Update On A Galah/Rosebreasted Cockatoo With Liver Issues


Morgy in her sleeping cage.

A couple of months ago, I wrote a blogpost about my galah Morgy, who had just been diagnosed with serious liver issues. At the time, the exact cause of her liver issues was unknown. There was a large question mark over whether or not it was cancer or maybe fatty liver? A biopsy would confirm, but she was in no state to cope with that procedure. She was already on a good quality diet and so her only hope for improvement was medication. If she improved, her situation would be reassessed in a few weeks. If not – well her x-ray showed a liver so enlarged that the “if nots” were more than a little scary.

The initial sign that something was wrong with Morgy was a weight increase. I had no way of explaining her weight shooting up, but the liver’s increased size seemed to account for it. It was confusing because Morgy has had regular blood tests throughout her life, which apart from the results from her initial new bird test, her results have always been pretty normal. The recent x-ray showed an advanced liver illness, which I had always thought blood tests would catch earlier.


Morgy flies to my chest and clings to me waiting for her meds to be syringed down her throat. Her reward and cooperation is achieved because this is the only time she'll ever see a seed. Morgy's diet is so strict that she doesn't even get seeds/nuts for foraging. She literally gets a few for behaving at medication time and that's it.

I have some good news though. Morgy has responded well to medications. Her weight reduced back to a safer level. In fact, after six weeks of treatment her blood test results came back pretty much normal again. Going by those latest blood tests – there isn’t much wrong with her. It was the miracle I had been looking for. I could be running around screaming she’s cured!!! I’m not though. I’m just not sure that the miracle is going to stick. I suspect the good diet and the medications are actually causing misleading blood results.

It isn’t lost on me that her liver was so enlarged on that x-ray that she only had a couple of millimeters of air sac visible. Her air sacs were so badly compressed by the enlarged liver that it was a shock that she was still breathing, let alone acting normally. So I’m very aware that despite her history of great blood tests, she has likely had this problem for some time. The liver is a regenerative organ, so there is hope. However, the damage is clearly very severe, so chances are at least some of it is irrevocable. The fact that she has responded to medication suggests it isn’t actually cancer and is more likely fatty liver. Whatever it is, that x-ray told me it has shortened her lifespan.


My macaw Fid, offering to help bag and freeze the latest batch recipe (from the birdtricks cookbook)

My choices at the moment are basically ethical. I could put her through a biopsy and find out exactly what is causing this? She’s probably strong enough to get through it. However, on the flip side – the biopsy may give me a cause but that won’t change the diagnosis of an advanced liver disease. I’m already treating that. I have to ask myself if it is worth putting her through a high-risk surgery when the outcome is most likely that I’ll provide the medications and treatment that she is already getting? There doesn’t seem to be much point in making her suffer if I’m unlikely to change what I’m doing.


Humans are such a gullible species. Seriously what kind of bird helps fetch bags to help their human bag food?!? She should have known that behaviour was a decoy because after all, it's all sandwich bags must die week! 

I’ve chosen to maintain her quality of life. My goal isn’t to maintain a sickly bird, but to keep her as normal as possible for as long as possible. She’ll have repeat blood tests in a few weeks and if she’s strong enough to cope with an anesthetic another x-ray to check things are still as ok as they’re going to be. This reassessment process is likely to be on repeat, every few months for the rest of her life.


Messy beak - she loves her vegies.

She’s active and she seems happy within herself. To be honest she has never actually looked sick. Her behaviour has been pretty consistent in all of the years I’ve had her. With hindsight I look back on her tendency to be quieter than the rest of my flock and I now see that as a strong indicator that she’s been hiding this disease the whole time I’ve had her? The fact that she’s always been heavy no matter what I fed her, yeah I’m beating myself up for missing something. I’m not sure what I could have done differently though? She has had regular vet checkups and blood tests and I have been constantly battling with her weight issues. She’s seen three different avian vets in her time with me because I wanted answers for her weight. So realistically even if I could time travel, I’d have the same outcome. It’s a bird owner’s worst nightmare really. Morgy is the bird who checks out ok, but who isn’t really.

So meanwhile, I’m happy about her recent miracle results but I remain cynical and jaded about them. Results have been misleading in her past and I’m quite sure that if she wasn’t on a great diet, she’d have died some time ago.  I’m currently monitoring another weight rise, so there are still signs that things aren’t all good. I can’t believe I’ve got near perfect blood results for her and yet I’m worried she won’t make it to Christmas. It’s one day at a time with her and I count myself lucky to know to make the most of that time while I can.


Why do cockatoos always chew the bit of a branch that is holding them up? Anyone???

 Mel Vincent works as an animal rehabilitator out of Australia.

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