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ABNORMAL DROPPINGS

Like it or not, it's important to take a few minutes each day to check out your pet's poop. (Hey, nobody said owning a bird was for the squeamish.) Droppings can reveal a lot about your bird's health if you know what's normal.

Peek in on your pal so you're familiar with his normal output. The coiled brown or green portion is feces, which travel through the digestive tract. The all-too-familiar watery white or yellow part is urates, the product of your bird's urinary system.

If you notice abnormal droppings, the explanation may be as simple as what your feathered friend ate for dinner last night. For example, if your bird recently indulged in a buffet of fresh fruits or vegetables, don't be alarmed by an increase in urates. Just make sure his droppings return to normal in a day or two.

If you can't account for a change in the color, consistency, or amount of feces or urates, your pet could be battling a disease. Here's what to watch for:

Diarrhea

If your bird produces more poop than normal and his feces appear runny, you can bet he has diarrhea. Another sure sign: a pasty or soiled rear end. The most common cause of diarrhea is intestinal inflammation from a bacterial infection. Other causes of diarrhea include fungal or viral infections, or serious conditions such as tuberculosis, psittacosis, or an intestinal parasite infection.

Color Change

Lime-green feces may indicate liver disease. Less fecal material that's darker or bloody could signal lead poisoning, intestinal obstruction, or tumors. And that's not all yellow-green urates suggest lead poisoning or Pacheco's disease.

Increased Water Intake

Thirsty birds who excrete particularly watery urates are often suffering from kidney disease or diabetes.

If you notice these warning signs, consult a veterinarian right away. A doctor specializing in avian medicine will understand your pet's unique needs and perform a thorough exam. Your veterinarian likely will recommend blood tests to check for liver and kidney disease, diabetes, and parasite infections and a fecal exam to reveal bacteria, yeast, and parasitic invaders. Fecal culture and sensitivity tests can help identify the bacteria and the best antibiotic treatment.

If your veterinarian suspects an infection, such as psittacosis, tuberculosis, or Pacheco's disease, she may recommend specialized blood and DNA analysis. Blood tests also can reveal poisoning, and X-rays can uncover tumors or foreign bodies.

Your bird's speedy recovery depends on early detection and treatment. So take a few minutes to examine those cage liners before you drop them in the trash.