Clostridial Diseases in Birds and their Prevention
In companion birds such as parrots and parakeets and in poultry, clostridial disease is a bacterial infection of the small intestines. It can affect multiple body organs, depending on the specific clostridial bacteria involved. For example, Clostridium perfringens typically infects parrots and parakeets, while poultry can be infected by Clostridium botulinum (which in turn causes botulism through its toxin production). The symptoms are dependent on the type of clostridial bacteria involved but they all produce a toxin. Clostridium bacteria produce some of the most potent toxins discovered by scientists. There are different types of the toxin; types A and C cause the disease in birds, while type B frequently produces the disease in humans. These toxins are responsible for many of the symptoms, including a rapid deterioration of health, loss of appetite, weight loss, listlessness, bloody feces or undigested food. Even after the bird is cured of bacterial infection, the toxin will remain in the bird’s body and can continue to cause symptoms.
Clostridial disease infects a bird by coming into contact with contaminated food and water, spores or bacteria (usually by breathing them in), and contaminated surfaces like cages, utensils and nest boxes. Birds can also contract the disease through infectious wounds. Often, it will be through an injured or traumatized cloaca. The cloaca is the body part where urine, feces and urates are stored before being eliminated from the bird’s body. Generally, a veterinarian will perform fecal and other tests on the infected bird, and treat accordingly with antibiotics. The veterinarian may also consider reducing dietary protein during periods of stress, exposure or outbreaks of the disease.
However, prevention is easier to carry out than treatments. Clostridial disease in birds can be prevented with few simple precautions. This can include creating a stress-free environment by avoiding overcrowding of a bird’s living space. Birds should have fresh air and good ventilation. Make sure feed is properly stored and that it’s free of bacterial growth. Bacterial spores may be present in corn and grain products as well as manufactured pellets, or extruded food and may develop bacterial growth if conditions are favorable. Disinfecting the bird’s living environment regularly will help keep pathogenic bacteria levels down. Birds should also have a well-balanced, nutritional diet. Part of the nutritional diet should include a Lactobacillus probiotic or other good microflora. Research has shown that some strains of Lactobacillus will competitively exclude Clostridium perfringens from the GI tract of chickens. In a similar manner, companion birds will be protected.
There are a number of probiotics on the market that contain Lactobacillus species that are good for companion birds. Probiotic supplements for birds must contain certain Lactobacillus species that can be effective for birds in helping to maintain a normal balance of bacteria. Including probiotics in the normal diet will help keep birds healthy and reduce the chance of having to treat for Clostridial diseases.
Dr. Dan DuBourdieu
Dr. Dan holds a Ph.D. and M.S. degree from the University of Minnesota and a B.A. from Macalester College. He has been involved in basic cell biology, biochemistry and immunology research at Hoffmann La Roche Inc., ImmuCell Inc. and other research companies. He has worked with Bomac Vet-Plus Inc for a number of years doing animal nutrition product research and development.