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Seizures in Birds

By Rick Axelson, DVM

Medical Conditions, Pet Services

Seizures are reasonably common in birds and often observed in Amazon parrots, African grey parrots, budgies, canaries, finches and lovebirds. A seizure may result from any disorder in the brain that causes spontaneous electrical discharge in the nervous system. This electrical discharge causes a variety of involuntary body responses or alterations in behavior. A seizure is also referred to as a fit or convulsion.

What causes seizures?seizures_in_birds-1

"When the cause cannot be determined, the condition is called idiopathic epilepsy or seizures."

Often we do not know exactly what triggers a seizure. Some disorders leading to seizure may be primary such as tumors, infections (bacterial, Chlamydophila, viral or fungal), heat stroke or trauma (such as flying accidents). Secondary disorders include reproductive problems, metabolic disorders, nutritional deficiencies or imbalances and toxic events. When the cause cannot be determined, the condition is called idiopathic epilepsy or seizures.

What will I see?

There are three parts to a seizure. The initial phase is called the aura phase, and the bird may go through a period of altered behavior. The second phase is called ictus and is a period of disorientation, with an inability to coordinate the movements of the muscles. The bird will lose its grip and fall to the bottom of the cage. Often the body becomes stiff and the bird will jerk spastically; the bird may defecate and vocalize. This phase usually lasts 5 - 20 seconds, but if you have never witnessed this before, it can be a frightening and "long" couple of seconds. The third phase is called the post-ictal phase and lasts several minutes to hours. The bird will show a variable mount of exhaustion, lethargy, confusion, disorientation, agitation or restlessness.

What should I do?

When a bird has had a seizure, it needs immediate veterinary attention to help figure out what has happened and try to identify the underlying cause. In the meantime, place the bird in a cage with soft bedding on the bottom, remove the perches, toys and swings to minimize injury, and place the food and water dishes in easily accessible locations.

What will the veterinarian do?

A veterinarian familiar with birds will start with a complete history, weight and a physical examination. The diet will be evaluated for content and freshness, what supplements are given, whether there are any possible deficiencies (like calcium), and the possibility of contamination.

A number of tests that can help your veterinarian determine the nature of your bird's problem. Each test provides another piece of the puzzle, and often many tests are needed to give more clarity.

A Complete Blood Ccount (CBC) gives important information about infections, dehydration, toxins and anemia. Blood chemistry tests are used to screen the liver, kidneys, and other body systems to help determine what system is being affected by disease. Specific infectious agents may be investigated using serology and DNAseizures_in_birds-2 testing. X-rays may be used to assess the bones, the size and the position of the internal organs, and to explore for the presence of foreign materials such as lead or zinc. Other tests that may be recommended are the EEG (electroencephalogram), MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) and CT (Computer Assisted Tomography).

Are there treatments for seizures?

Initially, certain drugs may be given to stop the seizure activity. Specific treatments may then be implemented, based on the findings of the tests performed and the diagnosis made. The range of treatments varies depending on the specific problem and may include treating the underlying disease, modifying the diet, providing nutritional supplementation, and possibly hospitalizing the bird for supportive therapy (fluids and vitamins) plus antibiotic, antiviral or antiparasitic medications as indicated. Sometimes the condition cannot be "cured", only managed and supported to improve the quality of life.

"Initially, certain drugs may be given to stop the seizure activity."

Your avian veterinarian will advise you of the best course of action for your bird.

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