Caring for the Bird with Avian Bornaviral Ganglioneuritis or Avian Ganglioneuritis (PDD) By Jeannine Miesle, M.A., M. Ed.
Academic researcher in the field of avian medicine. Allied Professional Member of the Association of Avian Veterinarians, Lafebervet.com, IVIS, and administrator of “The Science of Avian Health” Facebook group.
Avian Bornaviral Ganglioneuritis (ABG) and Avian Ganglioneuritis (AG) present with the same symptoms and have the same treatment. The only difference is that with AG, no virus is present. It is a gastrointestinal illness caused by something other than the Bornavirus, perhaps a bacterial infection. But the treatment and medications are the same. See the paper, “Understanding Avian Bornaviral Ganglioneuritis and Avian Ganglioneuritis” for a full explanation of this disease and the treatments.
- Every bird and every species is different; what works for one bird may not work for another.
- The dietary restrictions are meant to be implemented during a flare—a time during which the bird is actively showing clinical symptoms. However, many birds need to be kept on this diet all the time since some foods will trigger a relapse.
- After the bird has recovered, the normal diet may be gradually reintroduced and reevaluated. Foods must be tailored to the individual bird according to species and the bird’s disease process.
- If a food triggers regurgitation, remove it from the diet.
- Most of the foods mentioned may be good sources of nutrition, but they may also exacerbate the impaired digestive tract’s function.
- The suggestions presented here are flexible, and each person should take into account his or her own bird’s preferences and reactions.
What foods should I avoid?
- Liquid dairy products, including yogurt (solid cheese OK) because birds are unable to digest lactose. This goes for all birds.
- Fried foods–particularly breaded items
- Fatty foods—undesirable, even for healthy birds.
- Pork and bacon. Beef, however, provides much-needed protein and may be offered if tolerated. Shaved thin
- Seeds, whole seeds—may be offered when bird is not in a flare
- Fruits with seeds
- Spicy foods—keep foods bland
- Corn and other high-fiber vegetables. Although corn and other fibrous foods are an excellent energy source and usually improve digestive tract function and prevent impaction, some birds are not able to tolerate them during a flare.
What foods may I offer?
- Rice, rice bread, rice noodles
- Finely shredded cheese. This is a good source of protein and energy if tolerated.
- Fork-mashed or whipped white or yams/sweet potatoes. Offer only the soft, inner portion of the potatoes, avoiding the fibrous parts and peel.
- Canned pumpkin, sweet potato
- Cooked pasta, preferably rice pasta—more digestible than wheat, with a little broth or sprinkled with plain breadcrumbs
- Couscous, with a small amount of canola oil
- Applesauce, banana, cooked fruits, fresh or frozen peas (frozen, not canned )
- Dark greens; light greens have little nutritional value, but might stimulate the appetite.
- Small pieces of toast with a little canola oil or margarine when bird is better
- Simple bird bread recipes
- Steamed peas, cooked mashed carrots, and fresh green beans (removed from the pod)
- Vegetables the bird can tolerate. No raw foods; everything should be gently cooked or steamed.
- Boiled, shredded white meat of chicken or turkey.
- Sugar-free cereals such as bran flakes, corn flakes, Chex® cereals, Total, or Cheerios® can be offered dry or moistened with a little non-dairy milk such as rice or almond milk.
- Small amounts of fruit, such as cooked apple, banana, peaches, or pears. No peels, cores, pits or seeds (for all birds, anytime).
- Hard-boiled or scrambled egg for protein. Use canola oil instead of margarine and water or rice milk instead of cow’s milk
- Lafeber’s® Emeraid Omnivore and Carnivore Critical Care formula is easily digestible and provides an excellent supplement for the bird when it is symptomatic. They are elemental, meaning they are hydrolyzed and go directly into the bloodstream.
- Emeraid supplies needed nutrition at a time when the bird is unable to digest foods normally.
- Emeraid may be syringed into the bird when he is regurgitating or even when he’s not, or put in his food when he’s not regurgitating. It is available through your avian veterinarian.
- Lafeber’s® Nutri-berries and Avi-cakes, either whole or broken into small pieces, depending on the bird’s tolerance. These are an excellent source of essential Omega-3 fatty acids and may be purchased at pet stores.
- Lafeber® also offers Nutri-An Cakes for Recovery and Nutritional Support for larger birds. This product is available through your avian veterinarian.
- Reintroduce normal foods gradually, one at a time, and monitor how the bird handles each food item. Keep track of all foods tolerated and not tolerated.
- Remove pellets from the diet. The bird may or may not be able to digest them. If pellets are regurgitated, drop them from the diet. Pellets are unnecessary in the diet of any bird.
- If any food results in regurgitation, on a consistent basis, eliminate it until the bird improves.
- All foods need to be given in very small pieces and in small amounts, no matter what the size of the bird. Cutting foods into very small pieces will allow for faster transit through the digestive tract.
- Allow time for the food to be digested before offering more; there is a danger of bacterial or fungal growth in the crop if the food remains there too long.
