Psittacine Handrearing Problems, Causes and Solutions
By: Susan L. Clubb, DVM, Dip ABVP, Avian Practice
P.O. Box 508
Loxahatchee, Fl 33470
USA

Success in handrearing psittacine birds requires good management, cleanliness, good nutrition, and attention to signs of problems so that they may be corrected quickly. Commercial handrearing formulas, brooders and other equipment have taken much of the trial and error out of handrearing, however adherence to proper use of these products is needed for success. The art of proper husbandry is still needed for chicks to thrive.

Recognition of problems, evaluation of clinical signs, and trouble shooting can help to differentiate problems of a medical nature from husbandry related problems. The following table was created in order to simplify this process and help aviculturists know when they need to see a veterinarian for evaluation and treatment of a neonate.

While some aviculturists elect to handrear large numbers of birds routinely, others prefer to handrear only birds which are ill or have been abused or abandoned by the parents. Keep in mind that these problem chicks are beginning in a compromised state and therefore a routine exam including cultures and possibly examination for parasites is indicated prior to the bird entering the nursery. Viral diseases may also be introduced into the nursery with the addition of parent raised birds. Some aviculturists maintain these birds separate from their chicks which are raised from the egg or have been in the nursery for a while and are stable.

This table is set up as a checklist of possible problems that should be considered in birds exhibiting a particular clinical sign. The clinical sign, or symptom, is listed followed by a differential diagnostics list, diagnostic suggestions or courses of action. To reduce repetition the reader will be referred to other sections of the table as a reference. An index follows for easy location of information. Index of clinical signs

1. Crop doesn't empty
2. Crop emptying too fast
3. Chicks is not growing
4. Chick is vomiting
5. Chick won't eat
6. Chick begs excessively
7. Chick is too thin
8. Stunting ˝ Failure to thrive
9. Chick is too fat
10. Chick is pale
11. Chick's skin is too red
12. Skin is dry
13. Beak is malformed
14. Splay leg
15. Crooked toes
16. Crooked neck/back
17. Chick won't sit up
18. Chick lays on its back
19. Chick throws itÝs head over back
20. Bloody bedding
21. Dark (Wine colored) stains on bedding
22. Chick eats bedding
23. Chick swallows tube
24. Food pasted to chicks face
25. Abdominal distention
26. Can't open mouth
27. Lesions in mouth
28. Crop feels thick and doughy
29. Dark lines visible on abdomen
30. Swelling/scab at Umbilicus
31. Red Mass, Intestine protruding from rectum
32. Toes swollen or constricted
33. Eyes swollen
34. Eyes fail to open at proper time
35. Ears full of white material
36. Delayed feather emergence
37. Feathers malformed
38. Indented lesions on beak
39. Bloody lesions inside mouth
40. Swelling/discoloration of head, neck and crop
41. Ballooning of skin
42. Air in crop
43. Diarrhea
44. Polyuria
45. Nasal Discharge
46. Labored breathing, panting
47. Hemorrhage when feather pulled
48. Death

1. CROP DOESN'T EMPTY
A. Infection
1. Etiologic Diagnostics
Bacterial infection
Culture & Sensitivity - Choanal, Crop, cloacal
Check Water/food sources for contamination
Gram Stain - fecal cytology
Chlamydial Testing
Virus screening
Polyoma
Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease
Proventricular Dilatation Disease
Eastern Equine Encephalitis Virus (USA)
Herpes virus (Pacheco╣s Parrot Disease)
Parasitic
Fecal direct smear, floatation
Specialized antigen detection tests
Giardia
Cryptosporidia
Trichomonas
Hexamita
Roundworms (Other helminths)
Mycotic
Culture, Gram Stain
Candidia Aspergillus
2. General Diagnostics
Complete Blood Count
Plasma Protein Electrophoresis
Blood Chemistries
Radiographs
Endoscopy
Fecal direct and floatation
Fecal and crop cytology or gram stains
Crop cytology and direct smears

B. GUT STASIS DUE TO SYSTEMIC DISEASE
1. Infection - See 1A
Review Husbandry
Blood Chemistries (liver or kidney disease)
Kidney Disease
Liver Disease
Congenital Malformation

