Credit also goes to Wendy Taylor, Carol Palmore, Dianne Heins, and other members of the Jardine's Parrot list for assistance in research, editing, and suggestions for the list of links. Appreciation and thanks are given to Dr. Rose Anne Fiskett of the Potomac Valley Veterinary Hospital for taking the time to answer questions about aspergillosis.
Disclaimer: The content of this article is based on observations and suggestions and may not be scientifically proven. The responsibility for decisions regarding the care of your parrots rests with you and is not the responsibility of anyone connected with this article.
Disclaimer: Neither the author nor members of the Jardine's list are responsible for the contents of any linked sites or any link contained in a linked site. Links in this article are provided to readers only as a convenience and the inclusion of any link does not imply endorsement of the site.
Thirteen Jardine's parrots belonging to members of the Jardine's mailing list have died in the last 3 years due to aspergillosis. Two Jardine's survived the illness. Three Jardine's which were not suffering from aspergillosis died of other causes. The number of people belonging to the Jardine's mailing list is currently 142 but has ranged as high as 165. Jardine's that died from aspergillosis belonged to 10 of them. 6-7% of the Jardine's listmembers have lost a Jardine's parrot due to aspergillosis. 7-8% have had a Jardine's that suffered from aspergillosis.
The numbers seem surprisingly high. They are high enough to have alarmed listmembers who own Jardine's parrots and to have caused considerable speculation on the list as to whether Jardine's parrots are more susceptible to aspergillosis than other species of parrots. This article and a survey which is still in the planning stages are the result of that speculation. This is written with the goal of informing all who live with Jardine's about aspergillosis: its causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and methods of prevention, especially prevention.
Of the 15 Jardine's parrots with aspergillosis, 4 were males, 10 were females, and the gender of 1 is unknown. Of the 4 males, 3 were Black Wing Jardine's which are rare in the U.S.A. None of the females were Black Wings. Four of the hens were in a breeding situation while the others were pets. Three were under a year old. There is an apparent predominance of females among birds which have had the illness but this may be due to chance as the number of birds in the group is small and there are some unknowns which might change the percentages.
Since some listmembers have multiple bird households, there are more Jardine's parrots belonging to members than there are members on the list. Consequently, the percentages of birds that contracted aspergillosis would be considerably lower if computed based on all of the Jardine's parrots owned by listmembers. While this would make the percentages lower, the number of cases of aspergillosis in Jardine's parrots still seems unusually high. I have not seen this many deaths from one illness of one species of parrot on the other 5 online parrot mailing lists in which I have participated in the last 4 years. Whatever the case is regarding Jardine's parrots and aspergillosis, this illness is a common and serious illness that all parrots can suffer from and all parrot owners need to be aware of so that they can take preventative measures to protect their birds. Aspergillosis is an illness that can be prevented in many cases by controlling the environment in which birds are kept and by feeding a healthy diet.
Mold, the aspergillus mold and other molds, can be a virulent and common killer of birds. I didn't know that till recently. It can kill humans and other mammals and reptiles. Aspergillus, the mold that causes aspergillosis, is a common mold that can grow on bread, in rotting vegetation, in materials used to line cage trays, and on living tissue. It is a killer when it grows on living tissue that can't perform its necessary functions when overwhelmed by a microorganism such as mold. Aspergillus is an opportunistic microorganism looking for suitable materials on which to grow.
The mold isn't the only culprit in compromising the health of the victim. Conditions have to be right for it to prosper. Healthy living tissue is equipped to fight off most invaders like viruses, bacteria and molds. Every mucous membrane is not at the mercy of every microorganism that decides it has found a home. Something has to happen to the membrane. It has to be weakened in some way or so overwhelmed that a proper defense cannot be mounted against an invading army of viral particles, fungal spores or bacteria. An environment that is too dry can make mucous membranes more vulnerable. The environment needs to be reasonably dry but not too dry.
List members have become increasingly concerned that Jardine's have a greater susceptibility to contracting aspergillosis and dying than the average parrot. Speculation as to a reason for any increased vulnerability of Jardine's has centered on Jardine's being more prone to Vitamin A deficiency than other parrots, a condition that would weaken their immune system and the ability of their respiratory systems to fight off molds.
