Seizures in Pet Birds
Index of Bird Diseases ... Symptoms and Potential Causes ... Bird Species and Diseases They are Most Susceptible to
- Seizures may be mild to severe, partial or generalized, frequent or infrequent; and may involve twitching, paddling or convulsing.
- A bird may present a sudden, temporary loss of consciousness and control of motor function
- It may appear disoriented and unable to perch.
- During a seizure, a bird may vocalize, lose consciousness, fall off its perch, flap its wings uncontrollably and stiffen its body.
- A bird may lose consciousness, vocalize and flap its wings uncontrollably.
- A partial seizure is characterized by a continuous twitching of a wing or leg.
Fortunately, many birds will recover from a seizure and slowly regain their ability to control their movements and perch.
- Heavy Metal Poisoning (often lead or zinc poisoning) - common in pet birds that chew on inappropriate items. Possible symptoms: green or bloody diarrhea, vomiting, depression, gastrointestinal stasis, intermittent lethargy, seizures, dysphagia, ataxia, increased thirst and urination, loss of balance, dehydration, weightloss, feather picking, and - if left untreated - death.
- Toxic Foods / Plants
- Tobacco Exposure to pesticides can lead to nonspecific signs of poisoning, including gastro- intestinal problems, tremors, weakness, dyspnea, seizures or sudden death. Birds are especially susceptible to environmental toxins. (Non-toxic insect / pest control)
Nutrition / Malnutrition:
- Dehydration - once a bird is properly hydrated, the seizures usually stop. If not corrected, dehydration will lead to death. Note: the cause of the dehydration needs to be found, unless it obvious (lack of water). Often a dehydrated bird is suffering from an infection or some disease that causes the dehydration.
- Low blood sugar. Possible symptoms: Increase in thirst and urination; weakness, collapse, seizures. Please refer to diabetes in birds.
- Vitamin A Deficiency
- Calcium / Vitamin D Deficiency: African Greys are known to be susceptible to Calcium deficiency, which leads to seizures and/or leg paralysis, sudden collapse or fainting. Although the pathogenesis is not clearly understood, it appears as though these birds are unable to mobilize their body calcium stores.
- The most common health problems associated with vitamin D deficiency are: weakened immune systems / susceptibility to diseases, soft bones, bent keels, splayed legs, abnormal beak development, reproductive problems (egg binding, soft-shell eggs, dying chicks) as well as seizures and, to a lesser extend, Stargazing (twisted back)
- In areas where access to natural sunlight is limited (such as in the northern hemisphere during the winter months), full-spectrum lamps can be used to provide UVA and UVB rays.
- Natural food sources rich in Vitamin D - Supplementation needs to be carefully screened and supervised by a vet since an excess of vitamin D (in the form of a supplement) causes kidney damage and retards growth.
- Trauma / Accident / Brain Damage
- Stress: Some birds (particularly budgies) are susceptible to "stress seizures" - also referred to as " cardiac racing syndrome" - and most of the time, they will come right out of it once they calm down. For birds that easily stress out, a stress-free environment should be created as much as possible, before any major change, some homeopathic remedy (like the Rescue Remedy for Pets) might be indicated to help a pet deal with stresses.
- Infectious diseases that may have neurological symptoms:
- Avian Bornaviral Ganglioneuritis (PDD) Birds may show neurological signs (seizures, falling off perches, etc.).
- Aspergillosis / Aflatoxins: Possible symptoms: nasal discharge, weight loss, diarrhea, flakey or delaminating beak, unstructured or frayed feathers, black-edged feathers on the outside of the wings, extreme itchiness, neurological problems (including seizures)
- West Nile Virus (WNV): Only suspect if this disease has been identified in your area. This virus is transmitted by mosquitoes. (Effectively and safely controlling mosquitoes)
Common symptoms: acute death, clinical signs involving the nervous system (seizures, uncoordination, weight loss, diarrhea, intention tremors, difficulty walking or enteritis), or the infection may be unapparent. Infected birds can die or recover spontaneously (with or without supportive care).
- Brain tumor
- End-stage liver disease: Toxins build up in the bloodstream, resulting in central nervous systems signs, such as disorientation or seizures
- Hyperthermia / Heat exposure - An overheated bird will begin panting, and with panting, will also begin getting dehydrated. If the bird's body temperature rises high enough, it will suffer a seizure and die.
- Metabolic diseases (hypocalcaemia, hyperglycemia)
- Vitamin D / Calcium Deficiency caused by a malfunctioning uropygial gland can result in seizures, as the uropygial or oil gland produces vitamin D3 precursors that are spread into the feathers as the birds preen themselves. Upon exposure to ultraviolet light, the precursors will be converted to active D3, which will then be ingested when the birds preen themselves again. Therefore, it is important to also make sure that the gland is working properly.
The bird should be placed in a quiet dark box and taken to a veterinarian immediately. They will need supportive care, including a warm, quiet, safe environment, fluids, nutritional support, antibiotics (whenever appropriate) and anticonvulsants. Diazepam (valium) is used to temporarily stop the seizures.
Blood tests will be taken to try to determine the cause of the seizure. Antibiotics, fluids and glucose may be administered to stabilize the bird.
A baseline complete blood count and chemistry (CBC) will reveal whether anemia, inflammation or infection is present. Blood chemistries provide an indication of liver and kidney function and the electrolyte status of the patient. The vet may test for certain infectious diseases, such as chlamydia, polyoma and proventricular dilatation (PDD).
If the cause of the seizures can be found, treatment is generally directed specifically towards correcting the underlying problem. Lead and zinc toxicity, for example, may be treated by chelating drugs and removal (if possible) of the lead or zinc particles.
Vets who are presented with African Grey exhibiting neurological signs / seizures may presumptively treat him or her with intravenous calcium gluconate as well as with diazepam.
Hypocalcaemia may be treated by supplying calcium and vitamin D3 and correcting the deficient diet.
Metabolic problems should be corrected whenever possible. If hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) is present, glucose / dextroxe should be provided to normalize blood sugar. Liver disease, if present, should be treated.
A radiograph may demonstrate the presence of metallic densities in the gastrointestinal tract. Although one cannot rule out the presence of lead or zinc toxicity if no metallic densities are present. Finding them lends support to the possibility of heavy metal poisoning as the cause of the seizures. Definitive diagnosis is based upon the presence of toxic levels of lead and zinc in the blood.
Birds that are found to have epilepsy may be maintained on Phenobarbital to control and, hopefully, eliminate their seizures.
At Home Care
While bird is experiencing periodic seizures, it is best to keep the patient in a smaller cage to prevent injuries when he or she is falling during a seizure. It's also a good idea to cover the floor in and around the cage with some soft padding to further cushion a bird's fall.
Remove any items in your pet's environment that could possibly be causing poisoning (i.e., zinc and lead, any aerosol sprays, toxic cleaning, deodorizing products, etc. etc.)
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