C. Overfeeding
Review feeding schedule
Feed approximately 10% of body weight/ feeding
Some species feed up to 15% of body weight
Feeding too often, allow crop to almost completely empty prior to next feeding

D. Food or chick too cold
Review Husbandry
Check brooder temperature
Room temperature fluctuations
Check temperature of formula
Excessive ventilation ˝ fan

E. Chick too hot
Review husbandry
Check brooder and room temperature
Check brooder ventilation
Too many chicks in confined area
Chick ready to reduce temperature

F. Chick dehydrated
Check hydration by skin turgor
Hematocrit
Review husbandry
Brooder temperature and humidity
Brooder ventilation excessive
Improper mixing of formula (See 1F)

G. Too high percent solids of formula
Check mixing consistency of current formula (weight of dry formula/weight of mixed formula X 100 + % solids)
Make sure % solids offered is appropriate for age
Check mixing characteristics of batch of formula
(Always check each new batch for mixing as it varies)

H. Crop atony - Crop stretched due to overfeeding
Use crop support - Crop Bra
Flush crop as needed
Feed smaller quantities more often

I. Foreign body consumption, impaction
Review type bedding material
Palpate crop for foreign bodies
Surgical or manual removal
Digestive enzymes to help dissolve bedding
Radiography with contrast (Barium)

J. Fermentation of food in crop ˝ sour crop
Flush crop as needed to remove old food
Reflux of acid from proventriculus
Souring of food because in crop too long
Bacterial or Fungal infection (See 1A)

K. Intussussception, volvulus

L. Some individual chicks, and some species, never completely empty and to withhold food in these chicks will result in stunting due to inadequate caloric intake.

2. CROP EMPTYING TOO FAST
A. Hypermotile intestine - Diarrhea Infection (See 1A)
B. Too low percent solids ˝ ( See 1F)
C. Inadequate food volume
Review feeding schedule
Feed more often
Feed approximately 10% of body weight in food each feeding (Most formulas weight approx. 1 gram/ml)
D. Older chicks may empty rapidly and be normal and well nourished

3. CHICK IS NOT GROWING
A. Infection (See A1)
B. Environmental or dietary contamination
Review Husbandry Practices
Check water quality
C. Malnutrition
Diet inappropriate for species; check recommendation for the species
Improper mixing of formula (See 1G)
D. Inadequate food intake
Inadequate feeding frequency or volume (Review recommendations)
E. Chick too cold (See 1D)
F. Chick too hot (See 1E)
G. Congenital abnormality
H. Incubation related problem
Review incubation techniques and records
Review history of egg and chick
Eliminate other possibilities
I. Parasitism (See 1A)

4. CHICK VOMITING
A. Normal crop shrinkage at weaning
Has chick reached peak weight? A normal chick will begin to refuse food or throw up small quantities of formula after a feeding as it begins to wean.
Reduce volume fed by amount vomited (if small percentage)
B. Food is too hot or too cold
Check temperature of food by thermometer or on your skin. Some species (African Greys) like the food hotter than others do.
C. Overfeeding ˝ Obese chick
Evaluate chicks weight (palpate)
Reduce feeding frequency or volume for obese chicks
Obesity can lead to fatty liver degeneration
D. Infection (See 1A)
E. Gout - Kidney Disease
Diagnostics
Blood Uric Acid, phosphorus levels
Urinalysis Complete Blood count (CBC)
Dehydration may result in kidney damage
Look for dehydration and subcutaneous irate
Subcutaneous urate deposits
Malnutrition
Excessive Vitamin D3 or mineral supplementation
Too high percent solids (See 1G)
Toxins
Alfatoxins, vomitoxins
Clostridium endotoxins
Heavy metals
Congenital malformation
Developmental abnormalities ˝ Incubation related?
Genetic abnormalities
Idiopathic
D. Vitamin D3 toxicity
Check with manufacturer
Do not add supplemental vitamins to commercial formulas
F. Polyoma Viral Infection
Test for polyoma virus antibody, DNA or shedding of organism
G. Foreign body ingestion (See 1I)
H. Food Allergy - Not well documented in birds Try changing diet