There are accounts on the Jardine's list that fewer breeder Jardine's parrots fed diets that are higher in Vitamin A are reported to contract aspergillosis than breeder Jardine's fed diets that are lower in Vitamin A. However, a higher vulnerability to Vitamin A deficiency in Jardine's has not been proven. There may be other factors that are causing an unexpectedly high number of deaths of Jardine's from aspergillosis.
The following quote by Hannis L. Stoddard III, DVM (who, by the way, is the inventor of the AVID microchip used for identifying lost and stolen birds) is taken from his article on Vitamin A deficiency in parrots which can be read online at Hotspots for Birds (links for all quotes found online are listed at the end of this article):"When vitamin A deficiency occurs, the cells that line the respiratory, reproductive and digestive tracts undergo structural change, making them unable to secrete mucous. Since mucous acts as a protective blanket to prevent invasion from pathogens (disease- causing agents), vitamin A deficiency allows environmental bacteria and other microorganisms to penetrate the mucous membrane barrier and set up 'housekeeping' within these tissues."
The structure of a bird's respiratory system makes it difficult to fight a mold once it begins growing. From the Santa Clara Pet Hospital webpage which is no longer available on aspergillosis:"Unfortunately, the structure of the avian respiratory system supplies a perfect incubator for growing a fungus such as aspergillosis-- the airsacs. The airsacs have almost no blood supply, so once aspergillosis gets started in the airsacs, it can continue to grow."
Other species such as Amazons have been thought in the past to be prone to aspergillosis but were later discovered to be suffering from a lack of Vitamin A. In an online search using the keyword, aspergillosis, I have found references to the disease in emus, ostriches, finches, and Pionus along with extensive references to aspergillosis in immuno-suppressed humans.
Pionus parrots, like Jardine's, originally came from high altitudes where the air is relatively dry. It is possible that conditions of higher humidity, temperature, and lower altitudes may affect both species, Jardine's and Pionus, similarly, making them more vulnerable to certain diseases such as aspergillosis. However, if those were the only causes of vulnerability, then prevention through diet would not be expected to have the significant effect that it does.
The following is a quote taken from an online article on Pionus parrots:"Pionus require relatively high levels of vitamin A. Signs of vitamin A deficiency include white lesions in the mouth, clear nasal discharge, watery eyes and in severe cases abscesses in the mouth. Vitamin A deficiency may contribute to the development of respiratory, digestive and ocular diseases."
Also from that article:"Plum-crowned Pionus are especially susceptible to Aspergillosis and this disease appears to be the most common cause of death in this species. Movement of wild Plum-crowned Pionus from their high mountain home to areas that are very warm and moist is probably an important factor in the disease. In addition, their desire to pick around old food on the floor of their cage may also be contributory."
Diagnosis is not always an easy matter as the aspergillosis titer is said to be unreliable, sometimes yielding false negatives, especially in the chronic type of aspergillosis which can follow the acute phase which a bird survived. X-rays are valuable as they can reveal dense areas in the airsacs which may indicate either fluid in the airsacs or granulomas, clumps of white blood cells surrounding a region of asper spores which may be present in either airsacs or other regions of the body. A bird that has survived the acute form of the illness would be expected to have a positive result indicating the presence of aspergillosis antibodies on all future titers. The presence or absence of antigens to aspergillosis gives an indication of whether the bird is recovered or if the illness is still present.
A quote on the diagnosis of aspergillosis by Hannis L Stoddard III, DVM in his article, "Aspergillosis" found online on Hotspots for Birds:"Diagnosis of avian Aspergillosis can be difficult, at best, other than by autopsy. Tentative diagnosis can be made with clinical signs as well as the absence of bacterial infection in moist exudates. A blood test showing an elevation in white blood cell count, mild anemia and an elevation in the monocytes also supports this diagnosis. X-rays should be taken on any suspect patient-many times the radiograph will reveal densities or nodules consistent with aspergellomas. Additionally, your avian veterinarian should take samples and attempt to culture the fungus in specially prepared culture media. Blood should also be submitted for serologic evaluation."
Symptoms of aspergillosis include any of the following: a change of voice, a decrease in weight, wheezing, slow recovery of breath after exercise, lethargy, depression, neuromuscular abnormalities such as sudden lameness, abnormal droppings, a change in behavior (becoming less talkative for example). It is not contagious from one bird to the other but a high number of spores in the environment will put all vulnerable birds at risk.
