What are Ganglioneuritis?
This disease has many names, Ganglioneuritis or PDD being the most common, but it is also known as Avian Bornavirus. If your bird is affected by the nerve supply to the proventriculus (stomach), then the food your bird eats passes through its system without being digested, and your bird literally starves to death. When the affected nerves supply the brain, neurological abnormalities and seizures are the result. If the nerves to the eyes become affected by ganglioneuritis, then sadly, blindness can result. Ganglioneuritis is one of the most debilitating diseases known to birds and is hard, but not impossible, to treat.
This disease is also known as proventricular dilation disease or PDD. It involves specific inflammation around nerves causing the target organ to fail.
Symptoms of Ganglioneuritis in Birds
Depending on the location of the affected nerves, the symptoms vary to the location affected or can generate an overall bodily condition.
- Central nervous system symptoms such as abnormal head movements, seizures and strange neurological abnormalities
- Depression (your bird is quiet and sitting with its feathers fluffed out)
- Inability to sit on their perch (the bird may prefer the floor of their cage)
- Your bird may startle easily (they need a quiet environment)
- Self-mutilation (pulling out their feathers)
- Wasting away with muscle atrophy
- Undigested food in the feces
- Abdominal enlargement
- Loss of eyesight or blindness
- Chills (the feet are cold)
- Regurgitation of food
- To date, there are seven avian bornavirus genotypes that can affect the parrot species
- Research is still ongoing, and there is still much to learn about this disease
- Infections are of one genotype, yet recent research concluded that multiple genotype infection is possible
- Another type is passeriform bornavirus with three unique canary bornavirus genotypes
- There is also another genotype for waterbirds
- To date, no studies have isolated the incident of each genotype within parrot populations
Causes of Ganglioneuritis in Birds
- While there is still a lot to learn about this disease, studies completed in 2008 had scientists linking the avian bornavirus infection with PDD
- Bornavirus is an RNA type virus (this virus has ribonucleic acid as its genetic material) Human diseases that include this virus include the deadly Ebola hemorrhagic fever and the common cold
- In 2008 researchers described a new virus, avian bornavirus (ABV) that was isolated from samples from the parrot family
- The method of transmission is suspected to be through fecal - oral transmission, and viral shedding that infected hens may pass the virus to their young
- There is still a lot of debate about the cause of this disease with much research continuing
Diagnosis of Ganglioneuritis in Birds
Diagnosis is a difficult pathway for the avian specialist. There is no one conclusive test that can isolate the disease, with some testing contradicting itself. Ganglioneuritis or PDD diagnosis can only be made through identifying the lesions that affect the nerve tissue, which means a biopsy of the effective nerve tissue. Doing this biopsy is not always possible on a live bird. Another way to diagnose this condition is through analysing the clinical signs, and supportive blood tests. Just to complicate matters, clinical signs can imitate many diseases, so a positive avian bornavirus or ganglioneuritis blood test does not always equal in reality to ganglioneuritis.
It is still unknown how the factors that lead to infection and onwards to the developing disease work. If your bird is housed within a closed environment, then the chances of them contracting this disease are higher than if the environment was open to the fresh air such as an outside aviary. This disease is a tale of contradictions, but research is continuing. As a note, avian bornaviruses have been isolated from other species of birds, not just the parrot family. Free ranging Canada geese, North American gulls and other non-parrot birds have also had this virus.
Treatment of Ganglioneuritis in Birds
Because this disease still has a lot of debate and research going on, and new discoveries that contradict existing knowledge, treatment is limited to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication. There have only been a few different drugs trialled to treat parrots with ganglioneuritis, but it is best to discuss this with your avian veterinarian as new information from research keeps changing treatment options. Supportive therapy and dietary nutritional support, plus management of any secondary disease can all help bring relief to your bird friend.
Hypersensitivity can make your bird quite stressed and highly strung. They may be sensitive to touch as well, so be gentle and handle your bird carefully to avoid being bitten. Keep their environment quiet and calm so that they can rest and relax. Soothing music can help to calm your bird. Once he is recovering, allow him to walk around the floor and play a few simple games. The idea is to keep your pet calm and relaxed to encourage healing and recovery.
Recovery of Ganglioneuritis in Birds
Supportive management will be needed to coax your bird back to good health. Combined with treatment from your avian specialist and plenty of rest, recovery will depend upon your bird’s health (extent of the disease) and personality. The earlier you notice that something is not right with your bird and you can get him in to see the specialist the better chance of recovery. Getting your bird to be able to eat and digest simple foods is the goal.
A supplement from your adviser may be required, but only time will tell how effective the care is to your bird. Keeping your bird warm, calm, and quiet and allowing him to rest up is vital. Your bird may display negative behavior during his illness such as biting, screaming or attacking for no reason despite his illness, this may be difficult to tolerate but just return him calmly to his cage until he can behave.