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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 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

I have a mexican red head (green cheeked amazon) that I rescued about 10 years ago. She seems to have gotten an infection (white stuff inside her mouth) and was losing her red feathers on her head)Vet said she had a vitamin a deficiency and so gave her an a/b vitamin shot. He also sent out a culture of the white stuff and then gave me an antibiotic to put in her water daily for 30 days. Last year she got the same thing and we did the same things except the antibiotic was used for 2 weeks. I'm worried that this will be a recurring thing or we aren't treating it properly. Maybe I should get a second opinion. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

Hi, Barbara -

It is true that vitamin A deficiency can certainly set the stage for the kinds of symptoms you describe. Should this be the primary situation in your bird's case, unless the general nutritional plane of your bird has been corrected and other underlying contributing conditions identified and removed, those secondary or even tertiary infection problems often can and do repeatedly return. Additionally, some infections require much more direct treatments than water-based antibiotic treatments.

I would recommend that you have your bird examined after your course of treatment is concluded, and make sure that diet and underlying health of your bird is optimally supported and maintained.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

I have a question about my Congo African Grey Charlie. I re-homed Charlie as his owner didn't have the time to commit to him. He came to me as a nervous bird with Feather plucking issues. I worked hard over several months to vary his diet, introducing grains and pulses and fresh veg. Providing lots of foraging opportunities and eventually the feather plucking resolved and Charlie became a friendly outgoing bird. Then one day I noticed him having difficulty going to the toilet. He kept throwing his foot back to scratch his vent it seemed. I inspected him and noticed a small injury around his vent so I took him to the avian vet. The vet explained that he had either bitten or scratched the skin round part of his vent. We decided I would wash with salt water and apply homeopathic healing balm and see if that helped. It has helped and is healing well and he has stopped throwing his leg back and scratching. However he seems to have developed a 'twitch' almost which causes him to stick his leg out straight in front of him and sort of wave. This is accompanied by a tail wag from side to side rapidly and a quick flick of his wings. He has never done this until his injury and it only happens when he is still on his perch. If he is active and foraging there seems to be no 'twitch'. I am concerned as to what this might be as his vent is healing well, almost completely and he is going to the toilet as normal. Any light shed on this would be greatly appreciated.

Many Thanks,

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

Hi, Daniel,
It is challenging to clearly visualize what you may be seeing, unfortunately. Here are a few suggestions, however. I would recommend that you video record the behavior, and present this as well as your bird for a repeat examination to your veterinarian. Presuming that there may be pain and discomfort present (from whatever the primary cause may be), you may want to enquire about the use of anti-inflammatory treatments or pain management for your bird. You may also want to inquire about the possibility of a problem within the cloaca itself, which in some circumstances could require additional maneuvers for visualization of this area.

Good on you for enriching this bird's life, adding to its behavioral inventory and doing such a good level of stewardship!

filed under: Health and Nutrition

A friend of mine has a Congo African Grey who is exhibiting symptoms of excessive thirst and excessive urinating. The vet investigating this is currently running labwork on the bird to check for things like diabetes, etc. So far, the vet has not come up with anything definitive but suggests that the dyes in pellets such as Pretty Bird could cause these symptoms. Have you ever heard anything like this before? Thanks for your time.

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

Hi, Cindi -

There are a number of investigations that need to be considered with this set of clinical signs. It is good that basic blood testing is being performed as a start. Although this is far from a perfect thing, it is a really good initial component. There are behavioral reasons (psychogenic), and other medical reasons including some viral infections, cardiovascular disease, and malnutrition to name a few. Toxicoses from the artificial dyes used in a formulated product of any brand, to the best of my knowledge, are not a documented event - and exist only in anecdote and belief out there. I am sure that the veterinarian involved will pursue the levels and types of additional diagnostic testing needed to help dramatically narrow down, if not determine a cause of these clinical signs, with time.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

I have a 6year old male Goliath Palm Cockatoo living in a half acre 12m high aviary along with three Hyacinths and a pair of Illigers. At night they are locked in large secure bird rooms. Tristan , my Goliath , has an ongoing problem with one of his feet . It is cracked between two of his pads and despite treatment that includes Baytril and a daily VIT. E cream application , it does not clear up. It looks like what a humans cracked heel would look like. We are close to the coast in South Africa so I dont think it is too dry here and it is odd that it only affects one foot. On the same foot on the one side is a white patch of what looks like very dry skin. If Tristan walks on a flat surface he is likely to walk on a foot made into a fist , while on a branch or perch he will sit normally. After flying and coming in to land he will hold that foot up out of the way on "touch down" This has been going on for around seven months.He has had scrapings done which come up clear and my local vet has consulted with my avian vet in Johannesburg and Onderstepoort Exotic clinic in Pretoria without any light being shed. His food consists of daily fresh fruit and veg which he ignores , always available Kaytee rainbow chunky and hemp seed which he eats occasionally and a copious amount of nuts comprising of cracked Palm nuts , cracked macadamia nuts , hazel , pecan , walnut , almonds and brasil nuts . All nuts are checked and Tristan eats them all. At night he gets a soft hot food mix of Macadamia oil , health checked peanut butter , Purity (baby food) carrots , Purity sweet potato and corn , Purity mango and banana , Kaytee organic , Kaytee macaw hand rearing , mashed banana , sunflower seed and coconut flakes. This is mixed together with hot water and fed straight away and is normally completely eaten. All his food is the same as for the Hyacinths who do not have any foot problems. I have been unable to find anyone around the world who is well versed in Palm Cockatoo's to see if anything similar has happened. I look forward to any advice you can offer.

