Case Study: Birds and Subclinical Illness

Subclinical Illness

In my workshop on Sunday, I discussed subclinical illness, which is the natural tendency of certain animals, birds included, to hide signs of illness until their bodies can no longer handle the stress.

Juliet: Case in Point

Case in point for the day is my geriatric parakeet, Juliet.

Juliet is somewhere around 12 (old for a rescued, seed-fed ‘keet), has difficulty getting around due to a broken leg that didn’t properly heal, and plucks her feathers. She’s not much to look at, but she is spunky and by far my best flier. Despite her issues, I’d noticed a few out-of-the-ordinary things in her behavior:

  1. Runny droppings
  2. Odd swallowing behavior – she seemed to be having difficulty
  3. Increased fluid intake

Otherwise, she seemed fine – flying, vocalizing, fighting with Regina Coeli, my other budgie, and just being a ‘keet. In addition, before I left today for the vet (Chicago Exotics Animal Hospital), her poops became a little more solid, and I didn’t notice the odd swallowing. So I was thinking that it was silly to take her to the vet.

However, after discussing the symptoms with Dr. Grabowski, we came up with causes that could possibly explain some of the symptoms:

  1. Breeding behavior
  2. Diet change
  3. Environmental change
  4. Major organ failure

My behavioral observations were confirmed by a throat swab, which revealed bacteria and yeast. So she and Regina are both on meds (antibiotics, antifungal, and probiotics).

Veterinary Roulette and the Avian Vet Solution

Many times, treating birds is like Russian roulette – you just take your best guess – or as Gail Damerow says in the Chicken Health Handbook: “Veterinarians arrive at a probable diagnosis (otherwise known as an educated guess) in part by considering the accumulation of symptoms” (1994, 151).

I’m content to know that my birds are under the care of the avian vets at Chicago Exotics – considering subclinical illness, an educated guess from an avian vet is the best you can get! To paraphrase Leonard McCoy in Star Trek IV, I feel safer about their guesses than most other people’s facts.

(And there, I’ve incorporated Star Trek into my blog!)

3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Louise B. on April 29, 2010 at 4:00 pm

    It’s a great day when you can incorporate Star Trek into anything. I’m glad to hear there is a place in Chicago that can treat exotic birds. I hope Juliet gets better soon!


  2. Posted by Lesley W on May 3, 2010 at 3:19 am

    I think you have a calling in the avian medical world. Great observation! I would never have known there was such expertise in the windy city. Glad you found the right source.

    We had a similar experience with our iguana (R. I. P.) But now he “boldly goes, where no lizard has gone before!”

    Now, in the words of Spock, may Juliet “live long and prosper.”


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