Veterinarians have a tremendous responsibility when asked to qualify the health of an avian patient. The first and absolutely the most important principle to he understood is that no one, not even the most skilled of practitioners, can assure the good health of an avian patient through visual means alone. In other words, even the most healthy looking of birds can he harboring hidden disease for which there arc no external signs.
In order to maximize the chance that hidden disease is not present, the veterinarian must first visually scrutinize the patient looking for any physical abnormality that may suggest an underlying illness. Abnormal choanal features (derails in the oral cavity), slight color changes in the feathers, asymmetrical nares, etc. may imply that the bird is harboring a problem which has not yet caused him to he clinically ill. These signs may directly or indirectly dictate that certain tests he
performed to help explain the presence of the signs. Once the physical exam is completed, laboratory samples are collected and tests are run to assess the patient's health.
When a diagnostic laboratory panel is formulated, some tests are selected that provide information about the overall health of the bird while others are selected to provide information about a specific abnormal physical finding. It is imperative that all major aspects of a pet bird's health he evaluated; limiting an evaluation to the investigation of an isolated problem may fail to reveal an underlying and potentially more serious illness.
The number and implications of all the tests available to avian practitioners is extensive and continually expanding. The following discussion is a profound oversimplification of the more commonly utilized tests and their significance. This will hopefully demonstrate to the pet owner the importance of utilizing these diagnostics and assist him or her in making sense of the information they provide.
Complete Blood Count
The single most important test for almost all avian patients is the Complete Blood Count, or CBC. Here at Avian & Exotic Animal Medical Center practically every live bird which comes through the door has this test performed. The CBC represents a significant part of the immune system. While many avian diseases may go undetected by the owner, many fewer escape detection by the bird's immune system. The CBC is divided into several parts which provide different details regarding the activity of this part of the immune system as well as information on the condition of the blood itself. Many types of infections, anemia, low
hlood protein, parasitism, etc., may he demonstrated by the CBC even when the hird appears perfectly normal. Because of the extensive information it provides, the value of the CBC cannot he overemphasized.
Electrophoresis (EPH, SPE)
A test which evaluates another part of the immune system is the Electrophoresis (EPH, SPE). Immune responses are characterized hy changes in levels of certain blood proteins, and this test measures those proteins. Changes in specific proteins suggest the presence of certain physiologic or pathologic processes. Many conditions which would otherwise go undetected may be demonstrated with this test. This test also serves to strongly support or contradict diagnoses revealed hy other tests.