Avian Medications: A to Z

When your bird is sick, you take it to your vet, some tests are run and evaluated, and then a medication is prescribed. When administered as directed for the correct length of time, your bird gets well. That seems very straightforward, doesn't it? However, the simple act of choosing the correct medication for treatment is based on many different factors. Let's take a look at the complicated and confusing world of avian medications so we will have a better understanding of this subject.

There are many medications used in avian medicine today. Veterinarians may choose to prescribe from drugs developed for human use, those labeled for use in dogs and cats, medications compounded from a pharmacy or less commonly, from those actually developed and labeled for use in birds. How a veterinarian chooses a drug to dispense depends on many factors, including the species of the bird, its age, its general condition, what type of disease it has, testing results, drug cost, drug availability, how the drug is formulated (pill, oral suspension, injectable, etc.) and personal choice. Drugs can be given orally, by injection, by nebulization, topically (in the eye, ear canal, etc.), in the cloaca or possibly by a transdermal patch.

Medications usually have two names, the chemical name that is used to describe the drug, and the trade name that is the name given by a drug company to identify their brand of that drug. For example, there are many trade names for the drug combination, trimethoprim/sulfa, including BactrimTM and SeptraTM. For this reason, it is less confusing to use the chemical name when discussing a drug. Also, readers in other countries will probably not be familiar with trade names of drugs in our country and vice versa.

A:

antibiotic, one of a group of medications that are used to treat bacterial infections. Some are called broad-spectrum and are used to treat a wide variety of bacteria. Other are used to treat a specific group of bacteria (Gram positive, Gram negative, aerobic, anaerobic). Some antibiotics kill the offending bacteria (bacteriocidal), others just prevent the bacteria from reproducing (bacteriostatic).

aerobic bacteria, bacteria that grow in the presence of oxygen

anaerobic bacteria, bacteria that grow in the absence of oxygen

ampicillin, an antibiotic in the penicillin family, not often used in avian medicine, since many bacteria that cause avian infections are often resistant to it

amoxicillin, an antibiotic in the penicillin family, not often used in avian medicine, since many bacteria that cause avian infections are often resistant to it

amoxicillin and clavulanate, a combination of drugs that makes amoxicillin more effective in treating some bacterial infections

amikacin, an aminoglycocide (as is gentamicin), a potent antibiotic that must be given by injection, as it is not absorbed orally, can cause deafness and/or kidney damage, so fluids should usually be administered during injections to prevent kidney damage, may also be used in nebulization therapy

amphotericin B, a potent antifungal agent, used for treating aspergillosis, given by intravenous injection, nebulization, or directly into the trachea, is toxic to the kidneys, also available in topical cream

aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid), potent anti-inflammatory, useful for musculoskeletal pain, also will bring fever down

B:

butorphanol, a pain medication and cough suppressant, used to treat pain in avian patients

C:

ciprofloxacin, broad-spectrum antibiotic, made for human use, often used in avian medicine, was in the news during anthrax scare because it is a first choice antibiotic for treating that disease, is a fluoroquinolone, in the same family of antibiotics as enrofloxacin (BaytrilTM)

cefotaxime, in the group of cephalosporins, an injectable antibiotic that crosses the blood-brain barrier, can be used to treat susceptible bacterial infections in the brain, and also useful for serious susceptible bacterial infections elsewhere in the body

cephalexin, also a cephalosporin, can be given orally to treat susceptible bacterial infections, may be good for deep skin infections

chloramphenicol, an older antibiotic that is bacteriostatic, chloramphenicol palmitate not available in U.S., but can be compounded, can be given orally, in humans and animals, can cause dangerous anemia

chlortetracycline, an older member of the tetracycline family, formerly used to treat psittacosis (Chlamydophila), oral preparation, however doxycycline is preferred

clotrimazole, an antifungal used as an adjunct to aspergillosis treatment, can be administered into air sacs, into the trachea, topically or by nebulization

calcitonin, a hormone used to treat metabolic bone disease

chorionic gonadotropin, a hormone used to inhibit egg-laying, also used to treat feather-picking due to sexually related disorders

calcium EDTA, preferred initial drug to chelate lead or zinc related to toxicosis, given by injection

carprofen, oral or injectable for pain relief

chelating agent, a drug used to bind toxic elements (lead, zinc, iron) and remove them from the body safely

cortisone, a corticosteroid that should be used with extreme caution in avian patients due to immunosuppressive properties

cisapride, an oral medication to stimulate gastrointestinal motility, increases gastric emptying rate

celecoxib, a COX-2 enzyme inhibitor, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory, used to control symptoms of Proventricular Dilatation Disease (PDD), is not a cure

