(Note: This is the fourth of a five-part series on avian illnesses; Part 1 covered Psittacosis, Polyoma, PPD, and PBFD.) For those who missed Part 1, I’ll be repeating certain details as a review of each ailment in the subsequent installments.)
Talk about perplexing! This menacing acronym can’t even agree on which letters to use!! I initially heard of it as P.D.D. – Proventricular Dilation Disorder (or Disease), but I later saw it labeled as “P.P.D.” – Psittacine Proventricular Dilation – sometimes with a “D” for Disorder or Disease or a “S” for Syndrome (Syndrome). Whatever the letters, this is a terrifying condition that causes excruciating pain and, in many cases, death. (For the purpose of convenience, I’ll call this article “P.P.D.” This one makes me very nervous since there is no effective diagnostic test (on a live bird), immunization to prevent it, or therapy for it. Furthermore, it seems to alter and adapt continually, escaping academics in their attempts to detect and comprehend it.
It was initially recognized in the 1970s as “Macaw Wasting Disease,” since the imported Blue and Gold Macaws who were first detected with it would physically waste away and die, regardless of how much food they devoured. Although it’s potential to degrade the body reminds me of A.I.D.S., it has nothing to do with H.I.V. Although it has been detected in all hookbills, as well as canaries, finches, geese, and other bird species, it is not transmissible to humans.
This illness affects the proventriculis, or glandular stomach of birds, however it is predominantly a nervous system infection rather than a gastrointestinal one. P.P.D. is an enclosed virus, which means it doesn’t live well outside the body, but it’s still a formidable foe!! Many parrot sites make minimal mention of this condition, which I believe is because the virus is so elusive and little known. It does not seem to be easily transmissible, yet many birds may stay unaffected carriers for years. The typical incubation time for clinical symptoms seems to be 3 – 6 months, while other studies believe the condition might take years to develop. Aside from Dr. Branson Ritchie’s outstanding work, others, such as Dr. Jack Gaskin of the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, are working hard on the challenging virus. According to Dr. Gaskin, “issues include researchers’ inability to reliably recover the virus, replicate it, and then generate sickness with it.”
When attempting to identify and diagnose P.P.D. in live birds, crop or ventriculus examination may or may not find the virus. An electron microscope examination of feces may reveal viral particles, however it is also not a trustworthy diagnostic. The only fully accurate viral test occurs after death, during necropsy. The most accurate diagnostic technique is an examination of brain material from deceased birds (sad to say).
In terms of symptoms, birds often leave undigested seeds in their droppings. Birds may also regurgitate or vomit. Weight reduction is often evident (another good reason to weigh birds on a gram scale regularly). Abdominal edema may result from G.I. tract dilation. Some birds can have convulsions or muscle weakness, which can lead to paralysis. It often begins with the legs and progresses to the wings. Infected newborns may struggle to wean or relapse to “baby begging.” You may observe crop slowdown and secondary issues, such as bacterial or yeast infections in the crop. A radiographic examination may reveal an enlarged proventriculus. Birds may consume far more food and drink than usual. Droppings are often huge and foul-smelling. If the crop is biopsied, a large blood vessel containing a nerve ganglion must be included in order to see the characteristic P.P.D. lesions. Crop biopsies are generally not regarded as an effective diagnostic tool for determining P.P.D.
P.P.D. can also be difficult to prevent due to a lack of adequate diagnostic tests. A healthy bird can serve as a carrier for months. As with most diseases, strict hygiene and proper nutrition and care go a long way toward prevention. It appears that some birds are immune to this infection and can fight it off. Infected birds require complete isolation and quarantine, as well as supportive care for secondary infections and the best possible diet rich in calories, proteins, and vitamins. The good news is that this virus does not appear to be highly transmissible between birds. Remember that this virus is unpredictable and behaves differently than others. To catch any signs early, monitor all bird droppings daily and weight on a weekly (or at least monthly) basis. Please stay informed about this terrifying disease and donate generously to the dedicated researchers working to understand and combat this dreadful virus!
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