Imagine what five months, or longer, in a small ferret cage constructed of chicken wire can do to a blue and gold macaw? In the case of Basia (pronounced Basha), the blue and gold macaw that Phoenix Landing recently took in, it’s a lot more, and a lot less, than you’d think. This inappropriate cage was the key to figuring out his persistent vomiting, but his isolation and mistreatment didn’t break his spirit.
Sarah, our West Virginia coordinator, was contacted by a family who owned a bird who was much loved by one of the family members, but, unfortunately, this person had died a number of months ago. The rest of the family wanted nothing to do with Basia the blue and gold macaw, and kept him alone in a room in a small cage for months. When Sarah understood how desperate the situation was for this bird, she immediately began looking for a solution. Without any open foster homes in West Virginia, she contacted Debbie and me, looking for homes in Virginia and Maryland. Fortunately, we had a home in Virginia that was eager to give Basia a new place to land.
Basia was transported by Maryland volunteer David, who fostered him for a few days, and picked up a large donated cage for him. He said he was immediately struck with how social Basia was. Left in a room by himself for months at a time, Basia wanted nothing more then to interact with people.
Laura and Jeff, a Phoenix Landing foster family, picked Basia up from David, and also remarked on how much he wanted to interact, especially with Laura. Very soon after coming home, Basia was spending time with the whole family and fitting right in. However, there was something wrong with him. He was vomiting.
Basia was taken in for a well bird exam and a Complete Blood Count (CBC). Phoenix Landing pays for most birds to have this important medical baseline. Basia’s white blood cell count was elevated at 40,000, which is twice the upper limit of what’s considered healthy for a macaw (20,000 may be acceptable to indicate stress during a vet visit). Basia went on a 10-day course of antibiotics, and though he bit some syringes in half, he took his meds pretty well.
Unfortunately, the vomiting and weight loss continued.
Laura and Jeff, like all of our wonderful foster families, are patient and compassionate. They took Basia back to the vet after the first round of antibiotics was almost complete. Because the symptoms persisted, Dr. Richards at Pender Exotics did a crop wash to test for the presence of fungus or bacteria. Both were found, though, there was a bit of good news: Basia’s white blood cell count on the second blood draw had dropped to 20,000.
Dr. Richards suggested an Aspergillosis test, because Basia had a slight cough, and because he had come from a filthy environment. Dr. Richards also suggested different antibiotics to treat the bacterial and fungal infections, as well as adding apple cider vinegar to Basia’s water.
Laura and I were talking about Basia’s treatment s few days before the results of the Aspergillosis test came back. Basia was still vomiting, and we were stumped. We talked through everything that he had been tested for, and everything he’d been treated for.
All of a sudden it popped into my head: What about heavy metal toxicity?
I had recently had one of my birds tested for this, and I knew that vomiting could be related. The more we talked about where Basia came from, and especially his cage, the more it made sense. Basia could have ingested a piece of the galvanized chicken wire on the cage he was in for months. Laura brought up this possibility with Dr. Richards, who suggested an X-ray, combined with a blood draw to test for elevated zinc and lead levels. Fortunately, Pender Exotics does not anesthetize a bird to do an X-ray, which is something I always worry about in treatment.
A few days later, after Basia’s appointment I talked to Dr. Richards. The Aspergillosis test had come back negative, and the X-ray hadn’t revealed anything either. She saw no foreign bodies, and no apparent pieces of metal in Basia, but we’d have to wait for the test results to come back to confirm that heavy metal toxicity was not the problem. I worried that we might never find the reason for Basia’s persistent vomiting, and he would continue to suffer. Though thankfully, on last weigh-in, Basia had actually gained a little.
A few days later, we had our answer.
Basia’s zine levels were more than twice the normal limit for a bird. What a relief that we’d finally found the cause for his symptoms, and that it was something that could be treated. The treatment is chelation therapy, continued monitoring and retesting to confirm that the zinc is finally removed from his body. While Basia isn’t healed, we now know why he’s sick, and what to do about it.
I wanted to share Basia’s story for a number of reasons. His story is by no means typical, but it isn’t unique either. Most birds do not come to Phoenix Landing with extensive medical problems, but some do. It took the hard work and dedication of many folks (Sarah, David, Jeff, Laura, Debbie, myself, Dr. Richards and the staff of Pender) to get this bird on the right track and to save his life. It also took a lot of money! Phoenix Landing has paid over $500 in vet bills so far for Basia’s treatment. This amount will certainly double, if not triple, by the time we’re done.
We’re happy to help Basia to get well, but helping parrots takes time and money. If you can donate to us to help with vet costs, wonderful. If you’re a federal employee, don’t forget about us when you complete your CFC contribution (our number is 31469). And, above all, keep learning about good parrot care, and how to keep your bird healthy. If Basia had been housed in a safe cage, it is likely none of this would have happened.