ASPERGILLOSIS AND TREATMENT
Between September 1999 and late January 2000 four Jardine's belonging to list members have been diagnosed with aspergillosis. Three of the four have died.
One, a four year old, died in December, having developed the chronic form of the illness after being treated for it initially 2 years ago. Her owner, had suspected that a long trip prior to the initial bout of illness may have weakened her immune system sufficiently to allow the fungus to gain a foothold. In the last year this owner had taken her Jardine's in to her vet at least 12 times due to her concern about sleepiness and other vague symptoms. Over the summer of 1999 the bird had been on Fluconazole for three months, The stronger antifungals, Itraconazole and Ketaconazole, made her throw up.
Not long before this Jardine's exhibited more serious symptoms of the illness recurring, she had been given another aspergillosis titer. The test showed the presence of antibodies as would be expected, indicating that she had been exposed to the illness, and a very weak positive on antigens which indicated the presence of the aspergillus fungus which was worrisome. However, her own veterinarian said that there was no indication of an active infection, an opinion concurred with by another respected avian vet with whom the owner consulted. After the death of her bird, the owner expressed her frustration with the failure to diagnose clearly the continued presence of the disease after her Jardine's survived the initial bout and that the treatment since then had not been more effective or aggressive.
One almost 3 year old Jardine's parrot belonging to a list member died in late January 2000 while undergoing treatment at the veterinary hospital. Symptoms of weight loss and respiratory distress were severe. At the time she died, she was being given cefadroxil to ward off bacterial infections and an oral antifungal, itraconazole. She was nebulized twice a day with Amphotericin B. The veterinarian was also planning to give her a direct tracheal administration of Amphotericin once per week under anesthesia.
A third Jardine's, under one year old, which died in the fall of 1999 was thought to have aspirated formula during handfeeding last spring. Illness was not apparent until shortly before her death. Aspiration of formula can result in a weakening of the respiratory system resulting in a bird becoming susceptible to opportunistic organisms such as aspergillus.
From the Santa Clara Hospital website:"There are several situations where the psittacine birds are most likely to be exposed to the greatest risk of aspergillosis. One is with hand-fed chicks where they can aspirate some of the feeding formula into their airsacs, which then acts as a foreign body where the fungus can start to grow."
Of the four Jardine's which recently suffered aspergillosis the one which survived, a female, 3 years old at the time of diagnosis, was treated by Dr. Rose Anne Fiskett of the Potomac Valley Veterinary Hospital. The parrot was given Amphotericin B by injection while being hydrated. During the Amphotericin part of the process the parrot remained at the vet's because the Amphotericin treatment must be accompanied by fluid therapy to avoid kidney damage. According to the owner, Dr. Fiskett said that she has never had a bird suffer kidney damage that was hydrated properly during treatment. (According to another listmember, a med student whose Jardine's died of asper most recently, Amphotericin was known as amphoterrible in his med school due to its serious side effects.) Dr. Fiskett emphasizes the need to weigh the avian patient accurately and to hydrate in order to avoid kidney problems while treating with Amphotericin.
After ten days, this Jardine's went home and was given Ancoban, a fungicidal drug, orally for two months to make sure that the asper was killed. In this stage of the treatment which occurred at home, the owner reported that his Jardine's found the oral Ancoban palatable and begged for it when she saw the syringe.
Dr. Fiskett said that most of the new fungistatic drugs are very effective in preventing the fungus from growing. Fungistatics do not kill the fungus but do prevent growth.
In reporting his experience with his Jardine's and trying to find a reason why she had developed the illness, that owner wondered whether he had not been sufficiently tough with her in the past by giving her so many choices of foods. She had had numerous treats along with her Harrison's pellets and fruits and vegetables. He theorized that she had not been making good choices on her own. While she was well fed, he thought she might not have been as well nourished as she could have been. Now his Jardine's is getting only Harrison's with some fruit and veggies and very few treats. He has reported that she is now eating her Harrison's well and looks more bright-eyed and shiny feathered than he can ever remember.
