In April 2015, Paris was the city that many exotic animal veterinarians flocked to for the second ICARE conference, which is short for International Conference for Avian, Herpetological and Exotic mammal medicine. This conference brought together a number of exotic animal veterinary associations, including the European Association of Avian Veterinarians, Association of Small Mammal Veterinarians, Association of Reptile Veterinarians and the European College of Zoological Medicine. There were four days of conferences and two days of pre-conference activities — one day of masterclasses and another of laboratories.
The meeting was sponsored, in part by the National Veterinary School of Alfort, France ( École nationale vétérinaire d’Alfort or ENVA), which is one of the oldest veterinary colleges in the world. It was very humbling to sit in the same halls that many veterinary students had used starting in 1766 listening to the latest information on the care of animals! Yes 1766 — 10 years before the American Revolutionary war! And one of the most interesting aspects to the School for me was the Fragonard museum, where there are many birds and other animals that were dissected and preserved way before — like 200 years before! — the development techniques used by Gunther von Hagens in the Bodies exhibition. It was frankly astonishing to see these preserved dissections to better understand how the body works! After the first two days, the remainder of the conference, where scientific talks were presented, was at the Conference Center of the Parc de la Villette in the heart of Paris.
There were many talks on many subjects, and I will highlight some of these talks and masterclasses from the conference over the next year. Many of you who bring your beloved bird to your veterinarian benefit from the research that was presented at this and other conferences. However, this is probably the biggest and the most important venue for presenting of research of birds and exotic mammals. As research dollars dwindle, the area that is hurt the most is that of our birds and other exotic pets. This lack of funding makes it difficult to do some rather simple things — like figure out if we can use certain drugs and how they are used in birds.
Specific Tests & Studies
For example, Dr. Marina Krautwald-Junghan from Leipzig Germany did a masterclass on the use of ultrasound in birds. Much of her work has involved understanding if and how we can ultrasound the heart of birds. She demonstrated the proper technique along with the type of ultrasound instrumentation that is necessary to see the fast beating heart of birds. Many ultrasound machines cannot capture or image that fast moving avian heart. Additionally she showed us normal hearts including the normal sizes of the atria and ventricles and the 2 views. From there, we were to figure out some common abnormalities from the images. As our companion birds’ age, heart disease is becoming more common. We learned how to diagnose a number of these conditions with the use of the ultrasound.
Additionally, Dr. Krautwald’s research group determined the pharmacokinetics of an ACE inhibitor that is used for dogs in heart failure- enalapril. In her study, they used racing pigeons to determine the dose of enalapril. From that information, we as veterinarians have to adapt that to other species of birds, realizing that it may be different. But that is all what we have — not like doses for dogs and breeds of dogs vs. cats, for example. In addition to the masterclass, one of her veterinarians gave a paper on the use of the spectral Doppler for diagnosing atherosclerosis in the great vessels of the heart. This is a real problem that we are confronted with now almost weekly in our avian practices. The technique presented allows us to view the aorta and to determine if the outflow is impeded by cholesterol plaque. For this particular study, they used African greys and Amazon parrots. They followed birds with this problem after starting them on enalapril and changes in their diet and found that these changes improved their heart performance, and hence their quality of life.
Another area of scientific interest was that of PDD or proventricular dilatation disease and the role of avian bornavirus. Previous studies by the group directed by Dr. Michael Liertz in Giessen Germany looked at possible routes of infection of the virus to cause disease. They tried to infect birds using the traditional routes of infection — fecal, oral and nasal — but birds did not develop signs of disease. Other studies presented by Dr. Monica Rinder from Munich showed that putting the virus into the brain did not produce symptoms in canaries. These canaries were found to shed the virus and had lymphoplasmacytic inclusions in the brain — they just did not produce the lesions more commonly seen in the GI tract of canaries. Canaries that had the natural signs of disease with changes in the GI tract also had large numbers of viral particles in the brain. However, those strains of canary bornavirus were used in this study but failed to cause the natural signs of disease.
The understanding of the relationship of avian bornavirus to the pathogenesis of the disease is not clear. For example, we know that avian bornaviruses are known to produce the symptoms of the disease — the proventicular dilatation — but not all birds with this condition test positive for this virus. Studies in humans have demonstrated that an infection with the intestinal pathogen Campylobacter jejuni may lead to Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a ganglioneuritis very similar to PDD. Antibodies against ganglioside 1 have been demonstrated in humans with Guillain-Barre syndrome, which suggests that this is caused from infection with Campylobacter. Blood samples from parrots in Dr. Rossi’s study from Camerino, Italy, showed that there was a 93% cross reactivity between these parrot samples and that of a lipopolysaccharide from Campylobacter. This suggests that the release of these large molecules may be involved in causing an autoimmune reaction that causes the symptoms of PDD. While avian bornavirus can cause symptoms by causing these lipoproteins to be released in the nervous tissues, other infectious agents, and in this case, Camplyobacter may also do the same.