Tumors in Birds

By Gregory Rich, DVM; Rick Axelson, DVM

While not as common as they are in dogs and cats, tumors, also called cancer or neoplasms, do occur in birds. Birds of any age can develop tumors, although tumors tends to be more common as birds age.

What exactly are tumors?

Tumors are firm tissue growths or swellings that may occur on the body (protruding from the skin), under the skin, or within the body cavity. By definition, tumor cells are abnormal cells that are growing and multiplying out of control.

"By definition, tumor cells are abnormal cells that are growing and multiplying out of control."

Are all lumps considered tumors?

No. A lump or a mass can be an abscess, granuloma, ingrown feather, or scar tissue. Some swellings that you notice on your bird might actually be an enlarged organ, which swells or increases in size due to disease. If the bird is a female, an abdominal swelling that you suspect to be a tumor may in fact be an egg.

Are all tumors cancerous?

No. As is true with other pets and people, some tumors are benign (non-fatal) and some are malignant. Malignant tumors, or cancerous tumors, may invade surrounding tissues or metastasize (spread) to other locations in the body.

How can I tell what is causing the lump?

You cannot tell what is causing a lump, and very often, your veterinarian cannot either, at least not with just a physical examination. Tests such as a fine needle aspirate or biopsy can often diagnose the composition or cause of the lump. Sometimes, it is necessary to perform histologic testing (examination of the tissue microscopically) after surgical removal, in order to determine if the tumor is benign (not cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Internal masses may require diagnostic tests, including blood tests, radiographs (x-rays), ultrasound, CT scan, or even exploratory surgery in order to determine their nature.

How are tumors treated?

Once the lump is diagnosed as a tumor, surgical removal may be recommended depending on the location of the tumor and overall health of the bird. Depending upon the size of the tumor and its location, surgical removal may be more challenging and difficult than a similar surgery in a dog or cat. Therefore, the sooner your bird is examined after you notice the tumor, the better the chance for a successful surgery.

Not all tumors can be removed surgically. Some tumors that cannot be removed may be debulked, if it is deemed beneficial to the animal’s quality of life. With the medical advances in veterinary medicine today, there are also options involving chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy for certain tumor types. Your veterinarian will make a judgement call as to what path to take to resolve your bird’s medical condition in regards to the tumor. Referral to an avian specialist or veterinary school for further care may be necessary.

Related Articles