Beak and Feather disease Dr Stephen Cutter B.V.Sc(hons)
A very bedraggled looking Galah called Gerry was brought to me this week. He was dirty and very thin. His feathers were patchy and greeted me with a very unenthusiastic “hello cocky”. He looked old beyond his 9 months of age. Closer examination showed haemorrhages and deformaties in the growing feathers. Gerry had Psittacine beak and feather disease(PBFD). This disease is very common and results in a huge amount of suffering to both wild and pet birds. PBFD is caused by an extremely small tough virus. It is extremely common, at least every second day I see a bird suffering from it. IT affects only members of the parrot family including cockatoos, budgies and lorikeets. It is a very variable disease,in nestlings it causes sudden death but in older birds it causes the feather loss, beak abnormalities and immunosuppression. It is often slow with a long incubation period and It often quite variable between species some such as budgies it affects relatively mildly causing them to loose their flight feathers (Often called runners) but in other species especially the cockatoos it is very severe. For cockatoos and for poor gerry it will be a death sentence. On average with good nursing care Gerry may last 6 months but the occasional one does go onto last years. They loose all their feathers and get the horrible twisted beaks but some do survive. Full recovery has occurred in a few of the more mildly affected species but this is very rare. It is a particularly frustrating disease because at this time it is very hard to help much. Whilst it is possible to test and by removing infected individuals and good hygiene you can remove the disease from captive breeding birds most pet cockatoos are collected in the wild as babies and are already infected. Once they are infected it is impossible to cure.