Understanding Bird Cancer

December 31, 2008 by  
Filed under Features

Most new bird owners probably would not even imagine their feathered friends getting bird cancer. It seems like a somewhat outlandish concept. Yet, if you’ve been involved with these beautiful creatures for long enough, you’ll know that the incidence of cancer in birds is quite a bit more common than most people would like to acknowledge.

When you look at the stats, bird cancer is definitely not a rare occurrence in the bird world. Fortunately it does seem to respond well to treatment, so bird owners need not despair if their pet is diagnosed with a tumor. Unfortunately one cannot identify a specific group of birds as being more prone to this disturbing disease than others. There are also many different types of cancer in birds, so the prognosis can be very different from one bird to the next. It seems that squamous cell carcinoma is one of the most common bird cancers and it can present in different ways in different birds.

Cockatiels who are getting on in years might develop tumors in their preening glands or on their skin. This is why it is important to keep an eye on your cockatiel from 20 years of age onwards. Budgies, on the other hand, seem to develop tumors in their kidneys, testicles and pituitary glands when they are young – usually under five years of age. This is a sharp contrast from other birds where the cancers are usually found in much older specimens of the species. However, it is suspected that there is a virus which causes these problems in the budgies.

It would appear that size does have an impact on where the cancer might present in the bird. Larger birds and cockatiels seem to be more susceptible to liver cancer, kidney cancer and ovarian cancer. Smaller birds, such as budgies and finches, tend to be more prone to skin tumors and bone cancers. Birds can even develop a melanoma on their beaks! Often the birds are brought in to the vet because they are displaying lameness on one side of their bodies. On examination it is found that the lameness is not physical but rather is caused by a tumor that is pushing on the nerves from the organs.

So what options do you have if your bird is found to have cancer? Treatment options vary and will depend on the type of cancer and where it has presented itself. Bird cancer treatment options range from chemotherapy to amputation. In some instances the tumor can be frozen or treated with radiation therapy. The sexual organs can be removed if the bird is big enough and the cancer as presented itself in these. Or a tumor might be injected. Ultimately the vet will be in the best position to advise the pet owner as to the best course of treatment.

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