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About Dr. Brian Speer, DVM
Avian veterinarian Dr. Brian Speer was raised in a small town on California's coast. He received his BS in Biology…

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Ask An Expert: Dr. Brian Speer, DVM

Browse by category: Parrot Care, Behaviour and Training, Conservation, Ethics and Welfare, Housing and Environmental Enrichment, General, Health and Nutrition

I have a 26 year old cockatiel and about 4 weeks ago I noticed white lumps on his legs under the skin and his toe joints and feet are also swollen, the vet thinks it is gout and has given me allopurinol 0.15ml to be given twice a day as well as a pain killer. He now sleeps a lot but is still eating. He cannot fly and it is difficult for him to walk. I have read that allopurinol is not good for birds and that black cherry juice can be given as an alternative, but I don`t know how much cherry juice to give. I
would be glad of your advice. thank you

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

Hi, Elizabeth -

These types of questions are best directed towards your attending veterinarian. From your description, it sounds like your bird is in trouble, and needs more help. It is true that in some species, specifically red tailed hawks, allopurinol was shown to actually cause kidney problems. For the most part, articular gout is often the result of underlying kidney functional disease issues, and you may want to ask your veterinarian about assessing kidney function to see if there are other diagnostic maneuvers or treatments that may have merit to consider. Articular gout, if present, is quite painful, and you may want to also speak with your veterinarian about using multimodal pain management strategies here. There is much less clear science about the merits or harm that a treatment plan centered on the use of cherry juice has to offer, and for the most part, my best recommendations would be to continue working with your attending veterinarian to work towards the best evidence-based medical approach for diagnosis and management of your bird's problem.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

I have an 18year old rescue Mexican Red Head. He has been showing a choking motion or trying to push something down his throat. My vet Dr. Hess in Bedford Hills, NY did an upper gi on her. She said she either has esophical (sp) cancer or a fungus. She now wants to take a biopsy which I'm hesitant to do as the bird has to be under anestesia(sp).

If it is cancer and they use chemo to treat it, what are the odds that this would "cure" her. Do you recommend the biopsy or could we treat the fungus first and if it doesn't cure it, then we know it is cancer and then go to chemo treatments?

Please let me know what you think asap. The doctor will be calling next week to make a decision.

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

Hi, Barbara -

The answers to your questions and concerns best come specifically from your attending veterinarian. On-line, and in the absence of having examined your bird, viewed your diagnostic images and other diagnostic findings, it is functionally impossible to guide you with any succinct recommendations.

Part of the reasoning behind a recommendation for obtaining a biopsy is specifically to confirm the nature of the disease process at the identified site. Should this be in the cervical esophagus, surgically obtained biopsies are comparatively easier as compared to lesions that are identified in the thoracic esophagus or glandular stomach. Cervical esophageal cancers are less commonly identified in the literature as compared to tumors lower in the gastrointestinal system, but if present, are more straight forward for potential for surgical removal. For the potential cancers that may be present, chemotherapeutic interventions and successful outcomes are uncommon, at best, in the literature. Oftentimes, with confirmed or strongly suspected cancer in that thoracic esophagus / glandular stomach area, treatments have been palliative with hopes only to comfortably extend quality of life. Your best prognostic hope is that the cause of the observed clinical signs is related to any other factor, excluding cancer.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

I have a male cockatiel who is suffering from chronic coccidiosis. I already treated him 2 years ago with tiamulin and he seemed to be healthy, but now the vet has found oocysts in feces again, so it was just a remission instead of curing. The vet told me to treat it with Baycox this time.

The problem is that my bird has problems with hepar and pancreas since the day I purchased him, and even the treatment with tiamulin nearly killed him while Baycox is even heavier. I'm afraid that such treatment will kill him much faster than coccidiosis itself, and there's a lot of feedback from bird breeders whose birds were poisoned Baycox.

Are there any alternative ways to treat this infection? Maybe there are some new medications that my vet aren't aware of? I already lost my companion female cockatiel 2 years ago, and I'm really scared to make another mistake with my male.

