Caring for the Bird with Avian Bornaviral Ganglioneuritis (PDD)

Caring for the Bird with Avian Bornaviral Ganglioneuritis (PDD)
By Jeannine Miesle, MA, M. Ed.

Krissy - a Triton Cockatoo who is a PDD patient with her owner

Index of Bird Diseases ... Symptoms and Potential Causes ... Bird Species and Diseases They are Most Susceptible to


Every bird and every species is different; what works for one bird may not work for another. The dietary restrictions are meant to be implemented during a flare, a time during which the bird is actively showing clinical symptoms. Once the bird has recovered, the normal diet may be gradually reintroduced and reevaluated. Foods must be tailored to the individual bird according to species and the bird's disease state. If a food triggers regurgitation, remove it from the diet. Most of the foods mentioned may be good sources of nutrition, but they may also exacerbate the impairment of the digestive tract's function. The suggestions presented here are flexible, and each owner should take into account his or her own bird's preferences and reactions.

Foods to avoid in a flare:

  • Foods that are fried, high in fat, have breading on them, or are heavy. Avoid these all the time, even when the bird is in remission.
  • Liquid diary products, including yogurt. These contain Lactobacillus and since the bird does not produce lactase, the enzyme needed to digest lactose,  it is advisable to avoid liquid dairy. Solid cheese is OK, but not frequently.  You may use non-dairy milks instead.
  • Seeds and nuts. They are harder to digest.
  • Avoid foods that are difficult to digest when regurgitation is occurring, such as corn, beans, meat. When the bird is stable and not regurgitating, offer small amounts of foods
  • Fruits with- seeds in them, such as strawberries.
  • Spicy foods such as sauces with herbs and spices.
  • Meat, beef in particular, when regurgitation is taking place. It takes longer to digest.
  • Margarine and butter. Canola oil may be used instead.
  • Cut foods up in very small pieces.
  • Put medicine in the foods that will absorb it easily, such as scrambled eggs, hand-mashed sweet potato or white potatoes.

Foods that work well in a flare:

  • Boiled or baked white meat of chicken or turkey, shredded or chopped.
  • Hand-mashed baked sweet potato or boiled white potato (not Yukon Gold’s)
  • Scrambled egg, prepared with a very small amount of margarine and broken into small pieces.
  • Thin pasta, such as thin spaghetti, cut up, with a little broth (home-made), or if doing well, a little plain tomato sauce. Rice pasta and noodles are more easily digested.
  • Toast, either with a very small amount of margarine, or dipped in applesauce. Use very small cubes, and feed only 3-4 pieces at a time. You can sprinkle on few breadcrumbs for flavor.
  • Peas,  frozen, not canned; cooked mashed carrots, fresh green beans, out of the pod.
  • Rice, rice bread,  or rice noodles with a little or canola oil, margarine when improved
  • Finely shredded cheese such as cheddar, provolone or mozzarella. Cheese is high in salt so offer only occasionally.
  • Fork-mashed white or sweet potatoes (yams). Offer only the soft, inner portion of the potatoes, avoiding the fibrous parts and peel.
  • Canned pumpkin or squash
  • Couscous, with a small amount of canola oil
  • Applesauce (not homemade), banana, cooked fruits, fresh or frozen
  • Dark greens. Light greens have little nutritional value, but might stimulate the appetite.
  • Simple bird-bread recipes
  • Sugar-free cereals, such as bran flakes, corn flakes, Chex cereals, Total, or Cheerios can be offered dry or moistened with a little non-dairy milk such as rice or almond milk.
  • Small amounts of fruit, such as raw or cooked apple, peaches, or pears. No peels, cores, pits, or seeds --for any birds, anytime.