D:

doxycycline, a very effective drug for treating psittacosis (Chlamydophila), can be given orally, is bacteriostatic, also available as an injectable preparation that will provide blood levels for one week with just one injection (however, this drug preparation is not available in the U.S., also used to treat susceptible bacterial infections and mycoplasmosis

dimercaptosuccinic acid (DMSA), preferred oral chelator for lead toxicosis, effective for zinc toxicosis

diazepam, used for sedation, seizures, can be used with anesthetic agents, oral or injectable

dexamethasone, a potent steroid, anti-inflammatory, used for shock and trauma, may predispose a bird to aspergillosis and other fungal infections

diphenhydramine, antihistamine, used for allergic feather-picking

E:

enrofloxacin, broad-spectrum antibiotic, useful for a wide variety of infections, injectable (can be given orally), tablets, also available in a 3.23% solution for poultry that can be administered orally, multiple injections should not be given, as they can cause serious tissue damage, pain and nerve damage

F:

fluconazole, antifungal medication, fungistatic, useful for treating Candida yeast infections, can be combined with nystatin, another treatment for yeast

fluoxetine, used as adjunctive treatment for depression-induced feather-picking, antidepressant

flucytosine, an antifungal, fungistatic, can be used prophylactically in raptors and waterfowl to prevent aspergillosis, may be used as adjuvant for aspergillus treatment

fenbendazole, an antiparasitic drug, not recommended for routine use in avian patients as it can be toxic, perhaps fatal in some species, and other antiparasitic drugs are safer and as effective

furosemide, a diuretic, helps remove excess water from tissues, causes increased urination, can be used in treatment of heart failure, fluid build-up in tissues or celoem

G:

gentamicin, an aminoglycoside, can cause deafness and kidney disease, not absorbed orally, used in some eye preparations, can be nebulized or given by injection, not recommended for injectable use as safer, newer aminoglycosides are available

glipizide, an oral agent that can be used in the management of diabetes mellitus

H:

halothane, an older inhalation anesthetic agent, not usually used in avian patients

hydrocortisone, a steroid that should be used with extreme caution in avian patients due to immunosuppression, in some topical agents

haloperidol, an oral medication used for behavior disorders and for frustration-induced feather-picking

hyaluronidase, added to sterile fluids for injection, causes increased rate of absorption of fluids (such as lactated ringers solution) when administered subcutaneously, in some cases, replacing the need for intravenous or intraosseous fluids

I:

itraconazole, an oral antifungal agent used in the treatment of aspergillosis

ivermectin, an antiparasitic drug, can be given orally, injectably, or applied topically, effective for mites, lice (ectoparasites), may not be as effective in eradicating ascarids, other nematodes

insulin, injectable hormone for lowering blood glucose levels in diabetes mellitus, appears to have very short duration of activity in avian patients

isoflurane, an inhalation anesthetic agent that is very safe for use in avian patients

J: just can't find one for J
K:

ketoconazole, for systemic fungal infections including aspergillosis, candidiasis, may cause regurgitation, also may cause adrenal gland suppression, so can be dangerous for use in stressed birds, safer antifungal is available for treating candidiasis (fluconazole)

ketamine, injectable dissociative agent, may be combined with other injectable medications to provide anesthesia

ketoprofen, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agent, for analgesia, arthritis

L:

lincomycin, an oral or injectable antibiotic used for skin infections, pododermatitis, bone infections

leuprolide acetate, a depot drug to prevent ovulation, may be useful for sexually-related feather-picking, for use in reproductive diseases, may be helpful in sexual aggression cases

levothyroxine, treatment for hypothyroidism, obesity, lipomas, however hypothyroidism cannot be diagnosed by just one solitary thyroid test, hypothyroidism is very rare in pet birds, is probably over-diagnosed

M:

metronidazole, an oral or IV injectable bacteriocidal antibiotic/antiprotozoal agent, tablets are very bitter and should not be crushed before use, oral suspension is not available in this country, but can be compounded, treats anaerobic bacteria (such as Clostridium), treats Giardia and other GI protozoal flagellates, seems not as effective in eradicating Giardia as many isolates seem to be resistant now, so for treating Giardia, ronidazole may be a better choice

methylprednisolone, corticosteroid, anti-inflammatory, may predispose a bird to aspergillosis and other mycoses, should be used with extreme caution

metoclopramide, an injectable or oral medication used for gastrointestinal motility disorders (regurgitation, slow crop motility)

