Cruella, a 4-year-old female Golden Eagle presented to AVS with a history of ‘poor performance’, only seeming to come to life and actively hunt at last light when her internal clock would tell her she needed to eat before bedtime!
With the benefit of hindsight, she also seemed slightly unbalanced on the glove or on quarry with a flattened posture instead of the normally bolt upright, long legged alert stance of a hunting eagle.
The owner also reported she now very rarely, if ever, ‘cast’ a normal ‘pellet’ of indigestible feather and fur, even though she would go through the motions several times a day.
It was possible to feel her stomach on gentle external examination of the area, even when she hadn’t been fed. This is abnormal as when empty the stomach is generally concealed by the sternum (breastplate).
She otherwise seemed quite well in herself, maintaining her weight with a reasonable appetite, and passing normal looking mutes/droppings that showed no evidence of internal parasites on microscopy, but clearly something wasn’t right.
When admitted to the clinic ‘starved’ for ‘X-Rays’ we were surprised to find a stomach full of stones embedded in a mass of some sort that was far too big to be able to pass through the thoracic inlet and be regurgitated as a normal pellet.
We couldn’t rule out a tumour or abscess of the gastrointestinal tract at this point.
The stomach was massively distended and when incised, we came across a huge ‘fibrous’ mass containing stones with fibres so densely packed we were unable to break it up and so it had to be removed in its entirely via an 8cm incision in the stomach wall.
Considering this must have been in there for months, the stomach tissue looked in surprisingly good condition and almost looked relieved to get rid of it and was visibly contracting down as we were stitching up!
Cruella recovered uneventfully from surgery with the owner reporting by the next day she already looked like a different bird, eating with gusto (although we limited her to multiple small easily digestible meals at this point), holding herself more erect on the perch and pumping her wings full of vigour!
The mass when soaked down appeared to be pieces of gravel embedded in some sort of rope or even an item of woolly clothing (thankfully a wearer has not been reported missing!) that she had at some point mistaken for a meal but will likely remain a mystery.
We are now over a month down the line and having reintroduced small amounts of feather she is starting to make and cast her pellets again and we are quite excited to hear about her performance in the field this season without her unwanted ‘ballast’ slowing her down!