- Remove soft foods when the bird is finished. Allowing them to stay encourages bacterial growth in the food.
- Once the bird is no longer regurgitating, medicines may be placed in a small amount of a soft food that you know the bird will consume. Otherwise, they need to be given by oral syringe.
- Monitor food intake carefully. Incorrect food choices may trigger an attack. Even birds showing only neurological signs need to be on this diet since chances are very good that they too have enlarged gastrointestinal organs and some digestive tract impairment. Sooner or later, these birds will develop gastrointestinal signs and the proventriculus enlarges. And birds with only GI signs will eventually develop neurological signs.
- Offer meals after periods of rest, not activity. The bird should not be fed when it is screaming or excited.
- Allow your bird a period of rest after each feeding.
- Try to keep the bird’s head up during and after feeding; some birds regurgitate more when their heads are lowered.
- Do not allow the bird to chew on towels or fabrics; these may stimulate regurgitation or create blockages within the digestive tract. This goes for all birds, all the time.
Monitoring the ABG (PDD) bird
- Work closely with the avian veterinarian to manage birds with clinical Avian Bornaviral Ganglioneuritis (PDD)or Avian Ganglioneuritis.
- Proper medical management can minimize or even eliminate the clinical signs of disease in affected birds and help to maintain your bird’s quality of life and extend his life span.
What to take with you to your avian veterinarian’s office:
- Bring a fresh stool sample to the veterinarian’s office in case your bird is not able to defecate there for Gram’s stain analysis
- Place waxed paper on the floor of the cage to collect the fresh droppings and transport them in a plastic bag containing a moistened paper towel to prevent drying.
- Keep a daily journal documenting:
- All medications, supplements, frequency and dosages given
- The bird’s behavior and level of activity
- Food and liquids consumed–which are tolerated and which are not
- Nature and severity of the clinical signs observed
- Daily body weight, obtained at the same time each day—need a gram scale
- Characteristics of the bird’s droppings, fecal urates and urine
- Note changes in color of droppings and any undigested foodstuffs and record these.
- Review these records with your avian veterinarian on a regular basis.
Take the important points and concerns from your journal to the vet’s office. Highlight any changes you’ve noticed.
- Birds suffering from ABG (PDD) and AG need more rest than healthy individuals.
- They need 12 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night with frequent rest periods during the day.
- An afternoon nap of 2-3 hours is recommended. Possible schedule: Up at 8:00, nap from 12:00 to 2:00 or 3:00, to bed around 7:00.
- Establish a daily routine, alternating brief periods of exercise or play with feedings and periods of rest.
- Stress can exacerbate the signs of this disease, so a quiet environment is essential. Soft, quiet music helps the bird remain calm
- For some birds, it takes very little to start a flare. Observe your bird constantly for signs of neurological or GI signs. When not in a flare, keep to these recommendations to hopefully prevent one.
- Birds need to release pent-up energy. It helps to prevent aggressive behavior and extreme vocalization, like screaming.
- Play floor games, such as rolling and chasing a plastic ball or tennis ball.
- Walk around the house with the bird in front or behind you.
- Take the bird outside for fresh air and sunshine. Harnesses will allow some flight.
- Keep the ambient temperature around the cage relatively warm since ABG (PDD) and AG birds chill easily since most are underweight
- If the bird is having trouble perching, place perches and food/water close to the floor of the cage.
- Use a large bin if the bird is falling off perches. Line with towels and place food and water crocks and toys in the bin. Cover the top with framed screening if you are concerned he will fly out. Or use the floor of the cage and block access to the perches and ways to climb up.
- ABG (PDD) and AG birds are also more sensitive to environmental stimuli, exhibiting a strong startle reflex to sensory stimuli. Therefore, take measures to reduce environmental stress by keeping the bird’s surroundings quiet, calm, and secure. These can be triggers for a relapse: new people in the house, absence of the primary caregiver for long periods of time, sudden noises, falls, and anything out of the ordinary. Introduce new things gradually. /li>
- Although the ABG (PDD) bird can benefit from reassurance and extra attention, the owner should continue to set boundaries for his companion parrot.
- Signs of illness can wax and wane, and there may be an increase in negative behaviors such as screaming, biting, or even feather-destructive behavior.
- Some of these hypersensitive and over-reactive birds benefit from psychotropic medications.
Although Avian Bornaviral Ganglioneuritis is a fatal disease when untreated, it need not be considered fatal in all affected birds. Some birds may throw off the virus; however, most birds will have it the rest of their lives. In many patients it is a manageable, chronic condition. With the right medications (contained in the paper, “Understanding Avian Bornaviral Ganglioneuritis and Avian Ganglioneuritis,” these birds can live a relatively normal and extended life.
Careful management will help minimize clinical signs and extend the quality and longevity of life in affected birds. I may be contacted at Miesle.firstname.lastname@example.org or through The Science of Avian Health Facebook group.
The author is indebted to Dr. Robert Dahlhausen (Avian and Exotic Medical Center, Milford, OH) for his advice and support on this paper.
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