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AVIAN POX

Crusty, weeping blisters and relentless itching - sounds like the chicken pox, right? While a herpes virus causes chicken pox in humans, a pox virus causes avian pox in our feathered friends. Species-specific viruses infect birds and cause canary pox, parrot pox, mynah pox and others.

Risk Factors and Detection

Since wild birds and mosquitoes transmit this disease, canaries kept in outdoor aviaries and wild-caught imported parrots are at higher risk. Avian pox appears in a wet and dry form. The wet form creates oozing, blister-like lesions in the mouth and trachea and on the eyelids. This form is more dangerous because mouth pain or impaired vision may stop your pet from eating her food. And if the disease invades the trachea, inflammation and discharge can obstruct the airway and suffocate your pet.

The dry form creates firm, scabbing tumor-like nodules around the mouth and feet. These can become open infected sores, but they generally resolve in four to six weeks.

If you notice crusty blisters on your bird, consult your veterinarian right away. The doctor will perform a thorough physical exam and ask about your pet's habitat and whether she was captive born or wild caught. The doctor can confirm the diagnosis by taking a tissue or fluid sample.

Prevention and Treatment

Remember, the pox virus typically affects the wild bird population. So if you purchase a captive-born bird and keep her indoors, her risk of infection is low. There is a vaccination for canary pox, so keep your canary's shots current if she lives outdoors. And screen outdoor enclosures to keep disease-carrying mosquitoes out.

Avian pox frequently affects imported birds that are quarantined before they're sold. This stressful environment allows the virus to quickly spread, so you may want to avoid wild-caught birds.

Unfortunately, there's no effective antiviral drug for this disease. And surgically removing nodules won't cure your pet either - these bothersome bumps just grow back.

Secondary bacterial and fungal infections can develop in your pet's sores, but early diagnosis helps head off these problems and speeds recovery. Your pet's doctor may recommend supportive care, such as intravenous fluid therapy and tube feeding if your pet loses her appetite. Clear your pet's eyes of crusty debris to keep her comfortable. She's more likely to eat if she can see the tasty treats you offer up.

Prognosis

Pets with the dry form of avian pox normally survive with minimal permanent damage and most ulcerated nodules heal in four to six weeks. But the wet form may cause respiratory damage and some pets may die. If wet lesions affect only the mouth and eyes, the doctor can nurse your pet with intensive supportive therapy until the virus disappears.