Medical Bird Articles

Planned Parrothood®


by Patricia Barth

You are faced with not only the extreme sadness of having lost a treasured pet and friend, but also with the decisions that must be made. Do you need to have the bird necropsied (autopsied)? Should you just bury it? Then there are the what ifs: what if it was a disease that is zoonotic (can be transmitted to humans and cause death or illness)? what if another bird is actually carrying what killed this bird? what if this disease came from the breeder or pet shop? The most important reason to necropsy a bird is to determine if it had a disease such as psittacosis (chlamydia), which can be fatal to humans. Upon gross necropsy, which is generally no more than $75 - or more for further histology evaluation, an experienced avian veterinarian will be able to determine whether further histological testing should be done. Your vet can always keep tissue should histological pathology be required later on. Inquire about your post mortem options because now if you don't take the bird back for burial, other hazardous waste costs may apply. If you are a bird breeder facing any kind of mortality in your aviary, it is a must that you have at least a necropsy performed. If you have an avian lab at a university close to you, you may get a break on costs. Documentation on natural cause of death can be invaluable later on should there be any questions about your aviary.

Of extreme importance will be the PREPARATION of the bird. Nothing needs to be done if you can immediately transport the bird to your vet. If you must keep the bird for hours or overnite, then you need to lather the body completely with a mild soap such as Ivory or Dawn Liquid and COOL water to keep bacteria from forming. Place the bird in a plastic bag and then a paper bag and REFRIGERATE - NEVER FREEZE!! Dr. St. Leger explains further:

by Judy St. Leger:

As Patricia said, many breeders/owners ask vets to look for specific problems - Did the bird die from Aspergillus? When a no is found, nothing else is pursued. Many clients do not wish to spend "more on a necropsy than on helping the bird". And when clients are well educated and willing to do what it takes, many clinical vets don't have a good lab to deal with necropsy samples from birds. So what can you do?

  1. When birds die they should be refrigerated (not frozen) and brought to the vet/lab the next day for evaluation (I can tell you stories about frozen valuable birds on breeder loan that were submitted for evaluation - ugh!)
  2. Be prepared to spend anywhere from $50 - $200 for a good exam with microscopic evaluation. The process can take a week to 10 days.
  3. Remember that money spent on a necropsy can greatly impact management of live birds and therefore is valuable insurance.
  4. If your clinical vet is performing the gross necropsies (usually the case) be sure that your vet is sending samples to a pathologist with knowledge and experience in avian diseases.
  5. If you are sending/bringing the body to a lab for full work-up, be sure to supply a complete history. If you are shipping a body, be sure to pack it with cold-packs in a styrofoam container. Call the next day to be sure that it got where it was supposed to get.

As a student, I was always amazed at the great diagnoses that Dr. David Graham would get in his cases. I now realize that he had the ideal situation - educated clients willing to solve problems and an experienced pathologist - everyone should aim for this type of situation. -Judy St. Leger

An excellent new article to reference on this subject is from The Center for Avian and Exotic Medicine


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Revised 11/28/17