What is Lockjaw?

Food and water are mandatory to survive no matter if you are human or animal.  Lockjaw is a condition that can cause your bird to be unable to open his mouth and therefore be unable to eat and drink.  Lockjaw is caused by an underlying disease or possible trauma.  If the condition is mild and your bird is still able to open his mouth somewhat, your veterinarian can try and treat him symptomatically and offer him supportive therapies.  If his condition is severe and your bird is unable to open his mouth so that he cannot eat or drink, prognosis is guarded to poor.

Lockjaw is a very serious condition and can be a cause of death.  If your bird is having difficulties opening his mouth, you should get him to a veterinarian immediately.

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Symptoms of Lockjaw in Birds

Symptoms may include:

  • Rigidity of jaw
  • Unable to open mouth
  • Respiratory issues
  • Tracheitis
  • Conjunctivitis 
  • Unable to eat
  • Crop may be swollen
  • Undigested seed in feces
  • May have caked-on, dry material around mouth, face or chin
  • Weight loss
  • Sinusitis 
  • Death 

Types

Lockjaw syndrome is also known as temporomandibular rigidity.  It is typically a result of an injury or underlying disease.  The rigidity may be partial or completed and can be caused by inflammation of the tendinous or muscular structures around the joint.

Causes of Lockjaw in Birds

Lockjaw is a condition caused by the extension of the sinusitis and surrounding tissues resulting in the bird not being able to open his mouth.  In some species of birds, lockjaw is said to be a type of bacterial disease caused by Bordetella avium.

Diagnosis of Lockjaw in Birds

You veterinarian will begin by performing a full physical exam on your bird.  While the problem is obviously involving his mouth and jaw, she will want to examine the rest of him to check for other clues to his condition.  She will also need to collect a history from you regarding when the symptoms began, if they have progressed, and if any other birds in the house are also sick (if applicable).  

Blood work will be conducted to check the organ function and values.  A complete blood count (CBC) and chemistry panel will give the veterinarian information on your bird’s organ systems.  She may also want to check his feces for evidence of a parasitic infection.

Imaging will also be suggested to evaluate the extent of your bird’s condition.  She will need to rule out trauma or other possible causes for your bird’s jaw condition.  Radiographs will be taken and evaluated as a part of your bird’s diagnostic process.  If your veterinarian thinks it may be a neurologic issue, she may suggest further imaging, such as an MRI.

Diagnosis will also involve collecting a swab sample from your bird’s nares, mouth or throat and microscopically evaluating the bacteria found in the sample.  Bordetella avium is small gram-negative coccobacilli and needs a fluorescent antibody test to be performed in order for proper identification of the bacterium.  The veterinarian may also want to perform a serologic test to measure antibody levels within your bird.  Certain levels can indicate an ongoing infection or if your bird is currently trying to fight one off.

Treatment of Lockjaw in Birds

The severity of your bird’s lockjaw will determine his treatment.  If the case is mild, you can attempt to treat your bird symptomatically and see how he does.  Every case of lockjaw in birds is different from the next so treatment will be in response to your bird’s symptoms as they develop.  In many cases, the condition has progressed so far the bird is unable to open his mouth and eat on his own.  It then becomes a quality of life issue and many people choose to euthanize.  

Attempting prevention of infection from Bordetella avium is an option you can try if you choose.  Scientists have been developing and testing a vaccination against this pathogen and have tested it in chickens.  The availability and science may vary so it is something you should discuss with your veterinarian.

If lockjaw was caused by trauma, the veterinarian can attempt to offer your bird supportive therapies and treatments in order to get him to use his mouth again.

Recovery of Lockjaw in Birds

As mentioned earlier, the severity of your bird’s condition will determine his recovery.  If he is experiencing only mild symptoms, he may respond well to symptomatic treatment.  However, once your bird is unable to open his mouth in order to feed and hydrate himself, prognosis is poor.