What is Goiter?

Avian goiter is also known as thyroid hyperplasia. Located in the throat area, any enlargement of the thyroid gland can place enormous pressure on your bird’s digestive system, lungs, heart and the air sacs. Often, this situation causes a buildup of fluids within the respiratory and sometimes the digestive systems. This condition can affect most species of birds, including wild birds, budgerigars and pigeons. Caught in time, this condition can be treated with your bird having a high chance of recovery.

A goiter in birds occurs when the cells in your bird’s thyroid gland increase and the gland actually expands, which puts pressure on the heart and other organs.

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Symptoms of Goiter in Birds

  • Markedly enlarged thyroid gland with gross swelling around the neck area
  • Blockages in the esophagus makes it harder for your bird to eat and produces difficulty in swallowing
  • Weight loss 
  • Wheezing or squeaking noises are a sure sign of this condition in budgerigars
  • Difficulty breathing for your bird can produce a change in its song or voice 
  • Immune deficiencies  (your bird becomes sick or gets infections easily)
  • Seizures
  • Crop distention
  • Regurgitation or vomiting 
  • Skin and feather abnormalities 
  • Depression
  • Lethargy
  • Sudden death due to heart failure

Causes of Goiter in Birds

  • Dietary iodine deficiency cause as situation where your bird is not getting enough iodine in its system – this is especially so in birds that are fed seed diets (the seeds are deficient in iodine which helps the formation of thyroxine which is the thyroid hormone)
  • Substances known as goitrogenic agents that interfere in the normal production of thyroxine by the thyroid gland can cause this condition 
  • Foods that contain these substances include soybean, flax, rapeseed, kale, cabbage, and broccoli 
  • Septicemic diseases can affect the thyroid gland causing inflammation and hyperplasia 
  • Toxic exposure to some chemicals such as chlorinated bisphenols can also initiate this condition

Diagnosis of Goiter in Birds

The diagnosis of this condition requires an examination of the history of your bird, the clinical signs, and the diet of your pet. If you have noticed your bird displaying any signs of goiter, you will need to take him to an avian specialist for treatment. Your avian veterinarian will examine your bird. Palpation of the expanded area will often reveal a large growing mass within the neck area. A blood test to check the thyroxine levels can be done to see whether they are within the normal range.

The clinical signs of your bird come from the pressure of the enlarged glands on other parts of your bird’s body such as the heart. A change in voice tone, vomiting or regurgitating his meal, or difficulty in breathing will all be observed. Recent research findings have led to the conclusion that the excessive fluid in the crop and lower intestines, combined with the accumulation of fluid in the lungs are all responsible for health difficulties as a result of goiter. Radiographs can be used if in doubt of this disease.

Treatment of Goiter in Birds

The treatment will depend on the reason why your bird developed this goiter condition. A total seed diet devoid or lacking in iodine can be treated with iodine supplements usually administered in your bird’s drinking water. If your bird is suffering extremely with this condition, as in the neck area is grossly swollen and he is having difficulty with breathing or starting to have seizures, then your specialist will place your bird in an oxygen-rich tent and begin administering sodium iodine injections until the condition resolves. Diet changes need to be made if your bird’s diet includes goitrogenic agents. Access to any type of chemicals or insecticides must be prevented to keep your bird healthy.

Birds are naturally curious creatures and will be drawn to explore any new area that they can get themselves into. While your veterinarian specialist has your bird under observation, any other infections or conditions should be treated accordingly to keep your bird in excellent health. A high quality formulated commercial diet may help your bird, and a ban will be placed on exposure to any toxins or goitrogenic foods. All these measures combined with the iodine supplementation should see your bird back in good health relatively quickly.

Recovery of Goiter in Birds

Once you are aware of this condition, keeping your bird’s diet balanced and providing iodine supplementation in the water will maintain your feathered friend’s good health. While humans assume all seeds are equal, this has been proven not to be the case. Wild birds are usually presented with a variety of food that can overcome any deficiencies, but your domestic bird is reduced to what you feed him so an awareness of these things is an advantage when caring for him.

Management requires an awareness of any changes to your bird’s normal behavior; the sooner you can treat your bird, the better. Simple things, such as what you clean your bird’s cage with do matter, anything toxic that remains on the cage can be licked off by your bird and critically affect him. The smaller the bird, the quicker they seem to succumb to adverse conditions.