Toby, a very handsome 2 year old budgie presented recently to AVS with a history of a lump on his chest that had been getting progressively larger over the past few weeks. He was also bobbing his head, as if trying to regurgitate, and his owners reported he had been uncharacteristically ‘smelly’ during this period.
On examination he did have a rather large lump in the area of his crop that when gently manipulated, gave Toby a nasty case of bad breath!
He was otherwise very bright and eating well, but given the above we suspected a bug called trichomonas. This protozoal parasite lives quite happily in small numbers as part of the budgies natural gut flora but if conditions are right (during times of stress for example) it can flare up and create rather stinky cottage cheese like abscesses in the mouth or crop.
Budgies also seem to get more than their fair share of lumps and bumps compared to the other species we deal with so this was also a concern in this case.
A crop wash was performed, where a small amount of fluid is instilled into the crop via a ‘crop tube’, then sucked back and examined under the microscope for the ‘tadpole like’ trichomonas organisms. None were seen but as we occasionally get false negatives in such cases we began treatment anyway, which if successful releases such lesions from the crop wall that then break up and are either vomited or passed into the stomach where they are safely digested.
On his re-check examination a week later, the owner reported he was still bright and well in himself but disappointingly the lump was clearly still present and he was still definitely not smelling of roses!
At this point we decided that, as medical management had failed, our only other option was surgical exploration with view to removing the offending mass.
We certainly don’t take such decisions lightly as even with the most up-to-date anaesthetic and surgical equipment it still carries a fair degree of risk in such tiny patients.
With birds over 200g in most cases we can place a tube into the windpipe, hook them up to a ventilator and effectively breathe for them, enabling us in some cases to carry out procedures lasting hours. Because a budgie’s windpipe is less than a millimetre in diameter, we cannot safely intubate them without causing damage to the delicate lining of the windpipe, which if prolonged results in scarring and subsequent obstruction. This issue together with their rapid metabolism and low blood volume (a budgie has about half a teaspoon of blood!) makes them particularly tricky surgical candidates.
Following discussion with the owners, Toby was admitted and under sevoflurane anaesthesia using radiosurgery (essentially an electric scalpel that seals blood vessels as it cuts) and micro-surgical instrumentation used with ‘operating loupes’ and micro LED headlight (high quality binocular optics, custom built for the surgeons eyes which illuminate and magnify the operating field by 3.5 times), which have revolutionized surgery in such tiny patients, a large mass of multicoloured fibrous material was removed from his crop and proventriculus (the glandular part of the stomach), the area flushed out and the surgical site stitched up in 2 layers. Toby handled the procedure very well and was up and about chirping away in less that 25mins.
On further questioning the coloured mass matched the colours of Toby’s spiral rope perch, which unbeknownst to the owners he must have been nibbling away at over the previous few weeks. The fibres had matted together and without surgical intervetion would ultimately have caused a complete physical obstruction.
Note; We would like to state that in the vast majority of cases such rope perches/springs have many health and welfare benefits including a varied perching surface for healthy feet, increased exercise and chewing opportunities which we believe far outweigh the minimal risk of chronic ingestion as occurred in this case.
We saw Toby back this week for his post op check and were delighted that his surgical wounds had healed completely with his owner reporting him back to his normal ‘non-smelly’ self!