That same owner reported that he had his African Grey tested for asper. His Grey turned out to have one of the highest aspergillus antibody counts his vet had ever seen! However, his antigen count was zero. The owner said that this meant that his Grey was exposed to a large amount of aspergillus but his immune system had fought it off. The Grey has always been a good eater of Harrison's pellets along with hand-fed moistened Scenic pellets and veggies and birdy bread. To be safe, the Grey was put on a month long Ancoban regimen as well. Dr. Fiskett mentioned that some Greys have a problem with Itraconazole.
The owner wondered if the Grey's better diet had enabled his immune system to fight off the aspergillus where the Jardine's could not due to her interest in treats over the good stuff. (Was it Mikey in the commercials who hated the idea of stuff that is good for you? Are Jardine's part Mikey? Tongue in cheek here!)
The following quote by another veterinarian, Scott McDonald, in reference to treatment for aspergillosis is provided by a Jardine's listmember:"Ancoban is one of the older antifungal drugs we used to use all the time back in the 80's and early 90's. I like the drug. It did seem to do the job. However, when diflucon and sporonox (the azoles) came along, these were found to be more effective and as such, most vets, including myself, have switched to these.
Amphotericin B is a very good antifungal. It only comes as an IV drug which can be given either by IV route, or in nebulization. Often when we first make the diagnosis in a bird that is really sick with respiratory dyspnea or lesions in the air sacs and lungs as seen on a radiograph, we will start our Rx with Amphotericin B via nebulization and give one of the azoles orally. After a week or so, then the bird is released on long term azole therapy, sometimes up to a year or more. We personally don't use a lot of Amphotericin B by the IV route. It is more toxic this route and sometimes hard to maintain good veins for very long. Plus we have found the nebulization route almost just as effective.
However, like most diseases there are more than one way to treat this problem."
MINIMIZING ASPERGILLUS IN YOUR HOUSE
Prevention is considered to be infinitely preferable to treatment due to the difficulty in killing the fungus. Treatment is an agonizing route for both owner and parrot.
Clearly, an important factor in preventing aspergillosis is minimizing the presence of spores in the air that is breathed by the parrot. The aspergillus mold is found everywhere. It is not possible to eliminate it from the environment. As mentioned previously, a healthy immune system can fight off most attempts by the mold to grow inside an animal. However, in some cases the spores can be present in such numbers that they sicken an animal despite the presence of a healthy immune system. An owner can work to eliminate conditions that would promote the growth of mold and the release of spores.
List member Wendy Taylor reported that an avian vet spoke at her local bird club and expressed his belief that the increase in the number of cases of birds with aspergillosis in the Chicago area was connected to recent flooding in the area. He believed that all of the birds with aspergillosis that he had seen were from homes with flooded basements. A rise of asper in the wild raptor population was not seen. The vet recommended using bleach to clean a recently flooded basement to kill or prevent fungal growth and using HEPA filters to reduce the presence of spores. He stressed the importance of keeping your home dry under these circumstances.
The use of air filters is also mentioned as a means of reducing the risk of aspergillosis in immuno-suppressed human patients in hospitals that are undergoing renovations where large amounts of dust containing aspergillus spores are released into the air. In the hospitals the position of the air filters in relation to the renovations is considered important so that the dust and spores are removed from the air without increasing their dispersal over the patient. If you use an air filter and you have a suspected source of aspergillus spores, you would want to position the filter so that it could trap the spores before they get to the bird rather than having the filter positioned so that it drags the possibly contaminated air over the bird.
Humidifiers have been mentioned by veterinarians and others as a possible source of mold spores. Cool humidifiers have been warned against by an Alaskan vet who suggests that parrot owners use warm mist humidifiers or vaporizers were the water is boiled prior to being released into the air.
Some things that can be done by parrot owners to reduce the numbers of mold spores can be figured out by using common sense and looking for conditions that promote the growth of mold. Mold spores are like seeds that grow new mold. They are released when mold grows and matures. Look at the environment in which you keep your birds and look for places where mold would have an opportunity to grow. Mold needs dampness, warmth, and food. Look for the situations in which mold can grow and do what you can to eliminate those situations.