5. CHICK WON'T EAT
A. Food too hot or cold
Check temperature and mixing procedures
Food sitting too long before feeding
B. Overfeeding ˝ Chick is obese (See K9)
C. Chick stressed or frightened
Observe behavior
If bird was recently removed from nest skip meals to allow bird to become hungry
Evaluate handling procedures
May occur after a stressful event such as shipping. Let the chick get hungry. Don't force it to eat.
D. Chick is ready to wean Reduce feeding as bird weans
E. Lock Jaw
Bordetella infection (or other bacteria possible)
Bacterial culture - choana
F. Chick doesn't like the taste of the food
Add sweeteners or flavors to food if other options exhausted
G. Blindness
Chick, which should be weaned and is not eating, may have a visual problem.

6. CHICK BEGS EXCESSIVELY
A. Malnutrition
Review dietary recommendations for species
Inadequate protein/fat levels in diet
B. Inadequate feeding volume or frequency
C. Too low % solids
D. Chick too cold
E. Kidney Disease- Gout (see 4E)
F. Continuous light ˝ too long daylight hours
Provide at least 12 hours darkness
Heating with light bulbs
Darken brooders, rooms, and lights out at night
G. Chick spoiled
Some chicks such as cockatoos are easily spoiled
May need to refrain from handling between feedings in order to wean bird
H. Too high dietary protein?
I. Infection (see 1A)

7. CHICK TOO THIN
A. Malnutrition
B. Inadequate food volume
C. Inadequate feeding frequency
D. Infection (See 1A)
E. Too low percent solids (See 1F)
F. Stunting (See 8)

8. STUNTING - FAILURE TO THRIVE
A. Malnutrition
B. Inadequate caloric intake
Too low percent solids
Inadequate feeding frequency
Inadequate time span between first and last feeding of the day
C. Infection (See A1)
D. Temperature too low or high
E. Environmental contamination resulting in repeated infections
Water Contamination
Poor utensil or hand hygiene
Poor food hygiene or storage
Air borne contaminants
F. Congenital problems
G. Incubation problems, weak hatch
Temperature too high
Temperature too low
Malposition
Humidity too high
Humidity too low
Vibration
Inadequate or excessive turning
Egg Trauma
H. Genetic incompatibility of parents
I. Toxicity Disinfectants ˝ excessive use or too toxic
Impurities or excessive minerals in the water (excessive chlorine)
Additives to formula
Excessive vitamins or minerals
Additives high in salts

9. CHICK TOO FAT A. Food too high in calories for species
Review dietary recommendations for the species
Some species such as Moluccan cockatoos (Cacatua moluccensis) have a tendency to become obese.
B. Excessive volume of frequency of feeding for species and age
C. Fatty Liver
May occur in obese chicks and can be fatal
D. May confuse with ascites (See 25 )

10. CHICK PALE
A. Too cold
B. Anemia
Malnutrition
Stunting
C. Sudden blood loss
Bleeding toes or wing tips (See 20 )
Internal hemorrhage
Polyoma virus infection
D. Intestinal hemorrhage
Intussussception
Cryptosporidium
Clostridium infection
Bacterial enteritis
Starvation
Polyoma virus infection
E. Hepatic Hematoma
Traumatic Handling, especially lifting with hands putting pressure on liver.
Dropping or other blunt trauma
Nutritional predisposition?
F. Chick in shock
Terminal stages of many diseases
Toxicity
G. Some species (ie Umbrella cockatoo ˝ Cacatua alba) normally look pale in comparison to other species

11. CHICK'S SKIN IS TOO RED
A. Too hot
B. Infection ˝ Sepsis (See 1A)
C. Dehydration (See 1F )
D. Inadequate subcutaneous fat. Can see muscles through the skin (See 8 )

12. DRY SKIN
A. Dehydration (See 1F )
B. Low environmental humidity
C. Excessive brooder ventilation
D. Low dietary fat
E. Often seen in normal chicks of some species such as Eclectus, Alisterus, Psittacula
F. Drying bedding, such as wood shavings, paper toweling Dry skin of feet in lories may result in malformation of toes May contribute to constricted toes in Eclectus, Psittacus, Aras. Adding water to shavings to moisten feet will alleviate Adding saline moistened toweling under bedding helps alleviate constricted toes

13. BEAK MALFORMED
A. Developmental
Lateral Deviation Malformation of upper beak in macaws is often associated with irregularities in occlusal surface of lower beak and can often be corrected by trimming and physical therapy. Underbite Malformation of upper beak in cockatoos often corrected by trimming and physical therapy Advanced or severe cases may require correction by acrylic orthodontic device
B. Congenital abnormality
Review history of siblings, genetic problem possible but probably uncommon Review incubation history
C. Improper handling
Review feeding and cleaning techniques which may contribute to malformations
D. Injury
Siblings
Parents
Handfeeders
Injury on wire or cages or other environmental hazards
E. Malnutrition
Improper calcium/phosphorus ratio in diet
Excess calcium supplementation resulting in phosphorus deficiency
Vitamin A or Vitamin D deficiency
Improper formulation of diet
Excessive supplementation with vegetables containing oxalates
Diet too old, stored improperly
Diet was overheated in shipment, storage or cooking
F. Idiopathic developmental

14. SPLAY LEG
A. Congenital abnormality
B. Inadequate bedding ˝ slippery surfaces in housing
Toweling or paper toweling too smooth or tight woven
Feeding surface smooth and slick
Particulate bedding too shallow
C. Parents sitting too tightly
D. Injury
Fracture
Contracted tendons ˝ hyper extension of knee
Rotational deformity of femur
Luxation of knee, usually turns medially
E. Chick too fat - can't get legs close enough together for good footing (See 9 )
F. Malnutrition
Improper calcium/phosphorus ratio especially for parent reared chicks
Vitamin D3 deficiency
G. Premature closure of lateral growth plate of proximal tibiotarsus
Radiography
Cautery of growth plate
Hobbling or splinting

15. CROOKED TOES
A. Congenital/developmental
B. Improper calcium/phosphorus ratio (See 13 E )
C. Standing on hard flat surfaces
Nails of third toes are often rotated laterally
More common in heavy birds such a Cacatua moluccensis - Use deeper bedding, trim toenails, earlier perching available
D. Dry skin on feet
Dry, desiccating bedding such as wood chips may cause drying of skin of feet and constrictions that cause deformities of developing feet ˝ especially in lories (see 12 F ) A measured quantity of water can be added to shavings to prevent this problem.

16. CROOKED NECK/BACK (SCOLIOSIS)
A. Congenital/developmental
B. Improper calcium/phosphorus ratio (See 13 E)
C. Injury Falling Improper lifting
D. Inadequate nutrition of parents resulting in calcium deficient egg

17. CHICK WONT SIT UP
A. Normal posture at various stages of development for some species
B. Injury ˝ Fracture (See 14 D )
C. Inappropriate bedding ˝ slippery
D. Fear ˝ Stress (See 5 C )
Spinal deformity ˝ scoliosis (See 16)

18. CHICK LAYS ON BACK
A. Normal or common behavior in some species (Very young Poicephalus or Psittacus ˝ Older Aras)
Behavior response to sound, approach, stimulus ˝ protective behavior
B. Fear response especially in older chicks, especially if removed from nest too late (See 5 C) C. Neurological problem ˝ congenital/developmental or toxicity

19. CHICK THROWS HEAD OVER BACK
A. Crooked neck - Scoliosis (See 16)
B. Neurological problem
C. Hyperflexion of neck muscles, tetany Often good response to neck splints, massage, calcium supplementation
D. Improper calcium/phosphorus ratio

20. BLOODY BEDDING
A. Abrasion of skin of feet or wing tips
Paper toweling too abrasive
Apply bandages to toes or feet
Provide softer bedding
Increase environmental humidity or saline soaked toweling below bedding
Hyperactive chick - treading continually in container (See 6)
B. Blood in stool Intussussecption
C. Injury ˝ examine chick
D. Polyoma Virus infection
Often bleed excessively from very minor injuries such as pulling a blood feather (See 1A and 47)

