What is Neuropathic Gastric Dilatation?

Neuropathic dilatation disease affects the nervous system and digestive tract in your birds. Either one or both areas can be affected. The result of this disease causes the food your bird eats to not be processed and passed through to the organs. Therefore, your bird is unable to absorb any nutrients. The symptoms of the disease come first from the virus, and secondly as your bird’s immune system reacts to the virus. Ongoing research is in place to find a cure for this debilitating disease. Psittacine (parrots) birds are most commonly afflicted.

Known also as proventricular dilatation disease (PDD), this disease is caused by avian bornavirus, is highly contagious and can result in death for your bird.

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Symptoms of Neuropathic Gastric Dilatation in Birds

  • Your bird can literally waste away, which is why this disease is also known as wasting disease 
  • Inability to perch
  • Head tremors
  • Paralysis 
  • Lack of nutrition leading to a loss of weight and muscle mass 
  • Your bird may look fluffed and quiet
  • Depression 
  • Regurgitation and vomiting 
  • Whole seeds in the feces 
  • Lethargy and weakness 
  • Abdominal bloating 

Types  

The virus affects two areas of your bird’s body - it can affect the nervous system and/or the digestive tract. 

  • Weight loss is the most noticeable symptom if your bird is affected through the digestive tract; your bird may regurgitate often and undigested food may be evident 
  • When the virus hits the nervous system, your bird may suffer from ataxia so severely that it can fall off its perch; it may also have wobbly head movements and suffer fits

Causes of Neuropathic Gastric Dilatation in Birds

  • It has only recently (2008) been discovered that a virus was identified as the cause 
  • The virus gradually works on the nerve supply to destroy the supply to the forestomach, the gizzard and portions of the small intestine 
  • Incomplete digested food trapped in the digestive tract attracts bacteria and increases the chance of secondary infections 
  • The damaged thin wall of the forestomach can rupture which causes the food to leak into the abdominal cavity 
  • This rupturing and subsequent invasion of food into the abdominal cavity results in severe infection and death

Diagnosis of Neuropathic Gastric Dilatation in Birds

If you suspect your bird has this disease, or is showing any of the symptoms as shown above, you must take your bird to the veterinarian. There are many indications of this disease, caused by the severity your bird is experiencing. It is usually only possible to diagnose this by taking a biopsy, and looking for wasting in the smooth muscle of the gut or stomach wall. Ultrasound is also used to check if the crop is distended. It is not yet possible to perform a blood test for a diagnosis. 

The bird breeds most affected by this debilitating disease are the macaws, cockatoos, and parakeets. It has also been found although to a lesser degree, in Canada geese, toucans, spoonbills and weavers. Neuropathic gastric dilatation in your bird is a disease that is not well understood and as yet has proven hard to diagnose and to treat. Many of the symptoms for this condition are similar to other diseases or even poisoning symptoms, so when your veterinarian is examining your bird he will have to rule out all common symptom causing diseases and ensure the right diagnosis for your bird.

Treatment of Neuropathic Gastric Dilatation in Birds

Because neuropathic gastric dilatation is not fully understood and while there is ongoing research on this condition, there is no treatment at this time and the prognosis is poor. To be able to control and prevent this virus, it will need to be confirmed as the cause of the disease. Accurate confirmation can only be given during a post mortem examination. Other live tests are still not totally conclusive. Other exposed birds need to put into isolation and cared for. The symptoms are often varied depending on the intensity of the disease. Sometimes the virus just attacks the digestive system with the attending symptoms of weight loss, and other general systemic nature conditions. 

With the nervous system also attacked, your bird can suffer severe ataxia. With all the varying symptoms that are either gastric or affecting the nervous system, it is difficult to provide one treatment that cures all. Researchers have had some success with the use of NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) that can slow down the development of the disease but there is no reliable cure to date. Several birds have survived many months with this treatment, some for many years, so there is hope that there will be a definitive cure soon.

Recovery of Neuropathic Gastric Dilatation in Birds

While the use of high doses of powerful anti-inflammatory drugs can be helpful, supportive care is usually the only option available for sick birds. Management, such as isolating your sick bird so it can enjoy peace and quiet, and providing easily digestible food to allow it to be nourished will help. As this disease can cause other infections to arise, treatment of those will help your bird to cope. Maintaining a high level of cleanliness and ensuring the water is clean and uncontaminated by droppings will also keep the virus in check. Unfortunately, there is no vaccination against this disease. There is a lot of ongoing research which is working towards this scenario, so we hope that in the near future a vaccination or cure (or both) is developed soon.