When birds are ill, they will commonly develop a change in their droppings. While not usually specific for any one particular disease, a change in the color, frequency, volume, wetness or character of droppings may indicate a problem that requires immediate veterinary attention.
What are the components of a normal dropping?
“It is important for owners to become familiar with their bird’s normal droppings, as evaluation of the droppings is an important clue to illness in pet birds.”
There are three components to the normal droppings. The first is the fecal (or stool) component. For most pet birds, this is the green to brown, solid part of the droppings. The color may vary with the type of food being fed. The second component is the urate component, or the solid urine component. Unlike most animals, birds, in their attempt to conserve water, produce a solid urate component to the dropping. The urates are usually white. The third component, which is not often recognized by owners, is a clear liquid urine component. It is important for owners to become familiar with their bird’s normal droppings, as evaluation of the droppings is an important clue to illness or wellness in pet birds.
What is an abnormal dropping?
Simply put, once you get used to your bird’s droppings, any deviation from what the normal droppings look like is abnormal for your bird and should prompt a veterinary visit. Typically, abnormal droppings can include any of the following:
- Decrease in the number of droppings
- Increase in the number of droppings
- Change in color or texture of either the fecal component or the urate component
- “Bubbly” looking droppings
- Increase in the watery or liquid component (called polyuria, or too much urine)
- The presence of blood
Often, when owners state that their birds have diarrhea, they actually mean that birds have more water in their droppings and no real change in the stool component. True diarrhea is uncommon in birds. The most common sign of abnormal droppings in birds is actually polyuria (too much urine).
What causes abnormal droppings?
Many diseases can cause changes in the droppings. Diet also influences the droppings. If, for example, you have decided to give your bird a few blueberries, its droppings will probably be blue or purple for a short time afterwards. Assuming that the diet has remained constant, common causes of abnormal droppings include intestinal diseases, kidney disease, liver diseases, bacterial or viral infections, and parasitic infections. Chlamydiosis, or Parrot Fever, a common cause of liver disease, may produce lime green droppings in some birds. Both the stool and urate components may be green with this condition. Some birds with heavy metal (often lead) poisoning produce red or black droppings from the presence of blood in the urine or stool.
How will my veterinarian know what caused the abnormal droppings?
Your veterinarian can run a variety of tests, including blood tests and X-rays, to try to determine if any internal diseases have caused the abnormal droppings. More importantly, an evaluation of the dropping under the microscope after it has been stained with a special kind of stain called Gram’s stain can be done to test for yeast, abnormal bacteria, and other abnormal cells. A microscopic examination of the unstained feces (called a direct fecal smear) also may be performed to check for parasites, or the droppings may be cultured if a bacterial or yeast infection is suspected.
Can my bird be treated?
Depending on the diagnosis, most birds with abnormal droppings are successfully treated once the cause of the abnormal droppings is determined. Cooperation in consenting to the recommended tests is critical in allowing your veterinarian to correctly diagnose and treat your bird.
If you believe your bird has changes in the droppings, consult a veterinarian familiar with birds.
Laurie Hess, DVM; Rick Axelson, DVM
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