What is Blocked Gizzard?

Whether a cat or dog lover, or a bird fancier, no one likes to hear the familiar sound of a beloved pet regurgitating, or “throwing up.” The harsh retching noise alone sends many pet owners, whether sleeping or awake, in a rapid search for their pet. Initial worries usually subside when the cat is found laboring over a hairball, and the dog is just battling the after effects of too many dinner table scraps. While no one appreciates the clean-up, the owner takes comfort in the fact that, in these cases, expulsion is a natural and healthy process. When it comes to birds, however, new fanciers or owners are at first unable to spot the difference between natural, healthy regurgitation and forceful, violent vomiting. Thankfully, the appearance and “feel” of the two actions, including how the bird acts and appears, is distinct. All birds have a natural, gentle form of food expulsion that mirrors how a bird would feed its mates and offspring in the wild.

This is called regurgitation and is of no cause for concern. Vomiting in birds, however, is worrisome, and could be a sign of something more serious. It is a violent, messy sight, and discharge may wind up spattered around the cage and on the bird. Such a forceful ejection of material or food may indicate an infection, liver or kidney disease, or possibly, a serious condition called a “blocked gizzard.” A blocked gizzard is a life-threatening condition that requires immediate veterinary care and treatment. With fast treatment, birds may overcome this dangerous condition. If the condition is prolonged, however, the outcome is typically poor.

A blocked gizzard (the second chamber of the stomach) in birds is a life-threatening condition that occurs when a buildup of materials or a foreign body becomes lodged in the gizzard.

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Symptoms of Blocked Gizzard in Birds

  • Vomiting
  • Increased thirst
  • Fluffed-up appearance
  • Stomach ache – will lean forward on the perch
  • Loss of appetite
  • Droppings will be clear and/or white (no fecal component)
  • Depression
  • Death

Causes of Blocked Gizzard in Birds

A blocked gizzard may be caused when a bird consumes a foreign object, such as a piece of wire, rope fiber, a particle from a toy, paper, among others. Birds may chew on such objects due to playful behavior, inquisitiveness, boredom, or sexual frustration. The bird may also be seeking to fill a mineral deficiency, assuage hunger, avoid contaminated food or equalize any dietary irregularities.

For some reason, wet weather sends many birds in search of soil, potting soil, sand, or any kind of gritty substances. They will scavenge for these materials in excess, which may cause a blockage in the gizzard. Otherwise, a blocked gizzard may be part of a larger health problem.

Diagnosis of Blocked Gizzard in Birds

To understand the gizzard of a bird requires a basic understanding of avian anatomy. Birds have two-part stomachs. The first part, the proventriculus, receives the undigested food, and begins to break it down by producing acid. Once the food is partially broken down, it moves into the second stomach chamber, the gizzard.  The gizzard is a muscular organ that plays a significant role in the bird’s digestive system. Appropriately nicknamed the “gastric mill,” the organ acts like a pepper mill by grinding and crushing food like seeds in order to enable the next step in the digestive process. The gizzard also retains a certain amount of grit and tiny stones that help to grind and pulverize hard food, and also smooth rough particles for safe passage through the intestines. In its simplest terms, a blocked gizzard stops the digestive process, and impacts the bird. If the bird has consumed a small piece of wire from its cage, for example, it may become stuck in the gizzard. If untreated, the blockage may become more cumbersome and take on a “cement” consistency, causing the bird pain and in many cases, death.

If you notice that your bird is vomiting, or has stopped eating, seek immediate care with an avian veterinarian (if possible). Gaining an education about a bird’s anatomy, its digestive process, inclination toward particular health conditions, and signs and symptoms of serious illness is a necessary part of caring for your bird.

A blocked gizzard or other foreign body obstruction is confirmed through body imaging, such as X-ray.  A culture of the bird’s droppings will seek out possible infections or other health concerns. A vet will determine if the bird’s blockage is treatable, and will recommend treatment if the bird is able to be saved.

Treatment of Blocked Gizzard in Birds

Emergent treatment may include hospitalization, whether overnight or for a few days. The vet will work to flush the blockage by injecting lubrication into the gastro-intestinal system. New feed will work to equalize any mineral imbalances. Any fluid loss will be addressed. 

The vet will offer a combination of treatments based on the extent of the blockage.  Anti-spasm injections, antibiotics (in case of infection), and medication to assist the bird’s discomfort may be given.

Recovery of Blocked Gizzard in Birds

Once your bird recovers from a blocked gizzard and can return home, the veterinarian should help determine the best feed to ensure that your bird has a balanced diet. The quality of drinking water is very important when caring for birds, so a water cleanser/purifier may be in order. Discuss what kind of toys are safe for the bird’s environment.

Upon the return home, make sure that your bird is back to eating and drinking. Please call the veterinarian if you see any changes in the bird’s demeanor, behavior, or physical symptoms.