For example, I checked on one of my parrots before I went out for the day and discovered that he had taken one of his exuberant baths in his water dish. The newspaper on the bottom of his cage was soaked. Water had dripped down below the newspaper into the drawer below his grate. I use newspaper on top of the grate to make cleanup easier but it doesn't stop water and some food from dropping into the drawer below. There was so much water that it would have taken days for the drawer to dry out. If I hadn't dried out the drawer and cleaned out the wet food crumbs, there would have been a nice substrate there, hidden under the newspaper, for a great colony of mold! I hadn't thought of looking before but now I am more conscious of mold than I have ever been.
Some things that you can do are:
- Do not use corn cob, walnut shells or similar materials on the bottom of cages as they provide media on which molds can grow. Black and white printed or unprinted newspaper is recommended as a tray liner. (Glossy color printed pages are not recommended as the inks used may be toxic if ingested.)
- Change cage papers often because mold can grow on food, damp paper, and droppings.
- Do not keep trash containers that may contain moldy debris near your birds. I am shocked by how much mold I find on damp newspapers that I throw away in a trash can after a bird takes a bath in its water dish.
- Do not create a lot of dust in a bird room without removing the birds first. (Dust is a combination of many things including spores from mold.) If you are going to clean or renovate a room and raise dust, remove the birds first. Before bringing them back, run an air cleaner in the room for a while to remove the dust in the air which can include aspergillus spores. If doing any construction, remove the birds from the airspace until the project is completed.
- Use a central vacuum that vents air to the outside. If that is not feasible, choose a vacuum that removes tiny particles like spores from the exhaust air such as some of the vacs with HEPA filters. (Ordinary vacuum cleaners blow small particles like mold spores back into the room while you are vacuuming.)
- Use a HEPA air filter which removes small particles like mold spores from the air. (Filters that emit ozone are NOT recommended.)
- Use a humidifier with caution. Choose a warm mist humidifier or a vaporizer over cool humidifiers. If you use a humidifier, particularly a cool humidifier, clean it regularly to remove mold growth and use any recommended additives in order to kill disease producing organisms. Consider using it in another room than in your bird room.
- Use a dehumidifier if there are conditions that would contribute to the growth of mold such as damp basements or dampness in the house.
- Do not feed raw peanuts in shells. Peanuts grow in the ground and are considered to be a common source of aspergillus and also of aflotoxims which can sicken birds. Be aware of the possibility of mold growing in all seeds and nuts. Examine nuts and seeds and discard them if they show any signs of mold or spoilage.
- Store foods that will not be used for a while in the freezer to prevent growth of mold and to keep nutrients from deteriorating and becoming ineffective.
- Buy your birds from conscientious breeders and other sellers who do their best to produce happy healthy baby birds from healthy parents.
While removal of aspergillus spores is one means of reducing risk of the disease in our beloved parrots, another means of reducing risk is by keeping our birds' immune systems as healthy as possible. Two listmembers who are breeders and who had either Vitamin A deficiency or deaths due aspergillosis diagnosed in their Jardine's took steps to improve the diet of their birds. The birds that had exhibited signs of Vitamin A deficiency now check out fine for Vitamin A. The breeder who lost 4 Jardine's to aspergillosis has had no more deaths or cases of aspergillosis to this point.
The purpose of this article is not to espouse a particular diet or pellet but to make Jardine's owners aware of the important issue of diet in the health of their feathered companions. Each of us need to make our own decisions regarding what to feed our parrots and to take responsibility for our own decisions. For some, a feeding program that involves more than minimal daily preparation time might not be feasible. If that is true, then the owner needs to decide how to provide the best nutrients in the most efficient manner. Others who have more time and are willing to do more preparation may make different choices. But in any case, choices can be made that take into account the needs of both parrots and humans.
Awareness of dietary needs of our birds and what ingredients are in a pellet are important and not to be taken for granted. Just because a manufacturer of a pellet or diet says that their pellet or system is perfect for your bird doesn't mean that they are correct and that your bird will be automatically well nourished. Just because any particular person says that what works for them will work for you doesn't mean that your doing it their way will prevent illness and problems. Their way or my way may or may not work for you. You need to be proactive and find out what works for you and your parrots and your lifestyle. While a particular system may be perfect for the user of that system, if the recommended system does not fit into another's lifestyle, then it may not be implemented well and the birds will suffer. For this reason, I suggest that there are no easy answers and you have to find your own way.
