For those who spend time on the Internet, there has recently been a lot of discussion about using the drug Lupron to treat a variety of bird problems. Some have hailed it as a “miracle” cure, claiming it can cure everything from chronic egg laying (common in cockatiels) to feather destruction to behavioral issues like biting and aggressive behavior. These types of claims require thorough investigation, and in researching this article, I obtained information from the manufacturer, research veterinarians, and veterinarians who pioneered the use of this drug in aviculture, as well as anecdotal information from pet bird owners. This material is intended to educate you so that you may make the best option for your bird and its condition.
What exactly is Lupron? Lupron Depot belongs to a group of medications known as gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) agonists. It is used to reduce the production of specific hormones in the human body, which are natural chemicals that influence the behavior of specific cells. Lupron Depot is used to treat specific conditions in men, women, and children because it can reduce the production of both male and female hormones. The manufacturer conducted no clinical trials on birds and makes it clear that veterinarians are prescribing it ‘off label,’ as is common with most human drugs used on animals.
What are the Conditions that it is Prescribed for? Lupron is used to treat prostate cancer, endometriosis, fibroid tumors, and early puberty in humans. It has been used in birds to treat chronic egg laying and other reproductive issues, as well as behavioral issues such as aggression and feather destructive behaviors.
What are the possible side effects? Lupron has many side effects in humans, including hot flashes (in both men and women), sexual side effects, headaches, increased testosterone production, poor pubertal control, bone pain, bone loss, kidney problems, spinal cord compression, psychological and neurological problems.
Fortunately, none of these side effects have been reported by veterinarians who have prescribed Lupron for the treatment of birds. This is especially relevant owing to the high incidences of bone loss in humans but not in birds. Birds, of course, have hollow bones and the probable loss of bone in birds might be terrible. This worry, however, appears to be not a problem with birds using Lupron. The only negative impact that has been recorded is a slight, short face skin flushing in a Scarlet macaw. Dr. Brian Speer did note that at this time, adverse drug-associated effects with Leuprolide acetate in birds are neither identified or recorded. Veterinarians usually have to utilize medications off-label in non-domestic avian species since there are so few well understood treatments that can be applied to the vast majority of species and age groups of birds that we must offer medical care for. Needless to say, there is some good and some potential harm with off-label usage.
Is Lupron Effective in Reducing Chronic Egg Laying? Chronic egg laying occurs when a hen produces many clutches or clutches that are bigger than usual. This may tire the hen and cause calcium levels to drop dangerously low. Lupron, in conjunction with dietary adjustments, serves to reduce the amount of reproductive hormones, so halting egg formation. Dr. Jim Miliam originally reported on the use of Lupron to suppress egg production in cockatiels some years ago. In addition to Lupron injections, veterinarians Dr. Heather Bowles and Dr. Fern Van Sant stressed the importance of providing appropriate diet, photoperiods (daylight hours), and other environmental changes such as removing ‘nest-like’ or stimulating toys or cage accessories and moving the cage to a new location. According to Dr. Bowles, the Fallston Veterinary Clinic treated 210 birds with reproductive abnormalities and found that therapy improved or corrected the problem in around 83% of the instances. Lupron has also been shown to be effective in the treatment of tumors and cysts. According to Dr. Bowles, therapy may be intermittent or continuous in order to be beneficial.
Dr. Miliam, on the other hand, found a rebound effect in which the birds lay additional eggs after the drug’s impact wore off. “As a GNRH inhibitor, when the medicine is no longer active to suppress the GNRH, there is a rebound of the negative feedback mechanism governing the production of gonadal hormones,” says Dr. Susan Clubb. Dr. Clubb said that she had attempted, with little success, using Lupron to promote egg laying in birds that were not doing so. Dr. Clubb sometimes uses Lupron for reproductive issues to temporarily restrict egg production, but advises owners that the impact is not long lasting.
How Is Lupron Used to Treat Adverse Behavior? It seems to be dependent on the source of the undesired behavior. Lupron and behavioral therapy improved behaviors such as aggressiveness, regurgitation, and improper sexual activity. Dr. Bowles adds that administering Lupron while simultaneously working with a skilled avian behaviorist helps reduce some of these symptoms, allowing the owner to acquire proper handling techniques for their bird. She does emphasize, however, that Lupron is not a “quick cure” and that all owners should be taught how to properly care for their bird. Dr. Brian Speer cautions against using Lupron to address undesired behavior. Although Dr. Speer recognizes that these medications may cause a temporary decrease in behavior, she believes that this “does not address the nature of the messages being received and delivered between bird and owner, and hence cannot be seen as therapeutic in aim or consequence.”
Is Lupron Effective in Treating Feather Damaging Behavior? Again, it is dependent on the source of the feather damage. If illness seems to be hormone-related, numerous vets have had success with Lupron treatment. Dr. Susan E. Orosz, for example, showed effectiveness in reducing feather damaging activity in birds that were simultaneously demonstrating reproductive behaviors. Dr. Kenneth R. Welle advises using Lupron to treat feather damaging behavior in adult birds that are also displaying improper sexual behavior. Dr. Bowles reported a 66% success rate with a combination of Lupron and dietary and environmental modifications in 31 instances with “reproductive hormone” linked feather damage. Dr. Bowles did find, however, that parrotlets did not seem to react well to Lupron in terms of avoiding feather damaging behavior. Dr. Van Sant, on the other hand, claimed to have witnessed an improvement in parrotlets treated with Lupron as well as proper environmental adjustments.
How Long Should Lupron Be Taken? Of course, this should be properly reviewed with your veterinarian; nonetheless, all of the veterinarians questioned agreed that Lupron should be taken on a regular basis to treat certain illnesses. None agreed that birds should be treated with Lupron all year unless there were exceptional circumstances. Dr. Bowles reported treating a budgie with an inoperable ovarian tumor (the owner did not want chemotherapy), and the clinical indicators improved significantly. Also, an African greyhound who developed ovarian cysts on a regular basis, rendering her terribly unwell, but whose heart condition prevents anesthesia and surgery. Lupron may also help to stabilize a bird for surgery by lowering the size and vascularity of the ovaries and oviduct in preparation for removal.
Finally, I hope you found this material beneficial, as I know I learnt a lot while doing the study. To make the best choice for themselves, I think each individual should explore these problems with their personal veterinarian. Remember that regardless of whether the veterinarians contacted for this article advocated the use of Lupron or not, all of them highlighted the significance of having an adequate feed, proper housing, enrichment items, a clean environment, and suitable owner/bird connection.
Dr. Speer emphasized the drug’s high cost (a class action lawsuit is now proceeding against the firm owing to the drug’s price) and indicated that he would love to see the expense of many and recurrent injections re-directed towards primary environmental and behavioral therapy for many birds. Dr. Speer has highlighted concerns about “over usage – principally in that the REAL difficulties, such as pair bond reinforcing, reproductive imprinting, and other issues that need a primary behavioral intervention if genuine success is to be accomplished.” He recognized that Lupron may be a helpful tool, but it is seldom used as the only “therapy” for the resolution of reproductive hormonal disorders.
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