N:

nystatin, an oral suspension used to treat candidiasis (yeast infection), medication must contact the organism, so used most often to treat oral or gastrointestinal candidiasis, some isolates of Candida are becoming resistant to nystatin, so it may be used as a carrier for fluconazole (a systemic antifungal agent), any baby bird on an antibiotic should also receive an antifungal agent to prevent secondary candidiasis

O:

oxytocin, a drug for use in humans and mammals that causes uterine contractions and milk letdown, has been used by injection in cases of egg-binding, however, since birds are not mammals, this is not the best, most effective drug to use, but it may help a hen lay an egg in certain cases

P:

prostaglandin E2 (dinoprostone) gel, for use in cases of egg-binding, placed into cloaca, will help deliver an egg (if egg is not too large, there are not any complications, etc.)

prednisone, prednisolone, corticosteroids that are anti-inflammatory, immunosuppressive, may predispose birds to aspergillosis and other fungal infections, should be used only with extreme caution (either orally, topically or injectably)

piperacillin, injectable antibiotic in the penicillin family, good broad-spectrum

penicillin G (procaine), the procaine in this injectable preparation used in small and large animals is very toxic in avian species and should not be used if safer antibiotics are available to treat the condition

phenobarbital, an oral medication that can be used to try to control seizures in avian species, especially in cases of epilepsy

pyrantel pamoate, an oral dewormer that is very safe and effective to remove intestinal roundworms, and other types of intestinal worms (except for tapeworms)

praziquantel, a dewormer that can be used to remove tapeworms and some flukes, can be administered orally or by injection

pyrethrins, topical preparation used to remove lice, mites, stick-tight fleas

Q:

quinacrine, oral medication rarely used to treat malaria (Plasmodium) in avian species

R:

ronidazole, oral antiprotozoal medication, very safe and efficacious for treating giardiasis in avian species (however, not produced for use in the U.S., but is available through companies in this country that import the medication for use in pigeons)

S:

sulfachlorpyridazine, powder antibiotic for susceptible bacterial infections of the gastrointestinal tract, also used to treat coccidiosis

sulfadimethoxine, an oral and injectable medication used to treat coccidiosis (a type of protozoa)

sevoflurane, newer inhalation anesthetic, similar to isoflurane, provides more rapid recovery

T:

tylosin, older antibiotic, used in nebulization, also orally to treat susceptible bacterial infections, also can treat Mycoplasma and Chlamydophila, however not the recommended drug for those infections

trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole (or sulfadizine), oral, injectable bacteriocidal antibiotic combination, used for susceptible organisms

triamcinolone, a corticosteroid often found in topical preparations used for dogs and cats, can be dangerous when used topically in avian species, may predispose to aspergillosis and other fungal infections

tetracycline, an older antibiotic that is bacteriostatic, was used for treating Chlamydophila, Mycoplasma, spirochetes, rickettsiae, aerobic and anaerobic bacteria that are susceptible, also can be used to treat certain protozoal infections

V:

vinegar, can be used in drinking water (apple cider) to treat gastrointestinal yeast infections, also can be applied topically to mucosa of cloaca (everted) to check for evidence of papillomas

vecuronium bromide, can be used to dilate pupils in avian species

vincristine sulfate, treatment for avian lymphosarcoma, possibly leukemia, given intravenously

X:

xylazine, injectable agent used for sedation (seldom used in avian patients)

Y:

yohimbine, used to partially reverse xylazine

Z:

zinc, a metal that can cause weakness, depression, vomiting, diarrhea, increased thirst and urination, found in galvanized metal, some adhesives, some toys, pennies minted after 1982, and more, is associated with feather-picking in some birds, especially cockatoos, can be chelated

This is far from a complete list of medications used in birds, and is not meant to replace veterinary care. Never give your bird medication prescribed for another animal or human. If you have any question about your bird's health, please call your avian veterinarian or schedule an appointment for an examination and lab tests. This information is meant as a reference and guide to help you better understand a medication that was perhaps prescribed by your vet to treat your pet bird.

Cadeusus
Copyright 2006 Margaret A. Wissman, D.V.M., D.A.B.V.P.
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