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What are Bornavirus?

Researchers have found a link between the onset of Proventricular Dilatation Disease, or PDD, and Avian Bornavirus. PDD can cause the infected bird’s immune system to become over-responsive. This will cause damage to the digestive system. The most common problem with PDD is that it causes intestinal paralysis, resulting in food becoming stuck in your bird’s proventriculus. The intestine will swell, causing great pain for your bird. Death will occur when your bird is unable to absorb the nutrients from the food that has become stuck.

Birds that are infected with ABV may not show any symptoms of PPD for several years or even decades. They can be carriers of the disease without presenting any symptoms. Since they are carriers, they can still infect other birds with ABV and PPD.  

PDD was originally referred to as Macaw Wasting Disease since it was first diagnosed in macaws. But it is commonly found in parrots, lovebirds, Quaker parakeets, finches, cockatiels, geese and mute swans.

Avian Bornavirus, or ABV, is also known as Borna Disease. ABV will attack the nervous system and can be fatal. Borna Disease was detected in wild birds in 2000. In 2008 it was found in domesticated parrots and was officially renamed avian bornavirus. ABV is transferred when a bird comes into close contact with an infected bird. Coming into contact with an infected bird’s feces can also cause the virus to be spread.

Symptoms of Bornavirus in Birds

By being a proactive bird owner and regularly assessing your bird’s health and behavior, you can determine quickly if your bird is suffering from an ailment. When you notice something is off or wrong with your bird, contact your veterinarian for an appointment and have your bird thoroughly examined. Symptoms of ABV and PDD to watch for include:

  • Weight loss despite still maintaining a good appetite
  • Passage of undigested food in their feces
  • Abdominal distention
  • Vomiting
  • Impaction of the crop and proventriculus
  • Intermittent shaking of their head
  • Plucking out their feathers and other forms of self-mutilation
  • Balance problems
  • Crying or moaning 
  • Behavioral changes such as aggression
  • Seizures
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Causes of Bornavirus in Birds

Avian Bornavirus is a negative stranded neurotropic RNA virus. This means that the virus can infect nerve cells and is classified with other diseases such as Poliovirus, Herpes virus and Rabies.

Research is relatively new in regards to ABV and PDD, therefore the cause is still not fully understood. It is thought to be transferred from direct contact with an infected bird or an infected bird’s feces. Researchers are working on the development of a preventative vaccine for ABV and PDD.

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Diagnosis of Bornavirus in Birds

Your veterinarian will conduct a thorough physical examination of your bird and speak with you regarding when the symptoms appeared and your bird’s medical history. There are two commonly used methods for identifying ABV. Your veterinarian may order both testing panels to be completed, or they may feel that only one is sufficient.

ABV rELISA will test for immunological exposure to ABV specific antigens. This panel consists of four ABV specific proteins and only a small serum sample is required to perform the test.

ABV rtPCR will detect the presence of ABV specific RNA. This panel is a multiplex assay that will examine the genes of your bird. The chest or breast contour feathers of your bird produce the most reliable samples. Blood is not recommended as a reliable sample for this test.

It is not recommended to do fecal samples or cloacal swabs to conduct routine screening for ABV.

Postmortem detection, or testing after your bird has died, is usually done by taking samples from the brain, proventricular tissue or crop. Samples should be stored in alcohol prior to the biopsy being performed.

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Treatment of Bornavirus in Birds

Once ABV or PDD has been confirmed, your veterinarian will discuss treatment options with you. There are no known treatments for ABV or PDD; however, your veterinarian may discuss with you the option of trying experimental treatments that include combining cytokines and antiviral drugs.

As the disease progresses, your bird will need supportive care including fluid and nutritional therapy. Your bird will require specialized care as the disease progresses. In some cases the disease progresses quickly, causing death to occur at a faster rate. Researchers are currently working on a vaccine that will help treat ABV and PDD. However, this research is still in the development phase.

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Recovery of Bornavirus in Birds

Since there are no known treatments for ABV or PDD, the prognosis for your bird is grave. Your veterinarian will be able to give you a more accurate prognosis based on your bird’s test results and their overall health.

There are several birds that are carriers of ABV and they will never show symptoms. It is important to keep your bird from fraternizing unnecessarily with birds that are unknown to you. Regular screenings for ABV and PDD will help keep your bird healthy and provide the necessary care quicker so they can live a longer life.

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Bornavirus Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

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Nimmy

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female muscovy

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8 Years

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Mild severity

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0 found helpful

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Not Eat On Own & Mild Balance Issue

noticed nimmy didnt eat on her own on a wkend(she did drink though) so avian vet did x ray of her body(and regular blood work that showed nothing wrong) and found nothing so sent her home that monday to keep eye on her, no change, taught us how to tube feed her the next day. we feed her the exact baby formula bcause mazuri isnt mash enough for syringes. vet was off wednedsay, then thursday did head x ray, stil found nothing so sent us to avian neurologist in tampa. her mouth nerves didnt work, even our vet thought she couldve dislocated jaw or hit head on something when we werent home looking. good thing we let them test for ABV and a few other things, almost didnt. and yup a week later, vet told us she had ABV. as her parents, we naturaly kept wondering "where she got it from?" especialy being in the house for 8 yrs now. we have 6 other ducks, and 7 sun conures and yes most came from people "who didnt want them anymore". u wish people would learn and get their pets tested before they dump them onto someone else who has others. u think if ur so clean and feed them healthy, how could this hapen. some sources say stress can cause this, and yeah we have at least one other one that bothers her sometimes etc. vet thinks she has a chance at recovery but i worry hes just being nice and not wana tell us she may not. its funny how normal she acts except has to be tube fed for now just feel bad she got this and everyone else fine. many birds live in disgusting homes being unloved, etc and theyre fine...

Aug. 28, 2018

Nimmy's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

I'm not sure as to what your question is, but I am sorry that Nimmy has been diagnosed with this disease. Stress can greatly affect the nervous system, and may have caused the disease to surface. I hope that all goes well for her.

Aug. 28, 2018

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Memphis

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Green Cheek conure

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13 Years

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Serious severity

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0 found helpful

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Self Mutilation

I have a 13 year old Green Cheek Conure. A couple of months ago I cam home from work and found him with a large open sore on his chest. The local vet who is a very respected avian vet did surgery to close the wound and the bird recovered nicely. At the time we did not really know the cause and went with the assumption that he may have slightly injured himself then picked at it and made it worse before I found him. No a couple of weeks ago, it happened again. This points to him doing it to himself rather than just an accidental injury. Once he heals again, the doctor wants to do a test for bornavirus thinking that the virus is causing him to mutilate himself. What are your thoughts?

July 2, 2018

Memphis' Owner


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0 Recommendations

Self mutilation is a symptom of bornavirus, your Avian Veterinarian will have more experience on this than myself but it would be worth testing for if they believe the other symptoms fit; normally other symptoms are present but you have just mentioned the self mutilation so I cannot fully comment. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

July 3, 2018

He really doesn't have any of the other listed symptoms.

July 3, 2018

Memphis's Owner

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Nani

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Lovebird

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5 Years

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Mild severity

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Right Eye Is Closed

My lovebird was diagnosed with borna virus in February. She's on 4 different meds and is doing well. Her original symptom/issue was weakness in her left leg and foot. She's walking much better now, but isn't as good and doesn't play as much but she loves "singing" and scritches. Every now and then, her left eye will close for as half day or day-2x now, but today it's her right eye. I hope this doesn't mean it's progressing.

June 18, 2018

Nani's Owner

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0 Recommendations

Presentation and an apparent worsening of symptoms doesn’t always correlate to a progression of the disease; however it would be worth visiting your Avian Veterinarian for an examination and a chat to be on the safe side. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

June 19, 2018

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Piper

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Quaker Parakeet

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17 Years

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Moderate severity

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1 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Seizures

Have recent found that my Quaker has Bornavirus. The vet feels this could be the cause of his seizures and has him on Celecoxib, Milk Thistle, Lactulose, Enacard & Phenobarbital. I have also a Ringneck, Senegal & Conure and was told that could not be transmitted to them. But I am now reading that is not the case. It is impossible to isolate my birds from each other. any suggestion?

March 27, 2018

Piper's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1 Recommendations

Bornavirus is a disease that is poorly understood at this point, unfortunately. If your birds are all in close proximity to each other, it is possible to transmit the disease. If you are able to isolate Piper from the other birds, that might help to decrease the chance of transmission. Otherwise, if you see any signs in any of the other birds, it is important to have them seen immediately by your veterinarian.

March 27, 2018

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Kiwi

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Cockatoo Species

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17 Years

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Critical severity

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1 found helpful

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Critical severity

Has Symptoms

Weakness
Loss Of Balance
Loss Of Appetite

I just want to add to the discussion. I just lost my Kiwi today as she died in my arms. I can barely write this. She was in the hospital for 6 days and she was declining quickly. X-rays show the heart and liver were slightly enlarged and the proventriculus was extremely dilated. X-rays, blood work gave the appearance of PDD which is mostly caused by ABV... there was no indication of heavy metal poisoning. I brought kiwi home after the vet was discussing euthanising her. I provided Home care for 3 days with given medications. She had her up and down moments and passed away 12:25pm March 12, 2018. I may not adopt another bird for a long time. I know the question has been answered as to latent viral material... my question is can any other animal or man be a carrier? Jeff

March 13, 2018

Kiwi's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1 Recommendations

Thank you for your email. I'm sorry for your loss, that is very sad. From my understanding, Borna virus is primarily carried by bird species, although it is a poorly understood virus. Again, I am sorry for the loss of your Kiwi.

March 13, 2018

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Sabfina

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Umbrella Cockatoo

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22 Years

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Fair severity

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0 found helpful

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Fair severity

Has Symptoms

No Symptoms
No Symtoms

I just purchased an umbrella cockatoo and it was tested as having abv. I have 30 other birds, finches,doves, sun conure, quaker and cockatiels. Please help me know how much exposure is dangerous. Is being in the same room for attention at different times too much?

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Hunter

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Eclectus

dog-age-icon

22 Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Fair severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Fair severity

Has Symptoms

Lack Of Coordination

My eclectus parrot Hunter was dx’d with Borneo. He is doing well. Still feather picks, and one some days his balance is not great. Fortunately, that happens infrequently. I have a friend who wants me to take her female eclectus, but I am too afraid as I would never be able to live with myself if something were to happen to that bird. I saw on the internet that a vaccine was being studied in 2012, but it was not successful. Have they made any ground on this. Regardless, I am too nervous to expose this other bird to my Hunter, but I am curious if there has been any success with it.

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Mango

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Senegal Parrot

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5 Years

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Critical severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Critical severity

Has Symptoms

Diarrhea
Lethargy
Lack Of Coordination

Hi there, unfortunately I lost my Senegal parrot to bornavirus last year. She had lost the ability to stand upright by the time the disease had progressed for a few months. Since then, I've always wondered if a pet parrot could transmit bornavirus to a human, or if it could be transmitted to dogs or reptiles. Any thought? Thanks!

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