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

Hi, Trevor - The unilateral nature of this presentation speaks more to an acquired disorder of some sort. You describe two clinical signs that may or may not be related: A cracked and discolored lesion on the foot, and abnormal foot posture / weight bearing.

In general, scrapings of those types of foot lesions that you describe, and various types of analyses of those samples may predispose you to miss your primary diagnosis here. You may want to ask your veterinarians to consider obtaining full thickness skin biopsies from these lesions, seeking histological evidence of what specifically may be going on. Aerobic bacterial and fungal cultures should be also considered from these surgically obtained biopsy samples, and additional biopsies, if possible, should be saved frozen for further evaluation - if indicated based on your histopathology findings. Regarding the abnormal gait and weight bearing - I would suggest you ask your veterinarian to consider good, detailed shole body radiographic images as a part of your medical workup, as some forms of chronic osteoarthritis certainly may be involved. A careful neurologic examination should also be repeated.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

Dear Dr. Speer, I would appreciate very much to receive your opinion on the recent deaths of three of my African parrots.

I live near Rome, Italy, and my parrots are kept outdoors in suspended aviaries, separated by panels, enclosed on 2 sides, and surrounded by trees to protect them from the cold winds. They are fed a mixture of 50% seeds (well balanced) and 50% pellets, and fresh fruits and vegetables.

The parrots that died did not have a nest, as they were only about 3 years old. At the beginning of April I lost a 2 year old male Red-bellied parrot (Poicephalus rufiventris). I found him at the bottom of the aviary, with fluffed feathers, and I noticed that he was very thin. The day before he appeared to be in perfect health. I forced fed him, but he died within 48 hours.

A few days later, I noticed that a 2 year old female Ruppell's parrot (Poichephalus rueppellii) was sleeping during the day. Following the advice of the veterinarian, I placed her in a brooder unit, administering Avelox 400 in the drinking water, plus Diflucan orally. She was not underweight, but she died after 5 days breathing with difficulty.

After another day, I notice that a 3 year old Ruppell's male (not the companion of the female that died) was not eating, and that he was also sleeping in the daytime. He died after two days with the same respiratory symptoms.

The post-mortem showed that the three parrots suffered from a chronic and severe granulomatous pneumonia caused by aspergillosis, in addition to a chronic hepatitis in of one the birds. The veterinarians who have seen these necropsies were of different opinions, some felt that the aspergillosis was the primary cause of death, while others felt that it developed because of other previous problem. But it seems strange to me that it would kill three different parrots all of a sudden.

My question is if the humid climate of this area is not suitable for species originating from dry areas, such as the Rueppell's and the Red-bellied parrots, or if I might have made some mistakes with their diet. MAll my other parrots have been treated for 20 days with Diflucan in their drinking water. Do you feel that it would be necessary to also treat them with an aerosol therapy? What is the best therapy advised in these cases?

Thank you very much,

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

Hi, Simone - In general, Aspergillosis is an infectious disease that occurs in an individual or population of individual birds out of an interaction between characteristics of the host (the birds themselves), their environment and the agent. Mere exposure to Aspergillus spores, alone, should be unlikely to cause disease unless there was a very large amount of fungal spores - enough to overcome the bird's normal immunologic defense systems. Chronic respiratory irritation, inadequate vitamin A nutrition, and other concurrent disease processes all can function as causal contributors in an individual with this disease.

Overall, I would be doubtful if the environment that you keep your birds should be fairly presumed to be unsuitable for them - there are far too many other similar parrot species doing overall well in the Rome area. Although treatment with water-based antifungal medications through the drinking water for a few weeks may seem to be a safe maneuver, you should have reason to question if this treatment would be effective, should those birds have actual infection, as well as if the duration of treamtent and manner of drug delivery (in the water) is optimal. Most aerosolized forms of treatment (nebulization) do not reach the lower aspects of the respiratory systems of birds, and this form of prophyllactic treatment also is open for debate in regards to its merit in asymptomatic but potentially exposed individuals. You may want to speak with your veterinarian(s) about the use of the oral antifungal drugs Itraconazole or even Voriconizole, if any of your other birds show signs of disease, or if screening laboratory diagnostic testing supports the probability of disease.

Overall, my suspicions would be that there is more likely to have been an environmental event that resulted in a large amount of fungal spore exposure to your birds, and resultant infection and disease. The correlation of the hepatic lesions as a "cause" of a secondary Aspergillosis would be a more challenging step to do, particularly viewing the absence of this finding in 2/3 of the necropsied birds. It sounds like the cause of the hepatic lesion is not identified in that single bird, and it is possible that this lesion could be an incidental finding - even potentially unrelated to the apparent cause of death - pulmonary Aspergillosis.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

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