The New Bird Exam

The most important part of bringing home the new avian family member is the New Bird Exam. This exam is essential to assure the health of the new family member. If health problems are found, this will allow the options of returning the bird to the breeder, getting the seller to cover part of the medical costs or treating the bird at the buyer’s own expense. It will also protect any current flock members from diseases being carried by the new avian addition. Never just assume that a bird who appears healthy is healthy.
The new bird exam should consist of a complete physical exam (including weighing), a CBC, Grahm’s stain, fecal and cloacal cultures, and blood chemistries. It is a good idea to test for Psittacine Beak and Feather disease, Polyoma, and Chlamydia (Psittacosis). Blood can be drawn for DNA sex determination as well, if desired.

The physical exam is the first step. The weight is taken to establish an initial reading. Once the weight has been obtained, it is important to do a physical exam. During the physical exam, the veterinarian will look at the mouth, beak, and cere to assure that the tissue there is healthy. Plaques, discharges or the presence of accumulated food particles will be noted as indications of disease. The eyes and ears are examined to assure that they appear healthy. The skin and feathers are examined and abnormalities will be noted on the record as well. Finally, the body is examined, the respiratory rate is noted and the vent is examined for indications of feather matting or possible papilloma. A complete physical exam will take only a few minutes.

During the physical exam, samples from the choanal slit ( in the throat), and the cloaca can be taken for Grahm’s stain and culture. These tests will give information on the type and presence of abnormal bacteria in the digestive tract. These can be treated for, if present, to prevent illness from occurring. Moving to a new home is a stressful time for the new bird,and this can allow subclinical infections to go out of control causing illness.

A CBC should be preformed as a minimum part of all exams. The CBC will look at the numbers and condition of all cells within the blood. The CBC consists of the hematocrit (PCV); Hemoglobin ( HB); Total Red blood cell count ( RBC count); and the White blood cell count ( WBC count). The hematocrit is a method of measuring the mass and indirectly the number of RBC’s. A low hematocrit is an indication of anemia. The lower the number of the hematocrit, the more severe the anemia.

The WBC count will look at the numbers and conditions of the different types of WBC’s in the blood. An elevated WBC count is an indication of infection. The different types of WBC’s are looked at to help determine possible types of infection, as well as the possible severity of the infection. Keep in mind that it is important to interpret what is going on with the white count along with the results of the physical exam and blood chemistry tests before a true diagnosis can be made.

The next test that needs to be done is a blood chemistry profile. The blood chemistry profile will include a number of different tests. The exact tests run will be determined by the individual preference of your veterinarian. These tests will often include a total protein, glucose, uricacid, AST (SGOT), and Calcium ( especially for African Greys). Your veterinarian may recommend additional tests if any of these come back outsideof normal levels.

The total protein is a measure of the total amount of proteins in the serum. A decreased total protein can indicate a chronicdisease state (especially kidney or liver disease), starvation, the presenceof parasites, and stress. An increased total protein level is often seen with dehydration, infection and shock.

The glucose level is the amount of blood sugar found in the serum. Glucose levels can be decreased with liver disease, starvation and/or malnutrition, and septicemic infections. If the glucose level drops too far, seizures and death may occur. Increased glucose levels may be seen with diabetes, and diets too high in sugars. Some birds will show an increased blood glucose level during the breeding season. A one time sample of blood glucose may not be adequate, as glucose levels can change rapidly. If an abnormal glucose level is found on tests, re-testing should be done to confirm the abnormal result.

Uric Acid is a test of kidney function. Uric acid is excreted by the kidneys as a way of ridding the body of the waste products from proteins. Increased values of uric acid indicate that the kidneys are not filtering this waste product from the blood. The uric acid levels will also be increased in a bird that is dehydrated, and in patients with gout. Lab sampling error can also cause a false increase in these levels as well.

AST (SGOT) is a test for liver function. Increased ALT levels may be an indication of liver disease. As liver cells die, this enzyme is released from within them. A high level of ALT in the serum may indicate liver disease. However, this enzyme is not specific for liver disease. It is also found in muscle tissue, with small amounts found in the brain and kidney. Large increases in AST are usually tied to liver disease. Other enzymes that may be tested for clues on the health of the liver include ALT (SGPT), LDH, and ALP.

Calcium is important to test for in African Greys. These birds are often deficient in calcium. If the Calcium level is too low, bones may break as the body will remove calcium from the bones to supply its needs. Low alcium levels will indicate the need for supplementation. You should never randomly supplement your bird with Calcium as over supplementation may lead to serious disease.

Chylamidiosis (Psittacosis) testing is important to prevent the spread of disease to present flock or family members. This disease is communicable to humans in the family as well as other birds. Many birds can be asymptomatic carriers of this disease, especially if they have come from less than clean surroundings. The stress of the move to the new home can cause shedding of the organism in the fecal material. We now have screening tests which can detect the presence of this disease. If present, the bird will need to be treated with a 45 day course of doxycycline.

Psittacine Beak and Feather disease (PBFD) and Polyoma are important tests to run, especially if there are any other birds in the new home. It is extremely important to run these tests in a multi-bird situation to protect against the spread of these diseases and the resulting heartbreak of loss of long time friends. These two diseases are very contagious, and the new bird must be quarantined away from the rest of the flock until these tests are back.

Fecal parasite exams should also be run at the time of the new bird exam. These tests will detect the presence of tapeworms and round worms . The presence of these parasites can lead to weight loss and general unthriftiness. Giardia can also be detected with a fecal exam. This parasite is sometimes implicated in cases of feather picking.

If your new bird passes all of these tests, he or she is on the way to becoming a healthy and happy member of your flock. If a disease condition is found, it can be caught and treated. If an untreatable disease is present, the current flock members are protected from exposure. Whatever the outcome, the new bird exam gives you the information you need to make the best possible decisions for you and your flock.