Sick Pet Birds - Testing and Diagnostics

By Rick Axelson, DVM

Care & Wellness, Diagnosis, Emergency Situations, Medical Conditions

December 11, 2008

Why do tests on my bird?

"Wellness testing is done routinely on apparently healthy birds to screen a bird for possible subclinical or low-grade problems."

Birds are very good at hiding illness. Tests are used in conjunction with the findings of a physical examination and presenting history in order to diagnose an illness. Your veterinarian may recommend certain tests for further insight into the bird's problem or for early detection of various disease conditions. This assists in the speedy diagnosis and timely treatment of the ailment. Diagnostic tests are also used to evaluate or monitor the progress a patient is making during treatment of disease. Note that anesthesia may be used for certain tests since the stress of restraining a bird can be far greater that a short anesthetic. Wellness testing is done routinely on apparently healthy birds to screen a bird for possible subclinical or low-grade problems.

Blood can be collected in many ways from a bird. Your veterinarian will utilize one of your bird's blood vessels to safely and easily obtain the sample needed with little stress to the bird. Occasionally (if needed) a cleaned toenail may be cut short to gather a blood sample. Only a small amount of blood is needed in most cases.

What tests can be done on a bird?

tests_for_sick_birds-1Complete Blood Count (CBC)

The CBC is an in depth evaluation of the red blood cells and the five types of white blood cells. Different diseases may affect the number, morphology (shape and structure) and percentage distribution of the various types of blood cells in the bird. There is so much potential information in this quick, simple test, that it is a common screening test for birds. Certain blood parasites may be detected during this test.


Clinical Chemistry

With the serum (fluid portion) from the same sample of blood, a multitude of tests will reveal data used to assess the biochemical condition of a patient. Numerous enzymes and products of metabolism are evaluated. Different organs such as the liver and kidney can be assessed as well as blood glucose and electrolytes.


Gram Stain

"This test is used to detect the presence or absence of bacteria and yeast."

This is a commonly used diagnostic tool. A variety of samples are routinely tested, including the feces (your bird's droppings), vomit (crop contents), and discharges from the throat, eye and nose. These specimens are carefully mounted on a microscope slide and treated with a series of special stains. This test is used to detect the presence or absence of bacteria and yeast. Bacteria are identified along with their shape, size and number. Since there are bacteria occurring naturally in many samples collected from the body, your veterinarian will use his/her knowledge to determine which organisms are supposed to be present and those that need treating. Further testing may be important for positive identification. This is a quick test and is also used to monitor the progress of a patient.

Bacterial Culture and Sensitivitytests_for_sick_birds-2

"The laboratory will take the sample and attempt to grow, isolate and specifically identify any disease-causing organisms (bacteria or fungi)."

Bacteria play an important role in many diseases found in birds. Special sterile swabs are used to carefully collect samples from the digestive tract, reproductive tract, respiratory system, eyes, nose, ears, skin, sores and other tissues. The laboratory will take the sample and attempt to grow, isolate and specifically identify any disease-causing organisms (bacteria or fungi). The next step is to test these disease-causing agents (pathogens) and determine which antibiotics (antibacterial only) will work against the organism and those that have no affect or are resistant. This test takes several days but its results allow the veterinarian to treat with greater specificity.

Parasitology

Parasites may be found externally or internally in the digestive tract, respiratory tract and blood or circulatory system. Various techniques are utilized to diagnose the problem. Mites and lice may be visualized unaided (for those with good eyes) or may require samples of skin scrapings to be collected and examined under the microscope. Intestinal parasites such as roundworms and Giardia are detected using fecal floatation and direct smear procedures. Actual adult worms are very seldom passed in the droppings and therefore are rarely detected by the owner.


Urinalysis

"However, urinalysis in birds may not be as accurate or useful as previously thought and this test may have minimal diagnostic value."

The urine is the liquid part of a bird's dropping and under most normal circumstances, there will be little or none to evaluate. With certain disease processes, enough urine may be passed and carefully collected to assess the cellular and biochemical components. Certain diseases such as diabetes can be detected. However, urinalysis in birds may not be as accurate or useful as previously thought and this test may have minimal diagnostic value.


Radiology

Radiographs provide invaluable internal information regarding bones, vital organs, the respiratory system, soft tissue masses and the presence of foreign bodies in the bird. Changes in density, size, shape and relationship of organs and tissues are assessed. Some birds may need an anesthetic to safely obtain diagnostic quality radiographs.


Laparoscopy

Surgical laparoscopy is used under anesthetic to examine the interior of certain body cavities with the use of fiber optic instruments. Organs can be viewed, assessed or biopsied through a small incision.

Cytology

Certain tissues or fluid samples are carefully mounted on a microscope slide and treated with a series of special stains (different from gram stains). These are then examined by the veterinarian or sent to a veterinary pathologist to aid in reaching a diagnosis.


Histology

Tissues removed surgically may be sent to the laboratory where a veterinary pathologist will examine a carefully prepared sample under the microscope. These highly trained veterinarians will specifically identify the disease process present and may provide information useful for a prognosis.


Virology

Various samples can be used to detect the presence of particular viruses and may be used to determine the underlying cause of a disease.

tests_for_sick_birds-3
DNA Tests

DNA tests are available for the detection of many diseases such as Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease, Polyomavirus, Chlamydophila, Pacheco's Disease Virus, and Aspergillus. DNA sexing and genetic fingerprinting are also available as tests.



Post-Mortem or Necropsy

Despite all efforts and care, not all patients can be saved. The final diagnostic procedure is the post mortem or necropsy. It is best performed as close to the time of death as possible. During this examination, samples may be collected to conduct many of the tests previously described. Valuable information pertaining to cause of death and confirmation of the suspected diagnosis will be revealed. With this data, important decisions may be made regarding other birds in the same house. Much is learned at this time and it may even help other birds in the future.

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