Different species of birds have differing requirements. That needs to be taken into account as well. One breeder who is on the Jardine's list has reported past problems with Vitamin A deficiencies in Jardine's. This was in spite of her birds being fed a diet that included vegetables that were high in Vitamin A! She has resorted to using a pellet that is higher in Vitamin A and has eliminated supplementation with vegetables.
While many of the pellets on the market address the need to have adequate Vitamin A, there can be a deterioration of the nutritional quality of pellets if they are stored for a long time before being used. A warm humid environment can speed the deterioration of nutrients. The pellet may have left the manufacturer's in a perfectly good state with all nutrients as stated on the label but that is not a guarantee that the pellet will have the same nutritional quality when your bird eats it if the pellet has been sitting around for too long and/or has been in a warm humid place for too long.
Be aware of the possible special needs of your Jardine's and whatever you provide, be sure that it includes a significant amount of Vitamin A. An additional point about Vitamin A is that it can be provided safely in foods that are high in beta carotene but other forms of Vitamin A such as the A found in Vitamin pills or additives given to excess can be toxic over time. Vitamin A is stored in the liver and can accumulate there to toxic levels. Rather than dying from aspergillosis due to a Vitamin A deficiency, a bird can die from the toxic effects of too much Vitamin A.
Vegetables, such as carrots and yams, both carotenoids that are high in beta carotene, are safe sources of Vitamin A and may be given without any fear of Vitamin A toxicity. Consequently, a diet that includes vegetables that are high in beta carotene has significant charms!
From AVIAN NUTRITION - Part I by Australian veterinarian Dr. Adrian Gallagher:"The liver stores Vitamin A and contains approx. 90% of the body's Vitamin A. Excess Carotenoids in the diet do not cause toxicity as they are not converted to Vitamin A unless more is required, however, too much may cause the skin and fat to turn yellow."
Dr. Gallagher also states:"Deficiency in Vitamin A is the most common Vitamin deficiency we see as dry seed is low in this vital vitamin. Birds on a high dry seed diet must be supplemented with Vitamin A or Carotenoids."
Have your birds checked from time to time by your vet to see if they are exhibiting any signs of Vitamin A deficiency. The tops of the small papillae in the back of their throats should be pointed, not blunt. Ask your vet specifically to look at the papillae and check for Vitamin A deficiency. Even if providing an apparently good diet, I would take nothing for granted and would have my vet confirm whether or not my Jardine's appear to be getting sufficient Vitamin A.
If pellets are to be used as the major source of nutrients, then the amount of Vitamin A, protein, calcium, and other nutrients in the pellet needs to be taken into account before making a decision to feed it to your parrot for the rest of its life. A pellet that is higher in Vitamin A and lower in protein might be used under those circumstances. If significant amounts of fresh produce such as vegetables, fruits, grains, & sprouts supplement a pellet, then a higher protein pellet which otherwise might be hard on a parrot's kidneys would be more feasible. If a diet is provided that is very high in fresh vegetables, fruits, and sprouted seeds and grains and a pellet supplements the produce rather than the reverse, then the choice of pellet may less important.
Vegetables that are higher in Vitamin A tend to be the vegetables that are orange and yellow in color like carrots, sweet potatoes (including the sweet potatoes called yams in our grocery stores), butternut squash. Some green vegetables such as broccoli and chili peppers are also good sources of A. Foods such as lettuce, celery, grapes, and apple are poor sources of Vitamin A. While your bird may enjoy them and get other benefits from eating them, they won't be getting a lot of Vitamin A from them. A link is provided below to a site that lists the amounts of vitamins and minerals found in a variety of vegetables and fruits.
Be aware that leaving perishable foods in food dishes for many hours per day can increase the risk of bacterial infections, a concern expressed by many veterinarians when advising their clients about feeding table food and sprouted grains to their birds. Cooked foods and foods that are higher in sugar such as fruit spoil more quickly than uncooked fresh vegetables and should be removed sooner. How long after leaving food out would you eat it yourself? Bacterial infections and the resulting need for antibiotic therapy can weaken your bird's immune system. In our zeal to make sure that our birds get their necessary nutrients, we can create other problems that we hadn't anticipated. It reminds me of when I renovated a building. Every alteration that I made resulted in a new issue that needed to be addressed. I couldn't ignore the new issues or I would have had serious problems. When you make a change, make sure that it is a change for the better.
