Papillomatosis refers to pink, proliferative, vascular wart-like or cauliflower-like growths of epithelium. Papillomas may occur singularly or in clusters. Although they may occur in the oral cavity, crop, esophagus, proventriculus, ventriculus, cloaca, respiratory tract and conjunctiva, the most common locations are the oral cavity and cloaca. Thought to be of viral etiology and infectious, spread is probably through preening and other close contact between birds.The highest incidence of papillomatosis occurs in central and south american psittacines – especially greenwing macaws (cloacal), blue and gold macaws (oral), as well as in amazons, conures and hawk headed parrots (cloacal).
The signs exhibited depend upon where the papillomas occur. Oral lesions may cause wheezing, difficulty swallowing and open mouth breathing. Papillomas in the glottis may cause suffocation if they obstruct the airway. Papillomas in the gastro-intestinal tract may cause vomiting, loss of appetite and wasting. Cloacal papillomas may be initially mistaken for a prolapse. They may be seen protruding from the vent when the bird becomes stressed or during elimination. Straining, blood in the droppings, passing gas and an abnormal odor to the droppings occur. The lesions often spread throughout the cloaca and may become so extensive they cannot be retracted back up into the vent.
Infertility may occur due to mechanical obstruction or ascending infection. Although birds may live for years with papillomatosis, the long term prognosis is guarded. A waxing and waning course often occurs, with signs subsiding for a while. Over time, however, the lesious progress. Papillomatosis has been accociated with bile duct and pancreatic duct in amazon parrots.
Diagnosis is by physical examination, contrast radiographs and fluoroscopy.
A number of treatment modalities have been tried which include surgical resection, cryosurgery, chemical cautery, autogenous vaccination, and laser. Laser surgery seems to offer the best results.
All new birds of susceptible species should be thoroughly examined to identify those with oral or cloacal papillomas. Infected birds should not be housed with non-infected birds.
Papillomatosis in unable to be cured. Palliation can be done to make affected birds more comfortable, but it is often a progressive, debilitating disease.
This disease can mimic other diseases such as foreign bodies, bacterial and fungal infections, lead poisoning and PDD.
Note: This column is in memory of my beloved cherry headed conure, Mr. Chipper who died last week from cloacal papillomatosis. He was a great bird and a wonderful companion, and will be sorely missed.