Avian Foot Chewing, Stomping, and Mutilation: The elusive cause (in our case): Avian Herpes Virus!

By Deborah Morningstar, [email protected]
Index of Bird Diseases ... Symptoms and Potential Causes ... Bird Species and Diseases They are Most Susceptible to

Cockatoo with foot stomping and chewing disease progression


cockatoo with foot chewing symptoms

Symptoms

Our beloved 22 year-old Cockatoo, Ananda, suddenly began stomping and chewing his feet eight months ago.  Thus began a long, frustrating and frantic odyssey to discover the cause, as the chewing got progressively worse and worse.  Pretty soon he had a bunch of holes chewed into his feet with no end in sight.  Previous to this, he had been a great pet with no behavioral problems.

He had a complete physical, blood tests and every other kind of test run at the Exotic Bird Hospital.  Ananda was in excellent health, didn’t even need antibiotics, and they couldn’t find anything wrong with him except a marginally low thyroid.   So, that vet gave him an antihistamine (Diphenhydramine) for allergies, an anti-inflammatory (Meloxicam) for his inflamed feet and legs and thyroid medication and Silver Sulfadine crème to rub onto the open wounds. 

After weeks of this, It was pretty much of a disaster.  Ananda lost almost 100 grams of weight (1/7 of his body weight), and he didn’t stop chewing his feet.  On the advice of that vet, we finally removed him from all medication because of the extreme weight loss.  He was in and out of a collar, and we had to feed him with baby food. 

I suspected everything as the possible cause, maybe hormones or gout or food allergies or environmental toxins.  I put him on a restricted diet, and systematically removed perches, nest box litter, toys, etc. for weeks, all to no avail.   We gave him Bee Pollen and Red Palm Oil and more, and I kept Golden Seal Powder all over his feet to prevent any infection.  Golden Seal worked great for preventing infections, but it didn’t stop the chewing.  We were distraught.  Finally, just as he was about to chew his toes off, we discovered the problem!

Cockatoo suffering from a Herpes infection


Cockatoo Foot ChewingDiagnosis

It is Avian Herpes Virus in Ananda’s case.

When we got the right medications, the problem abated miraculously in several days, and Ananda is now healing rapidly. 

The Avian Vet who wrote these prescriptions, Dr. Kitty Remington, had witnessed Herpes Virus devastate an entire flock of Amazons and had noticed that some of the Amazons chewed their feet.  Therefore, she thought Herpes Virus might be a possibility in Ananda’s case as well. 

We did not have time to run the proper tests or do a biopsy, because Ananda was destroying his feet and was in great pain.  We decided on an immediate “field test” of her theory and she wrote a prescription for oral Acyclovir.  The prescription was filled at a local compounding pharmacy, and Ananda was somewhat improved by the next day!   However, after 4 days he was only partially improved with the oral Acyclovir.  It wasn’t until the prescription for a topical Acyclovir 5% crème (which is rubbed directly on the feet) was added on the 4th day that he showed amazing improvement!

I am also wondering if this may be a cause for feather-picking in some cases.

Here are the prescriptions that were written by Dr. Remington:   If you want to try this on your bird, check with your Avian Vet and do this under your vet’s supervision.  This may or may not work for your bird.

(Ananda weighed 605 grams at the time these prescriptions were written);  


Treatment Plan

Here are the prescriptions:  (*Ananda weighed 605 grams at the time these were written);

Acyclovir 5% Ointment (similar to Zovirex) rubbed directly on the feet 4 – 5 times a day.  This ointment turned out to be the MOST IMPORTANT PART of the treatment.  Ananda got relief right away.

 Acyclovir 100mg/ml Suspension, Oral dose .48 ML 3 times a day for 14 days.  This takes much longer to work because birds don’t have much blood circulation in the feet, but it’s important to treat from the inside as well.

Golden Seal Powder (it has antibiotic properties) sprinkled in the open wounds. 

Gabapentin 6mg/0.25ml, oral dose 0.25 ML every 12 hours for pain.  However, the Acyclovir 5% Ointment works so quickly that you can possibly do without this one.

These dosages were compounded at Stewart's Pharmacy in Tallahassee, FL 850-216-1021. It is MUCH CHEAPER to get Stewart's or some other compounding pharmacy make them for you than to buy the brand names at the regular pharmacy.

Since this is a Herpes Virus, I do not think that we have "Cured" it with the above medications. Apparently, we have at least beat the Virus into submission for now. I simply don't know how long it may be before Ananda has another outbreak, if ever. Please be on the lookout for any future outbreak in your bird. It will probably show up at first as foot stomping or the feet suddenly becoming very hot. That's how Ananda's started originally. If there is a next time for Ananda, I will apply the Acyclovir ointment immediately, and I feel pretty sure that a future episode can be prevented before it becomes a major problem.

Information about the collar:

During this ordeal, Ananda was in and out of the collar (pictured above) several times.  We tried to take him out of it again yesterday since his feet are no longer hurting him.  As it turns out, we were over-optimistic and it was premature because he immediately started tryng to pull the dead skin flaps around the wounds off his feet.  He was re-injuring his feet, to our dismay!  So, we had to put the collar right back on.  Based on that, I would suggest that you probably can’t takeyour bird out of the collar until his feet are COMPLETELY healed!  We now expect that this will be another month or so.

Please do not try to put your bird into a collar without the supervision of an Avian Vet.  This can be a very tricky process until you have learned how to do it!  You can kill or injure your bird if you don’t know what you’re doing!

While Ananda was in the collar, he was very unsteady so we had to put him into a small cage with a low perch so that he wouldn’t hurt himself if he fell.  We also raised the food bowls so that he could reach them more easily with the collar on.  In addition to his regular food, we also had to feed him supplemental baby bird food through a syringe because he had lost so much weight.  This helped him regain his weight, and now it’s fine.  It’s a good idea to check your bird’s weight before your vet puts him in a collar, and then immediately check his weight again with the collar on.  This will allow you to monitor his weight during the whole period that he is in the collar to make sure that he has not quit eating and is losing weight.  (Birds get very depressed with the collar on, as you can imagine). 

We also put plenty of chew wood into the small cage (1” x 2” boards of untreated Spruce pine is what we used).  We shoved the pine boards through the cage wire along the edges of the cage so that he could reach it without it becoming an obstacle to his maneuvering around with the collar on.  He loves the wood!  He shreds it daily, leaving big piles of it on the floor, so we are happy that he has something to do while he his otherwise imprisoned by the collar.


*Avianweb: Please Note - The dosages will vary by weight, stage of disease, etc. The application of this situation to your own pet and dosages should be discussed with a veterinary professional.

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