We often talk about the importance of monitoring your bird’s weight and how you need to get it to a vet fast if you have a significant weight drop. We often don’t think of a weight increase as being equally as significant and alarming. We tend to think of a weight increase as being diet related, or basically an indication that the bird is too fat. There is also a stigma attached to a weight increase. If you take a fat bird to the vet, you do it knowing that the vet is going to be wondering what crap you’ve been feeding your bird? Deny it all you want but you look like a bad owner that just feeds sunflower seeds. I hate to think how many people avoid a vet trip for that reason.
That has been my week. My galah Morgy has had a weight rise in the last month. I would previously have classified her as heavy but now there was no questioning it – she was too heavy. She had a 25-gram rise across a month. It wasn’t good news and I had been watching her more closely than normal as a result. I’d also been prodding her to exercise more as (naturally) I thought it might help. For the record, don’t prod a galah in the butt and say: “Run fatty RUN!” in front of a talking eclectus, unless you want that repeated to a weight sensitive aunt at your next family get together.
The thing with Morgy – she has always been a quiet bird. She is the one that has always been happy to stare off into space. Picking illness with her isn’t easy as a result. She had no other obvious changes, her poo was consistent, and she was still eating and interacting normally (for her). Despite this, I took her to the vet and requested a range of blood tests and an xray. I told the vet to check out her liver in particular as I thought that I was missing something and I had a gut feeling that’s what it was.
I am lucky enough to have four galahs in my flock who are all on the same good quality diet and they all have the same amount of exercise (except maybe for my elderly galah who can’t keep up). So when only one has a weight change – it’s a pretty strong indicator that something is up with that particular bird. It was enough to tell me that it wasn’t something I was doing and so I needed to get her to a vet.
Morgy has never been sick in her time with me. Her annual checkups have always gone well and her blood tests have been normal apart from a high cholesterol reading when she first got here. That’s why I asked for the xray. I was not prepared to believe blood tests anymore, I was looking for something I’d missed. Unfortunately I found it.
Morgy’s liver is seriously enlarged and this seems to be the cause of the weight increase. Fatty Liver is a common illness in galahs, but her blood tests do not support that diagnosis. Everything has come back pointing towards cancer.
Normally with liver issues, diet is something that forms a big part of the treatment. The thing is, Morgy is already on a diet that supports her liver. I haven’t really got anywhere to go with that. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the diet is what has got her this far and why she doesn’t look or act sick.
I can’t confirm the diagnosis easily at this stage as she is unlikely to survive a biopsy or if she does the high chance of complications would just make her suffer.
I am lucky in one sense – this has been caught before she is acting sick or is symptomatic. The liver is so enlarged that I’m very away time to act is extremely short. I’m also not sitting around waiting for weeks for test results for contagious diseases that might cause this. I can rule them out as she has been screened in the past, not exposed to other unscreened birds and has had regular checkups. This gives me a very small window to try something before I have to worry if she’s uncontrollably suffering. If she hadn’t been to a vet regularly in her life and if I hadn’t been weighing her – I wouldn’t even have this small window. So if there is one thing others can take from this, monitor your bird’s weight and do annual vets checks.
In the next few weeks, I’m trying her on a medication program designed by my avian vet. If it helps, it should get her to a state where she can have the biopsy to rule out cancer and go from there with treatment. Bearing in mind that cancer is looking extremely likely, this outcome’s chance is slim. If all goes well I will take her back for more tests after 3 weeks and will have concrete answers as to what improvements (or not) have been made. I’m not going to have to guess – I’ve got solid results to compare to and a very good avian vet doing the tests. If she doesn’t improve… then I’m very aware that her liver is so enlarged that there are already other complications that I can’t ignore.
It is looking more and more likely that Morgy is here for a good time, but not a long one. While she still has the quality of life – I’ll do whatever I can to help her.
Mel Vincent works as an animal rehabilitator out of Australia.