Pediatric Avian Medicine: Diagnostic Testing


Regardless of the initial cause of illness or injury, neonatal psittacine birds often develop secondary bacterial and/or fungal infections that can become serious primary problems. These infections are most commonly encountered within the gastrointestinal tract. Often, the stabilization of the critical patient precedes the pursuit of an etiological diagnosis; however, bacterial and/or fungal culture and sensitivity testing from gastrointestinal samples is essential to guide antimicrobial therapy.

Grey chick

Regardless of the presenting problem, neonatal psittacine birds should be screened and monitored for secondary bacterial and/or fungal infection. Photo credit: Geek2Nurse via Flickr Creative Commons. Click image to enlarge.


Cytology and culture

Collect samples such as crop swabs prior to initiating empirical antimicrobial therapy. Bacterial and/or fungal culture and sensitivity testing from gastrointestinal samples is also essential to guide antimicrobial therapy. If the client has financial constraints, at least perform fecal and/or crop swab Gram stain cytology to assess the status of gastrointestinal microbial flora.


Clinical pathology

Blood can easily be collected from the right jugular vein (Fig 1). As in adults, a blood sample equivalent to 1% of the body weight can be collected from a healthy bird. As in mammals, complete blood count and plasma biochemistry results in juvenile birds vary from those of adults. Young birds have a lower hematocrit due to a lower red blood cell count. They also have decreased total protein, albumin, sodium, chloride, calcium, and uric acid values as compared to adults. The potassium, phosphorus, alkaline phosphatase, and creatinine kinase values of the chick are higher than adults.



Survey radiographs normally show an enlarged crop, proventriculus and ventriculus. The intestinal tract is usually fluid-filled and may appear enlarged. The liver and heart are also relatively large. The air sac spaces are usually smaller than in adults.



Endoscopic examination can be a valuable diagnostic tool, however, the chicks should be fasted for a few hours (depending on age) to decrease the volume of the gastrointestinal tract. This will allow easier visualization of the coelomic cavity.

Collect blood from the right jugular vein

As in adult birds, collect blood from the right jugular vein. Photo credit: Dr. Samuel Rivera.



When presented with a clinically ill juvenile bird, there are a host of diagnostic tests that can be performed to identify the underlying cause of disease and formulate a therapeutic plan just as in adult birds. When appropriate, obtain a minimum database including complete blood count, biochemistry panel, and survey radiographs. Additional testing may include cytology, culture, and laparoscopy.




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To cite this page:

Rivera S. Pediatric avian medicine: Diagnostic testing. May 6, 2008. LafeberVet Web site. Available at