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Avian pediatrics (Proceedings)

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Oct 01, 2008

The pediatric avian patient can present with a wide variety of clinical conditions, many of which are specific to this age group. The purpose of this presentation is to present an overview of pediatric avian medicine including physical examination, diagnostic techniques and the most common clinical problems noted in this age group.

Birds are classified by their maturity level at hatching. Psittacines, passerines and pigeons are altricial, which means they are born naked and helpless with their eyes closed. Chickens, ostriches and waterfowl are born precocial, with down, eyes open, and the ability to walk and feed themselves at hatching. Psittacine neonates are totally dependent on the parent for food and warmth after hatch. Neonate birds lack a functional immune system and because of this are more susceptible to disease. Due to their helpless condition at birth and their increased susceptibility to disease, the conditions in which they are kept and their diet are extremely important to their overall health and survival. A baby bird with a poor start in life may develop clinical problems later in life as a result.

Chicks are either parent raised by their avian parent or a foster avian parent, or hand raised by humans. Most of the larger psittacine species are hand raised now due to the assumption by some that they make better long- term pets. There are advantages and disadvantages with each method of rearing. The health and development of psittacine chicks are dependent on several factors. Genetics, incubation, hatching, nutrition, environmental, developmental and disease factors must all be considered. There are several methods used for raising chicks, which include parent-raised chicks, hand fed chicks and fostering. The advantages of parent-raised birds are that the babies develop faster initially, and have a chance to develop species-specific behaviors, which will possibly make them better breeders. This method of rearing is also ideal for birds intended for reintroduction.

Early problems may not be picked up on in a parent-raised baby due to difficulty in monitoring closely. (Cockatiels, budgies and lovebirds may tolerate daily handling of their babies but larger birds are often more protective). Other problems which may arise are environmental problems in the nest box such as too hot or cold, dirty or damp, or problems with parasites. Hand-raising baby birds allows for increased production of the parent birds and can save sick or abandoned babies from the nest and potentially reduces the transmission of some diseases from parent to chick. This method is labor intensive and there is increased susceptibility to disease when babies are mixed. Also, there is a risk of management disease such as aspiration. Foster parenting involves removing a chick or eggs from the natural parents and placing them with another nesting pair. This can increase productivity and save chicks or eggs that might otherwise have been lost. The fostering parents have to be monitored to acceptance of the new chicks or eggs.

Nursery Management

When evaluating an ill chick, it is essential to evaluate the environmental conditions. The nursery should be separate from the adult bird areas and there should be separate caretakers for the adults and the babies. If the veterinary staff is visiting both the adult and nursery areas then the nursery area should be entered first and should ideally not be re-entered after adult bird exposure. This will minimize the risk of transmission of disease from adult birds to the neonates. Larger psittacines should be housed separately from budgies, cockatiels, lovebirds and conures who carry a higher risk of some diseases. For the most effective disease control, chicks hatched in the nest should be raised separately from chicks incubator hatched. The temperature and humidity should be evaluated and controlled to optimal conditions for the chicks. There may be species variability in the optimal environmental settings.

The temperature and humidity of the nursery area should be evaluated as part of the chick's physical examination process. General temperature guidelines are listed according to age: Newly hatched: 92 to 94 F, Unfeathered: 90 to 92 F, Pin feathered: 85-90 F, Fully feathered: 75-80 F, Weaned: 70 to 75 F.

The breeding and health history of the parents and siblings should be noted. Ask about problems during incubation and hatching. The type of brooder and substrate should be noted. The substrate should absorb moisture, provide good footing, and not cause digestive problems or obstruction if ingested. Discuss feeding and cleaning practices. As part of the history it is important to ask about the quarantine and evaluation of the health of new additions. Most nurseries have constant new bird additions, which increase the risk of disease introduction.

The type of diet fed should be noted, the volume and frequency of feeding, the temperature of the feeding, and the consistency of the formula (percentage of solids). A diet of approximately 25 to 30% solids (70 to 75 % water) should be fed after 1 or 2 days of age. Newly hatched babies should be fed a more dilute formula. The temp of the formula should be between102 and 106 degrees Fahrenheit. Young birds are most likely to have medical problems in the first week of life, at fledging and at weaning.