Last Updated on by Catherine Tobsing
Note: This post is quite dated as Popcorn is no longer with us, but the condition we are writing about, Ascites is one to have knowledge of. We hope you enjoy the information and story provided.
Popcorn, Catherine, and I would like to thank all of you for the outpouring of your thoughts and prayers and similar stories.
Apparently, the pilot we made here has evolved into a mini-series. The more we drill down the more we find that this condition (Ascites) is quite prevalent in cockatiels and other prolific egg-laying species like lovebirds and budgies.
I will not apologize for sounding like a broken record when I say – PLEASE – weigh your bird regularly at least once a week. It is a cheap but very effective way of determining a possible medical problem with your bird.
You are seeking not the individual day-to-day, week-to-week, or month-to-month numbers. You are looking for a trend – up or down.
Let’s put things in visual perspective.
We do weigh Popcorn regularly. Why didn’t we pick up her trend? We did but made the assumption that her weight gain was related to the production of eggs which we were expecting to see once again until we ended up here based on the droopy wings and the labored breathing.
To put it in slightly more technical terms, we mistook Popcorn’s abdominal distention as possible egg binding or a reproductive issue when in fact it was abdominal fluid accumulation.
To complicate matters we find out there are about five different kinds of fluids that can end up in your bird’s belly, all based on various conditions. Apparently, veterinarians split them into two types.
From Wikipedia: Transudate is extravascular fluid with low protein content and low specific gravity. Exudate is a fluid emitted by an organism through pores or a wound, a process known as exuding. Popcorn’s fluid is transudate.
The saga continues:
Popcorn was very low-energy all day Sunday. When I awoke Monday morning, she was puffy, her wings were drooping and she was clearly distressed – breathing hard. She’d also moved back onto the heated thermal perch – I made an appointment for 2:30 pm at Animal House.
Dr. Jenny was off but Dr. Byron (Chief of Staff) was working and would be treating Popcorn today. We talked about Friday’s visit and the amount of fluid Dr. Jenny had pulled out (about 9 ml). We also discussed the nature of the fluid, where it was coming from, and if her skin would get tight again.
Dr. Byron admitted that he was a little more “aggressive” with birds in a veterinary sort of way, as Dr. Jenny was probably more aggressive with her treatment of cats. After draining Popcorn’s abdominal fluid, Dr. Byron brought in a syringe filled with 12 ml of this yellow viscous substance.
1 ml of fluid is equivalent in weight to about 1 gram, so Popcorn lost 12 g or about 5% of her body weight from this fluid draining procedure.
Birds don’t have diaphragms so they shouldn’t be “panting” like mammals but the fluid was pressing organs up under her lungs causing pressure and discomfort. It (the fluid) has the potential to drown a bird or suffocate one with too much pressure on its 9 air sacs.
The fluid could be coming from anywhere, liver, kidney, tumor, or an ovarian cyst. We won’t know until we see when and if the fluid returns. At that point (when we determine a source) Popcorn will require surgery.
The best outcome from that would be not to find a tumor but to find a non-malignant ovarian cyst that can be cauterized.
Side trip: While Dr. Byron was speaking to me I was looking directly at his big black eye and bruised cheek. I asked him if he had been in a fight. “No” was his reply. “I got hit by a distracted driver while riding my bicycle. First, I’m riding, and then I’m looking at the front of her grill”. He’ll be fine. I didn’t ask for a picture.
A huge problem with cockatiels which we talk about repeatedly is their propensity to lay eggs, something Dr. Byron was very familiar with. He was clearly impressed that we shut down the egg machine using the 72-hour continuous light cycle – among other procedures.
Reflecting back on the x-ray and the weird white spot in the lower abdomen the possibility existed that could be an unfertilized egg that never made it out. To reduce the risk of further reproduction Popcorn was given an injection of Lupron.
For humans, it acts as a sex hormone suppressor and can treat endometriosis, uterine fibroids, and premature puberty. It can also treat prostate cancer. For birds, it chemically shuts down their reproductive system.
The bill was lower than I expected, $131. We did not make a follow-up visit appointment because we going to play it day by day.
She was still puffy, low energy not very hungry, and probably uncomfortable from the really big needle that was necessary to drain all of that fluid. She was also a little chilly now, to be expected on the 20° Chicago winter day going to and from the car.
I just put her in her cage and brought over a second oil-filled heater to surround the cage with warmth. In about three hours she seemed back to her normal self. Eating and following us around the apartment again.
Tuesday she was quiet but Wednesday she seemed back to her old self. Flying to and from the kitchen being very chatty looking much like a healthy cockatiel.
Today is Thursday and she was panting again albeit very slightly and the wings were drooping again – very slightly. So this (Thursday) evening we went to see Dr. Byron again and he drained another 13 ml of this yellow viscous fluid. If you’re keeping score it looks something like this 9 ml + 12 ml + 13 ml = 34 ml drained from my bird’s abdomen this week. More than the total weight of your average budgie (about 25 g).
We are now weighing her daily. Before the vet visit today she weighed 111 g on the bird scale and when she got home tonight she weighed 100 g.
So I thought I would talk about this yellow viscous substance. That’s because if you have birds that are prone to laying more eggs, especially cockatiels, yours is a candidate for what I’ve come to know as something called Ascites.
Surprisingly some big birds like Scarlet macaws will actually produce tiny quantities of the fluid in response to related issues as opposed to cockatiels that somehow produce a huge amount of fluid in relation to the size of their body.
If you were wondering how much the bird gets poked when the fluid is being drained, I found that it’s best to use an optimistically sized syringe, something that would have far more capacity than whatever a cockatiel could produce. The procedure is called abdominocentesis.
By doing so, the needle is only being inserted into the bird twice, once to the right and once to the left side of the abdominal cavity. The veterinarian slowly rotates the syringe to ensure consistent aspiration because, much like a sock can clog a vacuum hose, a small piece of tissue or biological debris can stop the flow of the fluid in the angular pointed needle.
Where the fluid is coming from is anyone’s guess. It could be coming from the ovary, liver, or a tumor. A bird’s single ovary is very difficult to access surgically because of where it is.
Once the fluid is extracted it’s looked at under a microscope for the condition of three types of mesothelial cells – basically the good, the bad, and the ugly. He (Dr. Byron) is looking for a trend seeking the reduction of the bad and/or the ugly cells.
Our goal is to possibly get to the point where the fluid is reabsorbed by the body, assuming production of the fluid doesn’t surpass absorption.
We will continue to introduce (orally) Meta Cam (anti-inflammatory) once a day and Cefa drops (antibiotic) twice a day for a 10-day treatment.
I paid the bill which was exactly $100 and made an appointment for Tuesday evening (in 5 days) to see Dr. Jenny.
Written by Mitch Rezman
Approved by Catherine Tobsing