- My elderly Rosebreasted Cockatoo/Galah
A bit over a month ago, I did a post about how a heat source helped stabilise my elderly galah when he suddenly fell ill. He had a minor infection, which he has recovered from.
Unfortunately though, there was a reason that a minor infection was such a major problem. A normal bird, would have coped with a minor infection a lot more easily – the fact that he didn’t showed that something else was going on.
It has been a hellish month. It really looked like the next time I wrote about Cocky Boy – I’d be writing about how he didn’t make it. For quite a while, I thought he was dying. Realistically, he’s now sort-of stable, but could still go at any time without much warning.
The problem has turned out to be his heart. It’s very enlarged and on the xray you can see calcification happening in one of his main arteries. The current diagnosis is Atherosclerosis. Effectively, his heart is a ticking time bomb.
It’s not really surprising. I’ve had him for three years and he lived with the same family for at least 60 years before that. I know he is a minimum of 63 years old and possibly even older.
If you compare aviculture from 63 years ago, to now… well just think how many changes this bird has seen. Our knowledge of a bird’s needs has changed drastically. His past diet does explain his current condition. I know he was fed salted peanuts, and sunflower seeds as a main meal before he came to me. For most of Cocky Boy’s life seed was really the only thing that people thought birds ate.
When Cocky Boy first came to me, his blood tests showed serious liver problems, it went without saying that his heart would be struggling. His cholesterol level was extremely high. A good diet later and those blood tests had largely normalised – I’d thought he was ok apart from serious arthritis. This latest infection showed that while he’s ok, the damage done to his heart was irreversible.
I find myself in a position where I feel like I’m playing God with his life. I know he isn’t fond of me shoving a syringe into his beak every few hours but on the flip side I can’t bring myself to put an end to this when he still seems to be happy and still has a decent quality of life. It’s hard when a bird can’t clearly communicate what he wants.
He has lost 95 grams since April. That’s huge. I’m hoping we’ve stopped the weight loss, but Cocky Boy has yet to regain any weight. Ironically, his weight is now the same as my much younger and healthier galahs’ normal weight – it’s just not normal for Cocky Boy. He is actually developing a pressure sore just under his keel bone because he has lost all of his padding and can’t perch normally due to his arthritis.
His medication has felt like a giant experiment to me. His avian vet has had to adapt cat/dog heart meds for him. Birds with treatable heart disease aren’t yet common in Australia. It’s starting to be seen more as knowledge grows enough to diagnose it, but not enough for avian heart meds to just be readily pulled off a shelf.
I’ve been crushing and dissolving tablets, dividing the powder from capsules into tenths on a set of jewellery scales and mixing them with all sorts of things to make them more palatable to Cocky Boy. He hasn’t thanked me for it. I can’t really blame him.
He’s gone from voluntarily swallowing arthritis medication 1-2 times daily (which apparently tastes alright), to cringing at the sight of me with a syringe. To give you some idea – the arthritis medication is twice a day, he’s been on two different heart meds simultaneously also twice a day, a medication to help his breathing 3 times a day, antibiotics for the infection twice a day, probiotics in his water as needed, and now he has a pressure sore that needs attention. Plus I’m monitoring his weight daily, his droppings and food intake. Meanwhile, I’m watching that he is maintaining his grooming as sometimes (due to the lack of movement caused by arthritis) his vent becomes unhealthily blocked and he needs extra help bathing. Then there’s the constant re-working of doses and meds to keep fine-tuning it until we get the desired results. It’s a nightmare.
Then there are the vet visits and bills. These include everything from blood tests, to Xrays, to visits with a specialist cardiologist (who normally does cats/dogs) for ultrasounds – just to get the diagnosis and the medication dosages right.
It’s exhausting and I find myself wishing that the knowledge we have now about a decent diet had been around when Cocky Boy was younger, so that this situation might have been prevented. It’s why I find myself writing this post – I want people to clearly see what a difference they’re making to their bird’s future when they bother to do the work that it takes to feed a decent diet and provide a decent environment.
63 years or more is amazing and I know his previous owners would probably argue that their diet and whatever else achieved that. Maybe. But it has been achieved at the cost of his mobility and his current heart condition.
If you haven’t already, seriously check out the Birdtricks feeding program – believe me when I say that you don’t want to be doing what I am doing if you can possibly avoid it.
So I know many of you are going to read this and wonder why I’m letting this go on? Isn’t it cruel to put him through this? I ask myself that question every single day, every time I pull out a syringe, every time I see him choosing to sleep under a heat lamp. He breaks my heart.
What I would say to those people is that I’m basing my current course of action on the behaviour I’m observing and I reassess it every single day.
Cocky Boy is still eating and still showing interest in different types of food. He delightedly yells “Peanuts!!!” when he sees a favourite vegetable in his bowl and waddles forward as fast as he can to get it. He can still shred an entire stalk of broccoli.
He’s still destructive. He’s happily destroying wooden toys and throwing discarded parts at the cat. He’s actually in the poo with me at the moment as he just chewed off the wooden corner off my heat mat, so I’m going to have to replace it. A happy cockatoo is a destructive one though, so it’s hard to be angry.
He’s talking and interacting with my other birds. He has his foraging toys that he drags over to the heat lamp (which is now permanently on) and sits there warming himself while slowly dismantling them.
Ok, he’s sleeping more but he’s showing no signs of pain and is still bright and cheerful enough to display unwanted hormonal behaviour towards my mum. (“Why does he always want to squirm on me?!??” she squeals.) He still greets me every morning by roaring: “Where’s my damn breakfast WOMAN?” in his croaky old man’s voice. (The past owner’s wife, for that little phrase must have hit his past owner over the head more than once!)
In a nutshell, as long as Cocky Boy is fighting for his life – so will I.
On the bright side, now that we know what drugs and what doses seem to have stabilised Cocky Boy – my vet has been able to have the cat/dog medications compounded into a liquid by a pharmacist. He requested that he get the flavouring the same as the arthritis meds that the bird loves. That is making medication time a little bit less stressful. Hopefully, they’ll stabilise him enough to put on a little more weight, although reality is – with a heart condition, he is better off being a little lighter.
Meanwhile, I’m revisiting the way I’ve set up his cage. He’s already in a ‘disabled cage’ as such, but there’s always more you can do. I’m now pulling out a stash of vet wrap (a type of bandage commonly used by vets) and I’m wrapping the tiles and perches that he likes to sit on, so that they’re padded and help with his pressure sore… no doubt I’ll have to keep changing things up.
I know it’s nearing his time and every day is a new battle. I’m just hoping I can make the end of his life happy enough to be worth it.