Bird Droppings

Question:

I am confused about my lovebird's droppings. In many books, there are descriptions of normal parakeet droppings and that a change in the droppings can signify disease. Is the same true for lovebird (and other species of bird) droppings, as well? Sometimes, my lovebird's droppings are more watery than usual, and a friend who raised birds has told me that when that happens I should stop giving greens, which cause diarrhea. Please help me to understand more about my bird's health. Thank you.

Answer:

Yours is a good question! Every bird owner should have a thorough understanding of what constitutes normal droppings. Plus, it is important that owners closely observe their own birds' droppings in order to get a good idea of what is normal for their own individual birds. You are correct in stating that changes in droppings can be serious, but that depends on the kinds of changes that are observed.

A normal bird dropping has three separate components. However, since the bird passes a dropping out of one orifice, the vent, all three portions of the dropping are mixed in the cloaca before being evacuated from the body. The first portion is called the feces, which is solid and worm-like, and may be dark green in color (usually in seed-eaters), or brown (usually in pellet-consuming birds.) Feces may be other colors, as well, depending on what the bird has recently consumed. For example, certain berries will cause the feces to take on the color of the fruits ingested. It can be alarming if droppings suddenly appear reddish in color, as this may be interpreted as blood, so it is important that owners keep track of what their bird is consuming, so that color changes can be correctly evaluated. If a bird doesn't eat any solid food for about 24 hours, the fecal portion of the droppings will become dark, dark green (that is almost black) and very sticky and tarry. This is often mistaken for digested blood in the droppings, but it is actually a type of bile (biliverdin) from the liver.

If the feces portion is not formed, this is called diarrhea. Often, a dropping may have an increase in the urine portion, resulting in a very wet dropping, but the fecal portion will still be formed. This situation is often mistakenly called diarrhea, but it is not. If the feces portion is still solid, no matter how much urine there is in the dropping, then this is not diarrhea. Free water (urine) around the feces is evidence of increased urine in the dropping, not diarrhea. Be sure to check fresh droppings, as with time, the feces may absorb some urine, giving the false impression of diarrhea. If the brown or green solid fecal portion is not formed, or is very watery, then this is correctly called diarrhea. In some cases of diarrhea, there may be gas bubbles in the feces.

The next portion of the droppings is called the urates. Urates are off-white, cream colored or slightly yellowish, and are opaque. Urates are the result of digestion and metabolism of proteins in the bird's system. They are removed through the kidneys. Green or yellow stained urates may be found in the clinically ill avian patient with liver disease. Green urates can also be found in birds that are actively suffering from infection with Chlamydophila. If you notice a change in the color of a bird's urates, you should bring this to your avian vet's attention.

The third portion of a bird's dropping is the urine. This is the watery waste from the kidneys. There will be varying amounts of liquid urine in a dropping depending on the amount of water ingested. For example, a bird that is consuming a lot of fruits and vegetables (with high water content) will urinate more than a bird that is just eating dry pellets. Of course, a bird should always have access to fresh, clean drinking water, and it is best delivered by the use of a water bottle to prevent bacterial contamination from fecal matter and foods dunked in the water bowl.

Many people falsely conclude that feeding small birds (such as budgies, lovebirds and cockatiels) greens or fruits will cause diarrhea. The higher water content in the fruits and vegetables will cause a bird to urinate more, which is often mistaken for diarrhea. Many birds, when nervous (such as during a trip to the veterinary office) will urinate more, due to higher than normal blood pressure. This is to be expected. So, for an avian veterinarian to best assess normal droppings, on the day of your office visit, it is better to place fresh, clean papers in the bottom of the cage first thing in the morning, and do not change them prior to the visit. It is possible for a bird to urinate without passing the other portions of a dropping at the same time. A bird may also pass urates and urine independent of feces.

To best evaluate your bird's droppings, I recommend using paper towels, brown butcher paper or newspaper on the bottom of the cage. This makes it simple to view droppings. While other types of cage lining material are available, they may make viewing droppings more difficult.

There can be many changes in the volume, size, color, consistency or frequency of droppings. Any changes that persist should be reported to your avian veterinarian. Blood in the urine can indicate lead poisoning, especially in Amazon parrots, or may rarely indicate a kidney infection. Diarrhea can be caused by pathogenic bacteria in the intestinal tract, certain viruses, toxins or protozoal infections. Roundworms can also cause diarrhea or impaction, and eggs are infrequently passed in droppings, making diagnosis difficult by routine testing methods. Increased urine can be caused by increased thirst, consuming more fruits and vegetables, certain infections, certain metabolic diseases or stress.

Depending on what abnormalities are found in a dropping, an avian veterinarian will perform appropriate diagnostic tests. It is possible to perform a urinalysis on bird urine, which can be collected from droppings passed on wax paper under the cage. While the dipstick information is not as valuable, since the urine is mixed in the cloaca with urates and fecal material, microscopic examination of the urine sediment can be very helpful diagnostically. Fecal Gram's stains can be performed, and cultures may be helpful, as well. Special tests for protozoal infections can be sent to specialty labs. Blood tests, radiographs, serology, DNA PCR tests, toxicology, special stains and other tests may be necessary.

As a pet bird owner, one of the best ways that you can help your bird is by frequently evaluating droppings. Changes in droppings can often be the first, subtle sign that something is amiss. By catching any illness early before the bird becomes clinically ill, you'll have the best chance in correcting a problem before it becomes life-threatening. It is also a very good idea to purchase a good quality scale that can weigh your bird in grams (not ounces) and to utilize that scale to monitor your bird's weight weekly. Any changes of more than a few grams should be an indication that it is time to contact your avian veterinarian. These two simple steps can provide you with valuable information about your bird's general health.

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