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Pacheco's Disease

Save your bird from a fast-acting killer virus.

Losing a beloved pet is heartbreaking, especially when it's unexpected. If your bird dies suddenly, Pacheco's disease may be the cause.

Risk Factors and Detection
Pacheco's disease affects psittacines (parrots and parakeets), and only a few susceptible species in a large collection may succumb to an outbreak. Cockatiels; budgerigars; and Amazon, African gray, and Quaker parrots are prone to infection. Conures are more resistant.

Caused by a highly contagious avian herpesvirus, Pacheco's disease strikes quickly with no outward symptoms. Outbreaks usually occur in large bird collections or quarantine facilities, but Pacheco's also haunts pet stores, bird shows, and other aviaries. Stress triggers the condition, which manifests as a fatal liver infection. Birds often die after breeding, visiting bird shows, or undergoing surgery.

Because of the virus's quick attack, your pet may die without warning. A few birds such as macaws can ward off infection briefly but experience lethargy, appetite loss, and yellow-green urates (the liquid part of droppings) a few hours or days before dying.

When you buy a new bird, pick a reputable breeder who maintains a clean facility. Quarantine newly acquired birds for 60 to 90 days before introducing them to other pets. Because the virus spreads through feces and respiratory secretions, it's important to separate cages with plastic or wooden partitions. Keep cages clean and don't stack them.

Maintaining mixed-bird collections is challenging because disease resistance varies among species. Conures may carry and spread Pacheco's but never develop an infection. The best advice: Vaccinate all birds if you frequently introduce newcomers especially imports to your collection. The vaccine can cause severe reactions in some birds, so ask your veterinarian about the risks.

Unfortunately, no treatment exists for Pacheco's disease. However, you can isolate infected birds to prevent disease transmission. If your bird dies, the veterinarian will perform an autopsy to confirm the diagnosis. Once the doctor identifies the virus, you need to act quickly to save the rest of your birds.

The antiviral drug acyclovir can control Pacheco's if administered in the earliest stages of the disease. Birds die before acting sick, so treating all exposed birds is the only way to catch it early. The drawback: You can spread the disease with your hands or equipment as you treat each bird. The more you move and handle your birds or expose them to others, the greater the risk of contamination.

If you suspect an infection in your aviary, consult your veterinarian immediately about your options. Quick action may save your pet's life.