Let's Celebrate Pet Birds!
T.J. Lafeber D.V.M.

Interpretation of Droppings


Interpretation of Droppings

The bird owner has many good reasons to watch droppings daily. In fact, they are one of the best indicators of the bird's health.

Since birds effectively hide their sicknesses from our view, every means must be taken to recognize signs of sickness in pet birds. Because the droppings provide us with a wealth of information about the bird's health, it behooves us to watch them daily. A bird that develops diarrhea doesn't cause any mess in the house, nor is the diarrhea odoriferous. It is easy for the diarrhea to go unnoticed. If the dog had a similar diarrhea in the house, there is no doubt he would be taken to the veterinarian to have his problem corrected immediately. Likewise, if the dog started urinating in the house or started to wet the area where he slept at night, the owners would be disturbed and would have immediate veterinary care. The bird which is urinating more frequently than usual is fortunate to have his master even notice it. Urinary and intestinal problems could go on for weeks or months without the owner suspecting that something is wrong. Possibly the dog owner who takes his pet to the veterinarian for diarrhea may be more concerned about the mess in the house than the animal's health. With the bird, we don't even have a situation that irritates the household.

The bird depends upon a concerned owner and is much more dependent upon a giving master than the dog or cat is.

With reasonable awareness, information can be gleaned about the following.

Volume of Food Ingested
Because the bird's digestive system is short and efficient, the food which he eats today is passed through the intestinal tract today. Therefore, the fecal portion of the droppings reflects the quantity of food that he has eaten that specific day. The bird who fills his crop in the morning will pass feces all day even though eating no more until evening. The overnight droppings relate to the evening feeding.

A sick bird that consumes only half his regular volume of food will immediately decrease his droppings to half the normal volume. This same sick bird might be drinking an increased amount of water and thus passing more urine (white urates and water urine). Thus, there could be just as many droppings, but of urine content not fecal material.

Functioning of the Digestive System
The normal fecal elimination from the bowel has a green to black color, a finely granular texture, and carries the shape of the intestinal tract. Many factors have an influence on this description. Departure from the standard norm occurs primarily with the type of food in the diet.

Even when functioning normally, the feces will be eliminated in different colors, depending upon-the rate of passage through the intestinal tract, the type of food ingested, and the amount of water it contains. Bulky food, such as greens, passes through more rapidly and makes a green, soft stool. More concentrated foods make a drier, darker stool.

Problems of abnormal function may include:

  • Whole seeds passing in the droppings
  • The droppings becoming a light color
  • The feces changing to a coarser texture
  • Large bulky droppings

Other problems of abnormal function would require laboratory tests for their detection.

In general, when the digestive system is not functioning properly, food is not being digested. The effect is the same as if the bird were not eating sufficient amounts of food. This, in effect, would cause an increased hunger and a weight loss. Some of these birds may be eating twice as much as usual and still be losing weight.

Abnormalities of the Intestinal Tract
Before attempting to evaluate droppings for abnormalities, a person should know normals. As a variation in size and consistency occurs between healthy birds, a normal should be established for each individual. This would best be done at the time the bird is purchased, as it will also serve to confirm the bird's health at that time. The stool has a range of shapes and colors according to the food ingested. In the course of 24 hours, some stools will be passed that appear unnatural, but the majority conform to the standard. This type of happening occurs and should not cause alarm. It the majority of the droppings lack their normal shape, an intestinal tract problem exists. The presence of irregular droppings warns of a problem but does not tell the cause of the problem. The following list of items should be considered:

  • INFECTIONS - virus, bacteria, yeast, fungus
  • DIET- moldy foods, decomposed foods, toxic foods, foods irritating to the intestinal tract
  • PROBLEMS THAT AFFECT OTHER PARTS OF THE BODY- may secondarily cause diarrhea: hepatitis, nephritis, pancreatitis

The following irregularities may be seen in the droppings of birds with intestinal tract problems:

Droppings - As Involving the Urinary System
The kidneys serve a vital role in establishing and controlling the water balance of the body. The normal kidney, then, has the responsibility of maintaining the body at a rather static water level. In one 24-hour period, the kidneys could pass quantities of fluid urine and also pass very concentrated urine. The assumption could be made that these are normal kidneys. If they were abnormal, they would lose their ability to fluctuate between very concentrated urine and a very dilute urine.

Urine passes from the kidneys as white crystals of uric acid and as watery urine. Most birds pass both forms of urine under normal conditions. When water is in short supply, birds have the ability of conserving their own body water, and urinate solid urine as white uric acid crystals. When a bird drinks more or eats food with a high water content, he passes more watery urine.

Depending upon a bird's eating habits, some birds have a yellow pigment in their blood that is passed through the kidneys and is recognized in the dropping as yellow urates. These yellow colored urates may give some cause for concern, as about the same color develops if a bird is becoming jaundiced. If a person notices these yellow urates and the bird is not perfectly healthy, the bird should be examined by a veterinarian to determine it the bird has hepatitis.

Droppings and the Reproductive System
The cloaca of the female bird about to lay eggs will enlarge to be able to accept the egg from the vagina. The enlarged cloaca will be noticed by the size of the droppings that are passed. The droppings can become many times their normal size, but have every other characteristic of a normal dropping.

Should red blood be noted in the droppings, care should be taken in deciding if it is related to the intestinal tract, urinary tract, the cloaca, or possibly, the female system. In many cases, a retained egg in the uterus and vagina will cause bleeding. The important point to remember is that blood in the droppings can indicate trouble in other areas than the intestine and a proper diagnosis is hurriedly needed.

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