What are Seizures?
Your bird may be unable to control its muscles and may fall off its perch while experiencing twitching and spastic jerking for up to 2 to 5 minutes. The cause of seizures is often hard to isolate, with the causes ranging from tumors and heat stroke to trauma and toxins. The seizure is a result of spontaneous disturbances within the brain’s electrical activity. Until you can get your bird to a specialist for treatment, ensure that your birdcage has a layer of soft padding on the bottom to protect it and minimize injury while having a seizure.
Seizures are upsetting to witness in your bird, involving loss of muscle control and muscle spasms such as leg twitching and wing flapping.
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Symptoms of Seizures in Birds
- A seizure can range from a mild episode to severe, and can be frequent or infrequent in occurrence.
- Flapping of your bird’s wings in an uncontrolled manner
- It may vocalise and trash about during an episode
- Your bird may lose consciousness for a brief time
- Loss of the motor functioning of the body
- Stiffening of the body during a seizure
- Disorientation and inability to perch
- Twitching or thrashing of the legs
There are three distinct stages to a seizure.
- The first stage is the aura phase where your bird may exhibit a change in its usual behavior
- The second stage is the ictus phase, which involves disorientation and inability to coordinate its muscles; this phase is where your bird may fall from its perch to the floor, and trash about, stiffen, vocalise and defecate. It can last for 5 to 25 seconds
- The third stage is the postictal phase and lasts the longest, sometimes up to a few hours; your bird will demonstrate lethargy, confusion, and agitation or may be exhausted
Causes of Seizures in Birds
- Physical injury such as concussion caused by a collision with the wall, or flying into a window or a blow to the head
- Nutritional deficiencies can be low blood sugar caused by an inadequate diet (hyperglycemia), deficiencies in vitamins such as Vitamin B or E, low calcium levels (hypocalcaemia),
- Viral diseases such as Borna virus, can result in the nerves being attacked resulting in seizures and other symptoms
- Fungal diseases can infect the spine causing muscular disorders
- Infectious diseases attacking the central nervous system (such as bacteria that secrete toxins)
- Disease of the internal organs such as a tumor, arthritis, and other causes such as liver disease
- Environmental causes (overheating caused by inadequate shade from the direct sun during summer, lack of hygiene, toxic fumes)
- Poisoning (often toxins such as lead or zinc can lead to loss of muscle control and cause seizures)
Diagnosis of Seizures in Birds
After your bird has a seizure, carefully take your bird to the avian veterinarian as soon as possible to determine the cause of the problem and enable a treatment plan. Keep your bird in a dim light and quiet environment after a seizure, and keep it warm but not overheated. Padding on the cage floor, and lowering the perches may help your bird recover. Nutritious food offerings of easily digested food and ensure the water bowl is not too deep to prevent accidental drowning. Your veterinarian will need a history of how long the episode took, and what character changes your bird experienced will help, such as did your bird look vacant, fall over, or have any trembling at all.
Your bird will be given a thorough physical examination followed by radiographs and blood chemistry to reveal the cause of the problem. The blood chemistry can reveal liver and kidney malfunctioning, while the radiography can determine the presence of metallic material (toxic material) in the gastrointestinal tract. The blood count can help determine infectious disease. It can also show dietary deficiencies and mineral/vitamin shortages. Often it is a case of eliminating other disease before an in-depth study on the remaining options can source a reputable diagnosis.
Treatment of Seizures in Birds
Because a seizure can be caused by a variety of physical reasons, once the cause can be found then targeted treatment can begin immediately. If the cause is toxic metals such as lead and zinc, then the treatment with chelating drugs and removal of the particles is the focus. There are many possible treatments for seizures, but your specialist will be able to advise you dependent on the results from his examination of your bird companion. Hypocalcemia requires dietary adjustments to be made, and supplying calcium and Vitamin D3. If hypoglycaemia is present then using glucose to stabilise the blood sugar will help.
Diseases such as liver or kidney disease have specific treatments that your specialist can advise you on. Good supportive care that includes a warm and safe home, fluids, and treatment medication will help. Anticonvulsants can be used to temporarily halt the seizures allowing treatment to take effect. While there are plenty of possible treatments depending on diagnosis, some birds only have rare episodes, and others recover completely. There are some birds that unfortunately get worse and for those the prognosis is grim. Your bird will need your support and care that only you can give in its time of need.
Recovery of Seizures in Birds
Once your bird is home and on the road to recovery, it may be an innovative idea to keep your bird companion in a smaller cage with a padded floor to prevent injuries if it continues to have seizures. Check the environment to ensure there are no possible items in the vicinity that may cause possible poisoning. Birds are such curious creatures that they will investigate everything in their environment.
Beware of using household cleaners that have toxic vapors such as cleaning products, and while it may not affect you, it could harm your pet. Follow your avian veterinarian’s guidelines for treatment, and make sure you give all the treatment, don’t stop it when your bird appears better. Often the cause takes the full treatment to cure.