The Four P’s – Part 1

Weird diseases you don't know ...
Weird diseases you don't know [part 1]

This is the first of a five-part series on fatal parrot illnesses. Psittacosis, Polyoma, P.D.D., and P.B.F.D. are the four P’s since they all begin with “P” and are often confused and misinterpreted.

This first section will provide a brief summary of the disorders; the next four sections will go into further detail on each one separately. I’ll look at the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, prevention, and treatment options. Although healthy, well-fed, clean parrots that aren’t exposed to other birds seldom get infections, birds may be contaminated when you get them or be exposed while at the clinic, pet store, bird sitters, bird club meetings, and so on. Parrots are natural concealers of disease; it’s important for survival in the wild, where one unwell bird draws harmful attention to the whole group, placing everyone at risk of predator attack. This tendency persists in parrots in our living rooms, necessitating us being knowledgeable about illnesses and vigilant about our birds’ behavior and looks. In the case of parrots, a “wait and see” attitude to health care may be lethal, as well as dangerous to others.

All of the P’s seem to have several names, which sometimes leads to misunderstanding. Furthermore, the two disorders, which are generally referred to by their acronyms – P.D.D. and P.B.F.D. – are regularly jumbled up and interchanged, despite the fact that they are substantially different.

Because of its causal agent, an intercellular bacterium called “Chlamydia Psittaci,” our first “P” – “Psittacosis” – is also known as “Chlamydiosis.” It’s known as “Ornithosis” in non-parrot bird species. Years ago, the sickness was simply known as “Parrot Fever.” It is one of the few illnesses that may be transmitted between parrots and people. All parrots may get infected with the virus, which is often transmitted by budgies, while it is uncommon in lovebirds. It’s a major worry for imported birds, who are frequently administered the antibiotic Chlortetracycline as a preventative measure while in quarantine. A major cause of illness is filthy aviaries with insufficient hygiene procedures.

The next “P” – “Polyoma” – is a highly contagious viral illness that mostly affects newborn parrots, while it is sometimes transmitted by adults, especially those on insufficient diets and with weakened immune systems. Although all hookbill species are vulnerable, caiques of all ages are more sensitive than other parrots to this sickness. There is a vaccine available to prevent your bird from this potentially fatal sickness. When acquiring a new parrot, inquire if the bird has been vaccinated from the store or breeder. (The more credible ones are starting to do so.)

The third “P” – “P.D.D.” – is sometimes known as “P.P.D.D.” or “P.P.D.S.” Psittacine Proventricular Dilation is the acronym for all of these initials (Disorder, Disease, or Syndrome). It was also called as “Macaw Wasting Disease” because it was initially seen in Macaws, who would quickly lose weight despite ravenous feeding and virtually starve to death. (Because of the similarity to HIV disease in humans, I used to refer to it as “birdie AIDS” to people.) Despite the mention to macaws, all parrots are susceptible to this lethal virus. It is not discussed as frequently as some of the other parrot diseases, but because it is a cruel and insidious killer, you should be aware of it.

The final “P” – “P.B.F.D.” – is frequently confused with P.D.D., but has an entirely different effect on the bird’s body. P.B.F.D. is an abbreviation for “Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease,” which is probably the only name that is self-explanatory! (Sometimes abbreviated as P.B.F.S. – “Syndrome of the Psittacine Beak and Feather.) Originally known as “Cockatoo Syndrome” due to its prevalence in cockatoos (particularly Moluccans), it is now known to infect a wide range of hookbill species. It is a viral infection that affects parrots of all ages. Some birds exhibit no symptoms of illness but are carriers of the disease – yet another reason for annual vet visits, even if the birds appear “healthy” to the naked eye. Fortunately, this virus can (and should) be tested for during your “New Bird” or “Well Bird” exam.

So, four deadly diseases that all begin with the letter “P,” plus a slew of other names and initials and confusion over “Syndromes,” “Disorders,” and “Diseases.” “- but the bottom line is that no matter what name these four diseases are given, they are all fatal. These illnesses can be fatal quickly, or they can take years to rob a parrot of his health and vitality. In other cases, the infection is mild or there are no symptoms of illness, but the bird is a lethal carrier. Improved understanding of the bacteria, as well as reliable tests for early diagnosis and vaccines for some. Unfortunately, no treatment for the viruses is currently available, though catching the bacterial Psittacosis early can sometimes result in a full cure. Early detection of the three viral diseases can help prevent secondary infections and improve overall quality of life, as well as possibly length of life.

In the following four parts, I’ll go into greater detail about each disease to provide a complete picture of what these diseases entail and what you can do to prevent or identify diseases.

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