21. DARK (WINE COLORED) STAINS ON BEDDING
A. Normal metabolite in urine of some species (Pionus, Amazons, Psittacus)
B. Natural Betacarotines in foods such as yellow corn
C. Supplemental betacarotines
D. Reaction of unknown substances (perhaps iodine based) with starches in paper toweling
E. Possible photoreactive pigments
F. Possible reaction to oxygen (Rusting of iron metabolites)

22. CHICK EATS BEDDING
A. May be associated with malnutrition
B. Inappropriate bedding
C. Inadequate feeding - hunger
D. Ready to wean ˝ playing with objects in enclosure

23. CHICK SWALLOWS TUBE
A. Tube too short
B. Tube easily slips off syringe

24. FOOD PASTED TO CHICKS FACE
A. Sloppy feeding ˝ Slow dribbling of food
Learn rapid feeding techniques
Train chicks to readily accept feedings
B. Inadequate cleanliness of chicks
C. Chick regurgitating on itself or cage mates
D. Formula too adhesive to feathers ˝ modern formulas flake off easily when dry
E. Dirty environment ˝ clean more frequently

25. ABDOMINAL DISTENTION
A. Normal in parent raised chicks ˝ Due to high percent solids and particulate nature of food fed by parents the ventriculus is often very prominent
B. Chick too fat (See 9 )
C. Liver enlarged
Infection (See 1A )
Congential malformation
Fatty Liver
D. Ascites ˝ Fluid accumulation in abdomen
Congenital heart defect
Congenital liver circulation defect
Low blood protein
E. Viral Serositis ˝ Eastern Equine Encephalitis Virus infection
F. Proventricular Dilatation Disease
G. Cloacal atresia in hatchling ˝ cant defecate
Pass a very small swab into the cloaca to make sure it is patent
H. Constipation ˝ Pasted vent
I. Intestinal stasis

26. CAN'T OPEN MOUTH
A. Lock Jaw
Bordetella (a bacteria) infection
Other bacteria may also be involved such as Enterococcus
Culture and sensitivity testing
B. Fear or stress ˝ May be associated with pulling from nest or rough handling

27. LESIONS IN MOUTH
A. Candidiasis
B. Bacterial stomatitis
C. Vitamin A deficiency
D. Pox Virus infection
E. Bite wounds from siblings
F. Trichomoniasis
G. Pharyngeal puncture

28. CROP FEELS THICK AND DOUGHY
A. Candidiasis
B. Dehydration ˝ Chick utilizes fluids and food remains in crop
C. Crop Stasis
D. Too high percent solids
E. Trauma ˝ crop/pharyngeal puncture

29. DARK LINES VISIBLE ON ABDOMEN
A. Dark intestinal contents (often hemorrhagic) (See 10 D )
B. Infection ( See 1 A )
C. Starvation ˝ gut stasis
D. Often normal appearance of intestines in newly hatched chick

30. SWELLING/SCAB AT UMBILICUS
A. Poor umbilical seal
B. Infection
C. Normal umbilical scab of neonate ˝ drops off when 3-10 days old

31. RED MASS, INTESTINE PROTRUDING FROM RECTUM
A. Intussussception - Telescoping of one section of the intestine into another ˝ usually fatal if intestinal segment is seen protruding from rectum
B. Cloacal prolapse ˝ Distinguishable from intussusceptions on physical exam

32. TOES SWOLLEN OR CONSTRICTED
A. Twine threads wrapped around digits
B. Constricted toe syndrome
May be associated with desiccation, low environmental humidity (See 12 )
Surgical repair ˝ See your veterinarian
Can result in loss of toes if not corrected
Idiopathic

33. EYES SWOLLEN
A. Infection
B. Foreign body
C. Stunted ˝ eyes appear prominent
D. Congenital deformity with prominent anterior chamber ˝ lutino ringneck (Psittacula krameri) E. Lacrimal sac infection ˝ abscessation - see veterinarian
F. Sinusitis