Nutritional supplements

  • Lafeber's Emeraid Omnivore and Carnivore Critical Care formula.
    • It is easily digestible and provides and excellent supplement for the bird when it is symptomatic.
    • It is elemental and hydrolyzed. It supplies needed nutrition at a time when the bird is unable to digest foods normally.
    • It may be syringed into the bird or put in his food when he's not regurgitating. It is available through your avian veterinarian.
  • Milk Thistle (silymarin). This is a digestive supplement.
  • Lafeber's Nutriberries and Avi-cakes, either whole or broken into small pieces, depending on the bird's tolerance. These are good sources of essential Omega-3 fatty acids and may purchased at pet stores.
  • Lafeber's Nutri-An cakes for Recovery and Nutritional Support for larger birds. Available through your veterinarian.

Monitoring the ABG (PDD) bird:

  • Feed very small amounts, about 1 ½ to 2 hours apart.
  • Check the crop to see if there is still food in it. If there is, wait. Putting food on top of food leads to regurgitation and bacteria growth.
  • Gradually reintroduce foods into the diet, one at a time. If you introduce more than one you won't know which caused the regurgitation.
  • Try to keep the head up after a feeding.
  • Don't allow the bird access to towels or fabrics; these stimulate regurgitation at any time. This goes for all birds, all the time.
  • When stable, add chicken to the diet (boiled or baked, plain), cut into very small pieces.
  • Shred everything and cut all foods into very small pieces and offer in small mounts, no matter what the size of the birds. This will allow for faster transit through the digestive tract.
  • Keep tract of all foods tolerated and not tolerated
  • Eliminate any food that results in regurgitation on a consistent basis until the bird improves.
  • Allow time for the food to be digested before offering more; there is a danger of bacterial or fungal growth in the crop if the food remains there too long.
  • Medications may need to be given by oral syringe if the bird is unable to keep any food down. Once the bird is no longer regurgitating, you may place medications in a small amount of a soft food you know the bird will finish.
  • Monitor food intake carefully; even birds showing only neurological signs suffer some degree of gastrointestinal impairment due to incorrect food choices.
  • Offer food after periods of rest, not activity. The bird should never be fed when it is screaming or excited. Only when it is calm.
  • Allow periods of rest after feeding.

Working with your avian veterinarian:

Work closely with your avian veterinarian to manage affected birds. Proper medical management can minimize or even eliminate the clinical signs of disease in affected birds an help to maintain or even eliminate some of the clinical signs of disease, thereby maintaining your bird's quality of life extending his life-span.

What to take with you to the office:

  • Take a fresh stool sample to the office in case your bird is unable to defecate there. He will need it for Gram's stain analysis.
    • To collect the sample, place waxed paper under the bird's perching place on the floor of the cage to collect the fresh droppings and transport them in a plastic bag containing a moistened paper towel to prevent drying.
  • Keep a daily journal documenting the following, and review these records with your avian veterinarian on a regular basis.
    • All medications, supplements, frequency, and dosages given
    • The bird's behavior and level of activity
    • Food and liquids consumed; which are tolerated and which are not
    • Nature and severity of the clinical signs observed, e.g., seizures or regurgitations. Note frequency of signs.
    • Daily body weight, obtained at the same time each day. You will need a gram scale
    • Characteristics of the bird's droppings. What do the fecal matter, urates, and urine look like. Monitor droppings and urates daily, taking note of color of urates (they should be white), black bile in the stool, color of the stool and consistency of the droppings. Add to the chart if changes occur. Take dropping samples from different times of the day to your avian vet for analysis. Note any undigested foodstuffs

Suggestions for rest and activity during a relapse and recovering from one:

  • Birds with ABG (PDD) require more rest than usual. Allow for at least one quiet rest period, two hours or so, in the early afternoon, and multiple shorter rest periods throughout the day.
    • Possible schedule is: up at 8:00 a.m., rest period from 12:00 p.m. to 2:00 or 3:00, bedtime around 7:00 p.m.
  • Keep active play times short; place them at least an hour after eating and before eating again.
    • You can play floor games, such as rolling and chasing a plastic ball or tennis ball. Walk around the house with the bird, or take him outside for fresh air and sunshine. A harness will allow some flight once he's feeling better. 
  • Establish a daily routine, alternating brief periods of exercise or play with feedings and rest periods.
  • Minimize stress; it is a huge trigger for symptoms to recur. Keep the environment as quiet as possible. Soft music may help the bird remain calm.
  • Give the bird plenty of time to calm down and relax before you offer food. Too much or too strenuous an activity will encourage regurgitation.  Schedule activity times once or twice a day.
  • Do not feed the bird when it is excited, screaming or active. Wait until it is calm and relaxed.  Turn on quiet, calming music in the background. Stay calm and quiet at all times, particularly in times of stress or relapse. Lower the phone volume.
  • Allow the bird to rest after a feeding, even if it means returning him to the cage.
  • Don’t force or encourage him to eat. If he’s not hungry and eats anyway, you increase the chances that he’ll regurgitate.
  • These birds get cold easily and shiver more than usual. If you bathe him, be sure to blow dry him. Keep the ambient temperature around the cage somewhat warm. Feet tend to get cold.
  • Keep the house and cage area a little warmer. I use an electric heater across the room from the cage.
  • Use a spritzer bottle instead of placing him in the shower. Light spritzing with a little aloe vera gel in warm water will help with feather picking.
  • Birds need a lot of attention and reassurance during the difficult times, especially if they have to be syringe fed/force fed medications or formula. Lots of love and attention will help you keep the bond between you.
  • Affected birds are more sensitive to sensory stimuli, exhibiting a strong startle reflex to loud sounds. Keep the environment quiet.
  • Stay calm and happy in front of the bird; if you exhibit worry or nervousness or any negative behaviors, it will affect the bird’s mental state and ability to heal.
  • Keep a daily chart with all medications and their dosage amounts, activity levels, unusual behaviors, activities preceding relapses, daily weight (both morning and evening), whether you had to syringe feed critical care formula and medicines. Keep a journal with your findings.
  • If perching is difficult because of weakness or seizures, place perches and water/food bowls close to the floor of the cage and put a towel on the floor of the cage. You may also use a large bin; line it with towels and place food and water in crocks on the floor.
  • Just because the bird has PDD doesn’t mean he should get his every desire fulfilled. You still need to have boundaries and let him know you’re the boss. 
  • Signs of illness can wax and wane, and there may be an increase in negative behaviors such as screaming, biting, or feather-destructive behavior.
    • Krissy - a triton cockatoo who is suffering from PDDPrior to and during a relapse there is an increase in feather chewing, picking and pulling of the down feathers on the back, legs,  and tops of the wings. There is also more chewing on wood and toys. This feather chewing continues even after the bird is stable.
  • There is a tendency to relapse during breeding season, in early spring. Speak with your avian vet about hormone shots during that time.

Suggested routine:

  • 8 a.m.: Breakfast:  a little scrambled egg with Celebrex  and other medications if necessary
  • 9:15-9:30: slice of banana or small piece of baked goods, anything easily digestible
  • 10:00-10:30: Activity time.
  • 11:00-11:30: Lunch of a few strands of thin pasta or noodles with a small amount of margarine or thin tomato sauce or canola oil; peas or  other vegetables. Add Silymarin to this food.
  • 12:00 to 2:00 or so: afternoon rest period away from house activity. Take the phone off the hook and put on soothing music
  • 2:30: hand mashed white or sweet potatoes with medications. Provide rest after eating.
  • 3:30: Activity time.
  • 4:00: Feeding of rice or noodles with a small amount of broth or margarine
  • 5:30: Feeding of a small amount of pasta, toast or noodles; if not regurgitating, white meat of chicken. Add a little tomato sauce or serve plain. Break up all meat into very small pieces and feed very small amounts. Meat takes longer to digest.
  • 6:00-6:30: Activity time
  • 7:00: small amount of potatoes or scrambled egg with medications
  • 7:30: light snack of baked goods followed by bedtime.

These times are flexible. If the bird is digesting well and motility is good, you may feed a little more food less frequently. Allow time after a feeding digestion and independent play on the T-stand or in the cage. Don't interrupt rest for activity. Supplement as many times as necessary with the Emeraid when the weight is low. Never allow the bird to eat large amounts of food at a time. Use your judgement.

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Information contained on this website is provided as general reference only. For application to specific circumstances, professional advice should be sought.