From the Santa Clara Pet Hospital website which is no longer available:"Chronic antibiotic therapy that lowers the birds immune system and disrupts the normal microbiological flora of the bird may also allow for a secondary aspergillosis infection."
Along with making decisions about how to feed your Jardine's, you can do the following:
- Make yourself aware of the state of health of your Jardine's by scheduling regular vet checks in which your vet is made aware of your concern about Vitamin A deficiency and aspergillosis.
- You can ask specifically that the condition of the choanal papillae be checked for any bluntness. An aspergillosis titer can be run as a regular part of the health exam.
- You can be observant of any symptoms of aspergillosis and bring your bird into the vet immediately if any symptoms occur.
- You can weigh your bird regularly using a gram scale and keep track of its weight, recording it so that any significant decrease will be noticed.
We need to remember that there are some factors that we can't control such as whether our birds are born with hidden conditions such as heart defects or diabetes that compromise their health and weaken their immune systems. A bird with an undiscovered or untreatable health problem is at risk of developing aspergillosis along with any number of other illnesses caused by opportunistic microorganisms. That kind of situation has occurred in Jardine's parrots belonging to listmembers. The underlying factors were not discovered until a necropsy was done. There was nothing that the owners could have done to have changed the outcome.
Other factors that we can't control are the weather pattern, climate, geography, and their combined roles in causing health problems. Aspergillosis is said to have been on the rise in the last year in the United States. There may be something about the amount of humidity and the dispersal of fungal spores in the last year that has caused an increase in cases.
Regarding geography and climate, here is a quote from "Aspergillosis" by Hannis L. Stoddard III, DVM in Hotspots for Birds:
- "Interestingly, we see a high incidence of Aspergillosis in birds in the southwest where the environment is dry and not conducive to fungal replication. The speculation is the low humidity, coupled with the dusty environment, interferes with the normal mucous secretion in the birds' respiratory tracts and predisposes them to mycoses."
Preventing aspergillosis in parrots, Jardine's parrots and all parrots, is a goal that requires attention to a number of issues. Researching and writing this article has made me feel as though I need to be a juggler trying to keep all of the health issues safely up in the air without hitting ground and breaking into pieces. But writing this article and being on the Jardine's list has made me aware of some dangers that I didn't know about until now. That new knowledge will help me make wiser decisions for my parrots' health. I hope that this does the same for you.
Please browse the links at the end of this article for more information on the nutritional content of various foods, juicing for parrots, pellet manufacturers, sick house syndrome, opinions on diet, and links to more links.
COMMENTS BY ROSE ANNE FISKETT, VMD
Dr. Rose Anne Fiskett of the Potomac Valley Veterinary Hospital answered a number of questions for me regarding her experience with aspergillosis in parrots. She does not think that the last year was a worse year than others for aspergillosis. She has had 10 confirmed cases of aspergillosis in the last year. In her personal experience of aspergillosis and parrots, she considers Greys and Pionus to be susceptible to aspergillosis but also considers macaws, cockatiels, cockatoos, and Amazons to be susceptible. She has heard from people who have Jardine's that they are susceptible. She sees 3 Jardine's in her practice currently, one of them being the Jardine's belonging to a listmember which was treated successfully by her for aspergillosis.
Dr. Fiskett is well read on the literature on the treatment of aspergillosis. How it presents determines how she treats. She says that she has had reasonably good success in treating it. She does not use Amphotericin unless there is overwhelming evidence of infection. When test results are uncertain or in a gray area leaving an owner uncertain as to whether their bird is suffering from the illness or not, Dr. Fiskett leans toward treating for aspergillosis. The longer the disease is present, the harder it is to kill. Dr. Fiskett describes aspergillosis is an immuno-suppressive disease. Delays in treatment can be very risky for the health of the bird. It is better to treat it early. She is not an advocate of holistic treatments for aspergillosis and bluntly says of holistic treatments, "Go for it, they'll die." However, she states that there are some holistic things that are immune enhancers.
If a bird suffers from aspergillosis again after being treated, Dr. Fiskett points out that it is difficult to document a recurrence because the bird might have been re-exposed to the disease rather than having had a recurrence due to the disease not having been knocked out by the initial treatment. She stresses that test results have to be interpreted properly.