34. EYES FAIL TO OPEN AT PROPER TIME
A. Stunting (See 8)
B. Lids sealed ˝ low environmental humidity
C. Congenital abnormality
Arts of lids
Micro-ophthalmia

35. EARS FULL OF WHITE MATERIAL
A. Stunting ˝ small ear opening especially common in stunted macaws (See 8 )
B. Infection ˝ bacterial, fungal
C. Neotropical psittacines ears are not open at hatching and open at approximately the same time as the eyes
D. Vitamin A deficiency

36. DELAYED FEATHER EMERGENCE
A. Stunting (See 8)
B. Malnutrition
C. Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease
D. Polyoma virus infection
E. Temperature too high?

37. FEATHERS MALFORMED
A. Malnutrition
B. Unknown nutritional/metabolic problem
C. Photoperiod too long
D. Low environmental humidity- drying of the tips of feather sheaths of pin feathers
E. Feather Fungus
F. Infectious
Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease
Polyoma virus infection
G. Trauma to the emerging pin feathers ˝ especially secondary flight feathers

38. INDENTED LESIONS ON BEAK
A. Bites from cage mates
B. Beak tip caught in cage wire
C. Beak too soft ˝ improper calcium/phosphorus ratio (See 13 E )

39. BLOODY LESIONS INSIDE MOUTH
A. Bite wounds from siblings
B. Pharyngeal puncture

40. SWELLING/ DISCOLORATION OF HEAD, NECK AND CROP
A. Bite wounds from siblings
B. Pharyngeal or esophageal punctures
Emergency ˝ requires immediate surgical intervention
C. Crop burns
D. Subcutaneous emphysema
Leakage of air under skin from airsacs
Usually associated with trauma

41. BALLOONING OF SKIN (AIR UNDER SKIN)
A. Subcutaneous emphysema
B. Distention of cervicocephalic airsac
C. Air-gulping
Swallowing of air during or after feeding
Potentiated by dribble feeding
Fermentation of food in the crop producing gas

42. AIR IN CROP
A. Air-gulping
B. Slow feeding, swallowing air with food
C. Forcing air into crop with syringe and/or tube feeding
D. Fermentation of food in the crop

43. DIARRHEA
A. Infection (see A1)
B. Parasitism ˝ Protozoa/worms (See 1A )
C. Contamination of food or water
D. Excessive dietary protein for age or species
E. Malnutrition
F. Intussusception
G. Intestinal hemorrhage-Starvation (See 10 D)
H. Excessive dietary milk products - Lactose intolerance
I. Excessive insoluble fiber in diet
J. Excessive vegetable or fruits in diet
K. Abrupt change in diet ˝ make dietary changes gradually
L. Food allergy

44. POLYURIA
A. Low percent solids (See 1G )
B. Vitamin D toxicity
C. Congenital/ developmental kidney disease (See 4E )
D. Polyoma virus infection
E. Too high dietary mineral content
F. Diabetes ˝ Blood profile

45. NASAL DISCHARGE
A. Chick is too cold
B. Infection (See A1)
C . Sinusitis
C. Foreign body in nostrils
D. Vitamin A deficiency
E. Choanal atresia
F. Aspiration of food
Food aspirated into lungs
Food aspirated in nostrils/sinuses
G. Dusty Environment
Check air-conditioner filters
Check brooder filters, fans
Particulate matter in room such as from bedding materials ˝ don't empty tubs of bedding inside the building
Low environmental humidity˝ respiratory tissues become dry and irritated
H. Allergies?

46. LABORED BREATHING, PANTING
A. Aspiration of food ˝ aspiration pneumonia
B. Chick too hot
C. Infection ˝pneumonia
D. Ascites ˝ abdominal distention (See 25 )
E. Obesity (see 9)
F. Abdominal pain

47. HEMORRHAGE WHEN FEATHER PULLED
A. Polyoma virus infection ˝ possibly other severe systemic infections
B. Possible vitamin K deficiency

48. DEATH
Don't guess. Have your veterinarian perform a necropsy. Necropsy is a vital diagnostic tool for flock management.