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

I am not sure what part of the world you live in, Nataly, but at least here in the USA, the more common species associated with Coccidiosis are not often encountered. There are other coccidioidal organism that can be more often seen, including but not limited to Toxoplasma and Cryptosporidium.

First up, you may ask your veterinarian to confirm the species of coccidian that may be present, in order to help best choose what forms of treatment may or may not be most appropriate. Not all coccidioidal infections are treated the same way. Also, you have mentioned that there are problems with liver and pancreas - and you may want to ask your veterinarian about options to diagnose what those problems may specifically be, as their contribution to the bigger picture may also have merit to address.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

How can I determine whether my 21 year old orange-winged amazon that has been diagnosed with a inoperable cancer tumor, is in pain?

What are the signs he would exhibit, even the subtle ones?

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

Hi, Caroll -

The bulk of your answer should be able to be provided by your diagnosing veterinarian, and is dependent on the type of tumor, its location and what tissues / organ systems are involved, what secondary health issues are present, and perhaps most importantly, how your bird feels and behaves. Many of our indicators for pain that we see in birds are based on their behavior. Simplistically, one would seek the kinds of behaviors you may imagine yourself show if you have a painful migraine headache. These may include social withdrawal (you don't want to interact with your friends and family), decreased activity (you just don't feel like it), decreased appetite, decreased comfort behaviors (you no longer care how you dress or look - you just don't feel like it).

Many aspects of disease (not all) include chronic pain, and pain can be pharmacologically treated in birds with monomodal, bimodal or even trimodal forms of intervention in many cases. The patient's response to your treatment at least in part can be used to monitor effectiveness of your pain intervention strategy, in that the above behaviors that were noted should be able to be reduced if you are maintaining the balance well., Some forms of inoperable cancers can be treated in other means to reduce and sometimes resolve them too - and you may want to ask your doctor about more details and options that could be present, should they apply in your bird's case.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

Please can you advise me about worming?

I have an aviary of budgies with three 'tiels in the mix. I usually worm with 'solubenol'. However I recently noticed that it contains the same active ingredient as my chicken wormer (flubendazole). Is there any reason why I can't use 'Flubenvet' for my aviary birds? If so - what should the ratio be?

Also - still on the subject of worming. Should I consider worming my two pet parrots occasionally as they do spend a little time in an outside aviary on nice days. The floor is concrete slabs not earth.

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

Hi, Helen -

Your questions are fair, but specifically should be answered by the attending veterinarian who is familiar with your flock, their associated risks (or lack thereof) for intestinal parasitism. In part, dependent on what is known or not known in regards to your budgerigars and cockatiels (and pet parrots) in regard to their medical conditions or what preventative health maneuvers may be most appropriate, your veterinarian is best positioned to provide evidence-based recommendations that meet the needs of the birds in question. From the outside, I am unable to validate the need for treatment for intestinal parasites, what kind(s) of parasites may or may not be present, the epidemiologic risks of recurrent parasitism, or balance treatment choices optimally with the husbandry and overall health status of your flock.

There are potential health risks for yourself with empirical deworming of your chickens; drug residues can be passed through the eggs and can potentially adversely effect human health. It is for this reason that the use of those products in commercial layers is typically forbidden in most countries. Although these practices (empirical deworming) are commonly done and the availability of many of those products over the counter is also common, this does not negate some risk. My advice in that regard would also be to discuss with your attending veterinarian if there is a true need for the use of those drugs in your chickens,

filed under: Health and Nutrition


I have a male seven year old galah cockatoo. He is hand reared and I've had him from a baby.He has lots of enrichment opportunities including access to an outside aviary, I've done the online living and learning with parrots course and feed him a good diet. I've noticed just over a week that every now and again when preening that he will really tug hard at a feather. Sometimes he will pull out a pin feather, this could be twice a day. I think he's going through a moult, I've been providing him with shredding toys that he will happily play with as my big fear is the start of a plucking problem. I know how prone these human imprinted birds, especially toos, can be to this problem. He doesn't appear to have any bold patches.We did have a holiday of five days about five weeks ago also I took on a rescue bird five months ago so a few changes and when we were away we had people coming in to see the birds regularly not ideal at all. If a bird is plucking how quickly does it progress? I am ignoring him when he tugs at a feather.I'm hoping its just an itchy moult.

