February is a month for Matters of the Heart. Though not a
light issue, I wanted to talk about heart disease.
I wrote this in January, shortly after a client’s umbrella
cockatoo died. He was about 14. He got his toe caught in the cage and broke
his nail one day, did not bleed, but died that night. When the owner called me,
I thought it was unlikely a broken nail caused the birds death. So I asked her
if I could do a necropsy (the animal equivalent of an autopsy).
This gets me back to the heart. Several studies of
necropsy findings have documented that heart disease is more frequent in birds
than once assumed. It is hard to diagnose heart problems in birds. X-Rays are
the standard, where we are looking for an increased heart shadow. And more
hospitals can do blood pressure and ECG’s on birds now. And I find that
listening with a small stethoscope (if the birds not screaming) allows me to
hear some abnormalities. Ultrasound can also be used for diagnosis.
Heart disease may also affect the liver and lungs. With
that said, the basics could still be important indicators; blood work and a
physical exam. But sometimes there is no warning.
The umbrella had a ruptured aorta. I could also see
plaques lining the large vessels, similar to atherosclerosis in humans. Though
I did not have histopathology done (where tissue slides are examined by a
pathologist), the most likely scenario is atherosclerosis with increased blood
pressure, causing weakening of the aorta, and ultimate rupture.
But the take home message is prevention—something we all
know, but may not think of in context of our birds: