What is Conure Bleeding?

Conures, whether large parakeets or small to medium-sized parrots, make excellent pets due to their beauty, playfulness and cheery natures. All species of conures originate in Central and South America, and typically enjoy a life span of at least 10 years, though many live well into the twenty to thirty-year range. While these birds live longer in the wild, many also enjoy a high quality of life in captivity. While conure enthusiasts adore these birds, they are often under-educated about proper care, health considerations and nutritional needs.

For example, several conure species are vulnerable to an often obscure, yet serious, health condition called conure bleeding syndrome (CBS). The syndrome (sometimes referred to as Erythremic Myelosis or Hemorrhagic Conure Syndrome) typically afflicts baby conures, though has been noted to occur in adults under stressful conditions. Conure owners first notice symptoms affiliated with sudden-onset anemia, such as pronounced weakness and a loss of equilibrium. Excessive sleepiness is also noted. The bird may begin to bleed from the mouth or the cloaca, though some bleed under the wing or on other parts of the body. Sometimes, bleeding may not appear on the body, but the bird may be internally hemorrhaging. Avian veterinarians suggest that the symptoms of CBS may mirror those of lead toxicosis, or heavy metal poisoning. 

The cause of conure bleeding syndrome (CBS) remains a bit of a mystery. Though the subject of conjecture, CBS is usually chalked up to nutritional deficiencies, such as a lack of calcium, Vitamin D and Vitamin K. Another theory is that CBS originates in a retrovirus. There may be some genetic derivation since the disease mostly strikes Blue-crowned, Peach-fronted, Sun conures, Orange-fronted, Nanadays and Patagonians.

Unfortunately, if the bleeding is sudden and heavy, the disease is usually fatal. CBS may also lead to recurrent bouts of symptoms and bleeding, which, if unnoticed, may cause eventual death. As always, a bird is vulnerable to nutritional deficiencies and vitamin and mineral imbalances. CBS is just one disease traceable, at least in part, to inadequate nutrition. To ensure your bird’s health, consult an avian veterinary specialist for dietary planning. Do not independently give any bird, or animal, nutritional supplements.

Conure bleeding syndrome is a serious external or internal bleeding disease often linked to nutritional deficiencies, such as a lack of calcium, Vitamin D and Vitamin K, or potentially, a retrovirus.

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Symptoms of Conure Bleeding in Birds

Symptoms of CBS may resemble those associated with lead toxicosis or heavy metal poisoning. These signs may include feather picking, depression, behavior changes, seizures, shallow breathing, lack of muscle control (ataxia), difficulty swallowing (dysphagia), increased thirst and urination, and green or bloody diarrhea.

Symptoms specific to a bleeding deficiency syndrome include:

  • Recurrent bleeding episodes (body lesions, mouth or cloaca)
  • Internal bleeding
  • Weakness
  • Loss of balance
  • Sleepiness
  • Sudden death

Causes of Conure Bleeding in Birds

The basis of conure bleeding syndrome is not fully understood, but nutritional deficiencies are likely a contributing factor. A lack of calcium, Vitamin D3, K1, and other minerals may slow or prevent normal clotting, which increases the likelihood of excessive bleeding. Another potential cause or contributing factor is a retrovirus, the most recognizable example being HIV (not affiliated with CBS). “Retro” indicates a reversal in the normal genetic encoding process; instead of DNA converting into RNA, the viral RNA transforms into DNA.

Diagnosis of Conure Bleeding in Birds

The definitive means to diagnosis conure bleeding syndrome (CBS) is during a necropsy examination (animal autopsy). Diagnosis of CBS is difficult in a live bird due to the symptomatic resemblance to other conditions and illnesses, including trauma, heavy metal poisoning/toxicosis (inhaled or ingested), bacterial infection, viral infection, liver disease, fungal infection, or nutritional deficiencies. 

Whether the bird succumbs to the syndrome or survives, the veterinarian will pose questions such as:

  • Has your bird been vaccinated for any diseases?
  • What is your bird’s diet?
  • Do you have veterinary records? (if the bird is a new patient)
  • Do you have other birds/pets in the household? Any new pets introduced lately?
  • Does anyone smoke in your home?
  • Have there been any environmental changes in your household?
  • Have there been any incidents with non-stick cookware recently?

A physical examination may reveal that the bird has superficial lesions rather than a type of bleeding deficiency syndrome. For example, the bird may have ulcers or lesions due to allergies, feather picking, behavioral issues or dermatitis. A veterinarian will likely take a biopsy/culture of the bleeding areas for microscopic examination. Currently, veterinarians rely on routine blood and microbiology testing to further investigate symptoms.

To diagnosis a specialized condition like CBS, it is important to see an avian vet, if possible. He or she will possess the specific knowledge, experience, equipment, and testing methods needed for fast diagnosis and treatment.

Treatment of Conure Bleeding in Birds

Unfortunately, conure bleeding syndrome is sometimes a fatal disease. However, some birds do survive onset of the condition, particularly if the bird is given the benefit of immediate veterinary care. 

Treatment options include injections of Vitamin K1, Vitamin D3, calcium and antibiotics. The bird may require hospitalization for pain treatment, observation, and until behavioral and physical symptoms normalize.

Recovery of Conure Bleeding in Birds

A conure’s diet requires a specific balance of vitamins and minerals. To give your bird the best chance for health, provide a Vitamin K and calcium-rich diet. Offer dark, leafy greens and vegetables (such as broccoli), tomatoes, soy oil and egg yolks.

Sources of Vitamin D (both from food and light) are non-negotiable for bone health, as well as emotional well-being. UVA and UVB exposure may derive from natural sunlight or full-spectrum lighting.

Your best bet going forward is to discuss a nutritional plan with an avian veterinarian, and carefully follow these dietary instructions. Depending on the bird’s health, supplements may be helpful; however, due to the possibility of kidney or liver damage or failure, do not give any supplement without veterinary approval. 

Remember, Teflon and other non-stick pans are not safe around your bird. Conures have very sensitive respiratory systems, and cannot endure most types of fumes, including paint.