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

Hi, Nicole -

There are a myriad of reasons why a bird, Galah included, may or may not be damaging its feathers. Your hopes that there may be a normal moulting process are entirely possible as well. If you have not already done so, I would strongly suggest that you have a good physical examination done by your veterinarian to assess if there is indeed, feather damage occurring, or if there is reason to suspect a dermatitis or other issue that could require medical address.

filed under: Health and Nutrition


I recently took my sun conure who lives in the same cage with four cockatiels to the vet. The bird never laid and an egg and it is almost 15 years old. I got the bird DNA sexed. The vet said that the bird had elevated calcium levels and stated let's hope it is having eggy thoughts. Well it's a she. Will she lay eggs?

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

Hi Heather,

Although it is true that many hens that are mobilizing calcium in preparation for potential egg laying will show elevations in total blood calcium levels, these changes are not necessarily a predictive set for all that egg laying will occur, and there can be variations in interpretation what "elevated" numbers may be. Minor elevations over a published set of "normal" values may lack in significance over a 2-3 fold increase in those levels, for example. Not all hens will lay eggs, not all observed elevations in serum calcium levels will indicate impending egg laying activity.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

URGENT - I have been a WPT member for well over 20 years and have an urgent question: My Panama Amazon was recently ill and very nearly died. She had stopped eating and had to be fed with a tube. She was in the care of our Avian Vet who, like myself, did not realize that she is obese. The Avian specialist who read her blood results and her xRay said it was probably her liver due to obesity. (She weighed 520 grams). I was told to feed her ANYTHING she would eat and eventually, she did begin eating again. She has been raised on a diet of Harrison's pellets plus fruits and vegetables. She is 17 years old. I found that the weight for a Panama Amazon is normally 480 grams. I ordered an avian scale and began feeding her a diet of phytonutrients as recommended by David McCluggage, DVM (on the web) who maintains that amazons should NOT be fed mostly pellets. I was shocked when the scale arrived and she weighed 615 grams! She has been on this super healthy diet for a month now, with only one or two pellets a day and one "NutraBerry" seed treat. But, AND HERE IS MY DILEMA/QUESTION: She has NOT lost weight. She weighs around 630 grams. She does get some exercise as she is outdoors in a large macaw cage during the day. I don't know how I can get her to exercise more. I try with interactive toys, etc. She chews a lot and sings opera!! I am terrified she will become ill again if she doesn't lose weight. PLEASE ADVISE: I can't find any answers online after endless searching. Thank you so very much for taking the time to ready this lengthy question/explanation. I am so very, very grateful!

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

Hi, Linda -

First qualifiers - since I have not examined your bird, I cannot factually corroborate or deny your working premise and diagnosis of obesity and true need for your bird to lose weight. This call should be made with the examining veterinarian you are currently working with. There is considerable variation in body weight for this species - just as there is in human beings! A large bodied and well-muscled bird may weigh easily as much as the numbers you report, and others may be quite obese at those same numbers. Be careful of managing a number (weight) instead of the true bird before you. Ideal weight should be somewhat individually defined, based on the presence of good pectoral muscle mass and an absence of visible or identifiable subcutaneous fat over the abdomen and lateral flanks. This requires the periodic physical examinations of you and your veterinarian. Many Amazon parrots can be maintained in excellent health on a predominately pelletized diet - this data has been around for quite some time.

So, I am somewhat unable to make factual recommendations that will be most appropriate for you and your bird - if clinical obesity is known to be present, work with your veterinarian to reduce caloric intake and increase foraging and caloric burn activities via enrichment of other behaviors. Make sure that weight management is not being based on mere deprivation of calories, but by enrichment. If your bird has gained weight (muscle) but lost fat - you actually may be in a good position at present time. It all depends on the hand's on evaluation and assessments of you and your attending veterinarian.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

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