Proventricular Dilatation Syndrome (Macaw Wasting Disease)

Don't let this mysterious condition catch up with your bird.

This baffling disease is progressive and almost always fatal. Proventricular dilatation syndrome (PDS) occurs when a section of the stomach, or proventriculus, stops secreting digestive enzymes.

Young macaws and cockatoos are at higher risk for developing PDS, but parrots and parakeets of any age can also be affected. Most experts believe a virus initiates PDS, but they haven't identified the exact cause.

Risk Factors and Detection
PDS infiltrates stomach nerves, impairing proventricular function and prolonging the time it takes your bird to fully digest his food. Early signs include lameness, drooping wings, head tilt, and incoordination. Birds will exhibit these neurological symptoms before owners notice digestive problems.

As the disease progresses, the entire intestinal tract retains gas and fluids, and your bird may pass undigested seeds, lose weight, and begin regurgitating.

If you notice any of these signs, bring your pet to the veterinarian immediately, and don't tidy up his cage beforehand. The doctor will want to examine cage materials, droppings, and toys, and will also ask about potential exposure to objects containing the toxins lead or zinc, which can cause similar symptoms.

Next, your veterinarian will culture and examine a sample of your pet's stomach contents, take X-rays, and draw blood to check for bacterial or fungal infections and exposure to poison. An enlarged, gas-filled stomach often points to PDS especially if your bird doesn't respond to treatments for other disorders. Your veterinarian may take a biopsy of the proventriculus to confirm the diagnosis.

Prevention and Treatment
Because scientists can't point to an exact cause, you can't protect your bird from PDS. Your best chances are still common-sense preventive measures to keep pets as healthy as possible: Quarantine all new birds for 60 to 90 days, provide adequate nutrition, change soiled papers daily, disinfect cages weekly, and prevent overcrowding in the cage.

Veterinarians can't offer an effective treatment, but they can recommend steps to keep your pet as comfortable as possible. Your bird will need intravenous fluids, frequent tube feedings, and antibiotic and antifungal medications to guard against secondary infections. Some birds find temporary relief when they receive medication that increases intestinal movement. Your pet also will need to be kept in strict isolation from other birds.

With proper supportive care, some affected birds survive for months or years, but none recover from this disease. Ultimately, PDS progresses to the point where the patient becomes too emaciated and weak to continue treatment. Euthanasia may be the most humane alternative for your precious pet. On a positive note, other birds who have been exposed to your sick pet may not be affected.