Avian Respiratory Emergencies: An Approach to the Dyspneic Bird

Key Points

  • Signs of dyspnea in the avian patient include open-mouth breathing, increased sternal motion, and tail bobbing.
  • The dyspneic patient often benefits from humidifed air and 40% to 50% oxygen.
  • Tracheal obstruction is associated with acute onset of inspiratory and expiratory dyspnea, and is best managed short-term by air sac cannulation.
  • Important causes of tracheal disease are aspergillosis and seed inhalation.
  • Aspergillosis and chlamydiosis are important causes of pneumonia and air sacculitis. Onset is generally insidious, however subtle, non-specific signs of illness are often missed. Patients can present with dyspnea and prolonged expiration. Treatment frequently includes systemic therapy and nebulization.
  • Air sac compression caused by extrathoracic problems such as hepatomegaly is another important cause of respiratory compromise.
  • Low humidity and exposure to inhalant irritants such as strong fumes or cigarette smoke are important risk factors causing respiratory tract inflammation.
  • Survey radiography is a valuable diagnostic tool, particularly in medium to large-sized parrots. Additional diagnostic testing may include cytology, culture, endoscopy, hematology, and serum biochemistry.
  • Upper respiratory tract disease is common, but rarely a cause of dyspnea.

After recognizing a dyspneic bird, the clinician’s initial response should be: Hands Off!! Dyspneic birds can die soon after presentation with the additional stress of restraint and handling. Therefore minimize handling and place the bird in an oxygen-rich cage. Humidify air and provide 40 to 50% oxygen. As in mammals, oxygen therapy is potentially toxic if given for prolonged periods at high levels . . .

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