below for great information to help you in catching illness early, and see the additional images that didn’t fit in the Aug/Sept combo issue layout right here.
First, this picture of a female Eclectus droppings doesn’t give the full story. The parrot’s droppings had a “fishy” smell in addition to the watery consistency evident in this picture. She ate fortified pellets and fresh fruits/vegetables on a daily basis. Her water, which she liked to bathe in, was treated with an anit-fungal supplement from Avitech. Within a few weeks, the strong odor cleared from her droppings. The watery consistency remains when the bird partakes of fruits, which is a phenomenon most parrot owners are probably familiar with. Overall, the parrot is in good health and continues to thrive. Photo courtesy of In Your Flock companion parrot magazine staff.
This next picture is of a male Eclectus dropping, also showing excess water. This bird had been bathing daily and consuming vegetables along with an Eclectus-specific pelleted diet. Notice there is a slightly higher ratio of urates to feces in this sample. The avian veterinarian found no anomalies in the bird’s digestive system. Photo courtesy of In Your Flock companion parrot magazine staff.
The final image is of a male Sun conure dropping. This healthy dropping is well-formed and a good color for the pelleted diet the bird enjoys. The ratio of feces to urates is acceptable and the urine is well balanced considering the bird had not been consuming fruits that day. Photo courtesy of In Your Flock companion parrot magazine staff.)
One of the most important indicators of the health of your bird is its droppings.
Changes in the droppings are usually one of the early signs of illness in pet birds. You don’t have to make the diagnosis yourself. Understanding that the droppings have changed in some manner should prompt you to seek veterinary assistance and identify a disease condition in an early state, which leads to a much better prognosis.
Ideally you should examine the droppings daily so you can properly evaluate the character and number of the droppings. For example, a parakeet should have 30+ droppings daily, a cockatiel 20+ (yes, I know it seems like they have an endless supply). A reduction in this number could indicate a decrease in eating or an interference with the passage of fecal matter.
Paper on the bottom of the cage is ideal to allow for ease of viewing/evaluating the droppings. If you use corncob bedding or wood shavings on the bottom of the cage, you should have the means to check the droppings, as with these materials it is difficult to visualize the dropping as it becomes mixed in the substrate.
A normal dropping consists of three basic parts: a formed fecal portion, an off white urate (crystal) portion, and a liquid urine portion. The fecal portion is usually green in seed eating birds because seed imparts no color to the droppings allowing the green bile color to predominate. However, if the bird eats foods other than seed the color of the fecal portion will change. For example, a bird eating pellets will have brownish droppings. A bird fed strawberries would have reddish droppings. (See the pomegranate example.)
The consistency of the droppings will vary with the variety of bird and its diet. A bird that eats fruit, vegetables and other succulent foods will have more watery droppings. Pelleted diets, in addition to causing brownish droppings, may also lead to increased water intake and hence more watery droppings with a less formed fecal portion and increased urine.
Droppings that have suddenly changed consistency and color could indicate disease. The amount of fecal portion should be checked. If the bird is not eating, there may be a scant fecal element or a dropping that is mainly urine with a small amount of bile.
One of the important determinations to be made is whether or not the bird is eating. Even though a bird may appear to be in the food bowl it may not be eating. Is seed being hulled or scooped out of the cup onto the floor? Check for seed hulls in the food cup. Sometimes a bird may hull the seed but not ingest it. Hulled, uneaten seeds may be found on the cage floor. This is common in newly weaned parrots that have been taken off formula because the owner thought that the bird was ingesting the seed, but actually only playing with it.
It is normal for a bird to “urinate,” which is when it will pass only liquid urine and urate crystals with no fecal matter. However, this is only an occasional occurrence. If it happens predominantly, a problem exists. Remember that although a reduction in the number of droppings or amount of fecal portion indicates reduced food intake, it may also indicate interference with normal passage of fecal matter, such as with vomiting.
If there is hulled seed on the bottom of the cage, you must determined whether the bird is regurgitating or vomiting. Regurgitation is a normal part of courtship behavior. During courtship, regurgitated seeds may be seen on or near a mirror or toys. However, vomited seeds can be seen in sticky clusters throughout the cage—often adhering to the bars. Further evidence of vomiting is that the head feathers of the vomiting bird are pasted with vomitus, sometimes mixed with seed.
Watery droppings should be carefully evaluated to determine if they are due to gastrointestinal disturbance or increased urine production (polyuria). A somewhat formed fecal portion with an extremely watery urine portion or excessive urate portion may indicate a kidney problem or metabolic problem such as diabetes.
A more liquid consistency in the fecal portion of the droppings is suggestive of an intestinal tract infection. Occasionally, birds with an intestinal disturbance may have a grayish coating on the fecal portion due to excessive mucous. When a bird has pancreatic disease it has characteristic “popcorn” droppings, which are bulky and off white to gray in color. Undigested seed or grit in the droppings is abnormal and could indicate a gizzard malfunction or a disease such as proventricular dilatation syndrome (PDD).
Blood in the fecal portion of the droppings is usually from the cloaca or oviduct. Severe inflammation in the cloaca, ulcerations or tumors may be responsible. Blood may also be seen in female birds encountering difficulty passing eggs. In Amazon parrots and macaws, blood in the droppings could be due to cloacal papillomas, which are of viral origin. Other signs of this condition include straining to defecate and the presence of granulation tissue (appears almost like a strawberry) around the vent and in the cloaca.
The urate portion (urine crystals) should be off white in color. If the urates are yellow or neon green it may serve to indicate hepatitis. The neon green urates may be suggestive of psittacosis. Blood in the urine or urates (to be distinguished from blood in the fecal portion) are indicative of a kidney disturbance or toxicity, particularly heavy metal poisoning such as lead.
If you notice changes in the droppings, contact your veterinarian. It may not always be a disease condition. If it does warrant an examination it is a good idea to bring the bird in its regular, uncleaned cage so that the droppings can be evaluated. If this is not possible, then bring in cage papers with the abnormal droppings or take a photo. Early detection is the key.
Peter S. Sakas, DVM, MS, is an avian veterinarian. For additional information, you can reach Dr. Sakas at the Niles Animal Hospital and Bird Medical Center, Niles, Ill., or (847) 647-9325.