Regarding the possibility of hens being any more susceptible than males, Dr. Fiskett stated that in breeding birds, the hens spend more time in the nestbox than the males, resulting in their being exposed possibly to more mold in the nesting material. Also, hens may be kept more as pets due to sweeter natures and people may take them to the vet more, resulting in more cases being diagnosed and treated.
She lists the following causes of aspergillosis: stress, environmental contamination, susceptibility, lifestyle. The environment of humans can be different enough from the natural environment of the parrot to cause stress. Some species might not have as much natural immunity to aspergillosis, resulting in their being more susceptible.
Dr. Fiskett's recommendations for prevention of aspergillosis are to keep a dustfree and clean environment with proper humidity. Unfortunately, the ideal humidity is not known. However, humidity that is too dry results in membranes that get dry and crack. There are antibodies in secretions on mucous membranes. When the membranes dry out, they crack and the antibodies become ineffective. On the other hand, she notes that humidifiers have been implicated in cases of aspergillosis, an observation made by other veterinarians as mentioned earlier in this article.
For breeding birds she recommends scrupulous hygiene in nestboxes, replacing nesting materials with fresh materials daily and avoiding the use of natural materials in which mold can grow.
She suggests a diet that is 75% pellet and 25% table foods which should be removed within 4 hours. She warns that owners need to be careful in how they handle frozen vegetables, using sealed bags and proper storage techniques. She says that Vitamin A is addressed in most pellets but Harrison's pellets are her first choice. She uses Harrison's pellets for her own birds. In Dr. Fiskett's experience birds that are on good diets have shorter illness times and a better response to treatment.
Newspapers are recommended as tray liners by Dr. Fiskett along with the use of antibacterial soaps for cleanup and ceramic food dishes. She advises routine testing done on a well bird exam, stresses the importance of catching and treating the disease early, and the need to interpret tests correctly.
Links which are relevant to the issues discussed in this article are as follows:
- Hotspot for Birds, "Dealing With Vitamin A Deficiency" by Hannis L. Stoddard, III, DVM: http://www.multiscope.com/hotspot/vitamina.htm
- Hotspot for Birds, "ASPERGILLOSIS" by Hannis L. Stoddard III, DVM: http://www.multiscope.com/hotspot/aspergil.htm
- "ASK THE VET" (Aspergillosis/Part I) by Linda Pesek, DVM: http://theaviary.com/s1295-60.shtml
- "ASK THE VET" (Aspergillosis/Part II) by Linda Pesek, DVM:: http://theaviary.com/s1295-61.shtml
- "Aspergillosis Part I. Issues on Prevention of Nosocmial Pneumonia", 1994: http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/hip/pneumonia/1_asper.htm
- "Nosocomial Pulmonary Aspergillosis: Recommendations for Prevention of Nosocomial Pulmonary Aspergillosis" : http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/hip/pneumonia/2_asper.htm
- "Nutritional Chart for Greens" by ASC, Chart listing amount of vitamins and minerals in vegetables: http://www.upatsix.com/asc/greens.htm
- "Juicing for Parrots", by Carolyn Swicegood, THE KITCHEN PHYSICIAN VIII, http://www.birdsnways.com/wisdom/ww28eii.htm
- Sick House Syndrome & aspergillosis: http://www.landofvos.com/articles/wingtips/sickbird.html
Links to sites of various pellet manufacturers:
Links to more articles on nutrition:
- "The Idiot Factor and Bird Diets", Pet Bird Report article: http://www.petbirdreport.com/idiot.shtml
- "Let's Talk About Nutrition Again" by Liz Wilson (1st printed in The Pet Bird Report, Issue #31, Vol. 6, No. 5: http://www3.upatsix.com/liz/articles/nutrition.html
- "Safe Food and Preparation Tips" by Constance Bacon (Originally printed in the Eclectus Forum Newsletter - September/October 1997 edition): http://www.birdsnways.com/articles/efsep3.htm
Links to sites with more information on Jardine's and other parrots:
- Jardine's Parrot Home Page: http://www.wingscc.com/jardine/
- Scott Lewis' website (a source of much information about parrots): http://www.OldWorldAviaries.com/
Copyright Virginia Caputo © February 2000 All Rights Reserved. Parts or whole may be reprinted but not distributed without express written permission of the author.
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