The Phantom Disease

Macaw Wasting Disease, NGD, PDD, and now formally Psittacine Proventricular Dilation Syndrome, or PPDS for short, are all names for this condition. It’s a sneaky virus that’s been found in over 50 different parrot species, although it tends to favor Macaws, Nanday Conures, African Greys, Cockatoos, and Cockatiels. I get what you’re thinking: it couldn’t happen here. My bird just completed his yearly examination with flying colors. He’s in wonderful health. You should reconsider. PPDS may remain latent and completely undetected for up to 5 years after exposure. There are currently no antemortem diagnostics that can positively identify it. I strongly advise you to continue reading…..

To comprehend what PPDS is and what it accomplishes, it is necessary to first comprehend the digestive system of a parrot. Humans use their teeth to rip and chew their food. Food is combined with saliva in the mouth when this is happening. It then goes down our throat to the stomach, where it is broken down by gastric acids and crushed by muscle action. It next passes into the small intestines, where any beneficial compounds are absorbed for use by the body. Whatever remains is subsequently transported to the large intestine to be prepared for elimination as waste.

The digestive process in parrots is roughly the same, except that their system integrates more’specialized’ organs along the way. The meal is torn, shred, or hulled by the beak and then sent down the cervical esophagus, where it is combined with mucus. This mucus performs the same job as our saliva. It travels from the cervical esophagus into the crop, which acts as a holding chamber. It is combined with additional mucus in the crop to begin breaking down part of the carbs, after which it goes down the thoracic esophagus to the proventriculcus, or fore-stomach, where it is mixed with gastric acids. After being blended, it travels via the isthmus into the ventriculus, or gizzard, where it is crushed by muscular action. It then passes through the intestines.

All of these processes are brought about, monitored, and controlled by intricate nerve plexuses in both systems. Consider the digestive organs to be a vast mechanical machine, with the nerve plexuses serving as its control panel.
Enter the PPDS virus now. It targets the central nervous system, primarily the nerve plexuses that govern digestion. The system becomes dysfunctional, resulting in organ damage. In summary, no matter how much he eats, the parrot starves to death. PPDS, like Aids in humans, allows all kind of secondary infections and illnesses to take root. The parrot is often killed by them before it has a chance to starve to death. The bottom line is that, with very few exceptions, death is unavoidable.

We now have a better understanding of what PPDS is and what it does thanks to the tireless efforts of researchers like Dr. Branson Ritchie and the Psittacine Disease Research Group team at the University of Georgia in the United States, Dr. Michael Taylor and the team at the University of Guelph in Canada, and Dr. Richard Gough and the Avian Virology Diagnostic Unit in the United Kingdom. However, considerable work remains to be done. The virus itself has proven evasive in diseased parrots. Its existence can only be determined via postmortem inspection of the unmistakable damage to the organs. The virus mimics several different illnesses, making diagnosis challenging. Secondary infections or disorders often conceal their existence. Symptoms of parrot problems range from abnormally quiet to vomiting to convulsions, and any combination in between.

Although the virus is contagious, it seems to be selective. While one aviary may be entirely destroyed by it, another may just have one instance. It is yet unclear how the virus spreads from one host to another. Both male and female parrots are at danger, however adults are more affected than youngsters. As I previously said, it seems to like killing Macaws, Nanday Conures, African Greys, Cockatoos, and Cockatiels in particular. The interval between exposure and onset of symptoms varies; it might be days, weeks, months, or even years. The interval between onset of symptoms and death varies as well. It might take years for some, months for others, and hours for yet others.

There is no vaccination to protect against it, no test to identify it, and no cure. It is, indeed, a phantom sickness. However, Dr. Ritchie and his colleagues are optimistic that we will soon have a test to positively identify it. Once the virus has been detected and disclosed, the next stage will be to hopefully eradicate it once and for all. However, in order to assist our parrots, these people need our assistance. It costs money to do research, and university funds can only go so far. Every year, The Challenge, officially known as The Grey Poopon Challenge, provides critical funding for Dr. Ritchie’s ongoing research. If you live in Canada, please contact The Canadian Parrot Symposium to see how you can assist. If you live in the United Kingdom, contact the UK Parrot Society. As it was often stated, if we all do a little, we can accomplish a lot.

Please assist in any manner you can. We can fight this beast together, and that tiny feathered fluff ball on your shoulder will be there for a long time to thank you.

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