Red bellied with probable misdiagnosis of PDD

My name is Felicia Dale and I live in Western Washington with my husband William Pint and our bird Ranzo. Email:

If you’d like to find out more about us and our lives than is in this email, here’s our website: http://www.pintndale.com


Ranzo is a four year and two month old male red bellied poicephalus whom we purchased at the age of four months from the Seattle Parrot Market. We knew virtually nothing about birds and were actually only looking at parakeets but we

totally fell in love with Ranzo and took him, and pretty much everything else needed for a new bird, home the same day we met him. We took him to the recomended vet for a well bird check, which he passed except for a slight infection in his crop, for which the doctor gave us antibiotics. We gave him the complete dose as directed and the follow up visit showed no sign of further trouble. He forgave us the daily toweling and set about teaching us to be good bird “parronts,” which we also pursued by reading as much as we could.

We found Sally Blanchard through the print-outs which Charlie Harding, the owner of the SPM, sold us and Ranzo responded as predicted to step-up practice and all the other excellent advice we did our best to follow. Ranzo integrated easily into our family group, which included our elderly cat, Frank (now deceased) and has been a charming and cheerful companion. He has weathered two moves, numerous trips in our camper and long stays with bird sitters when we travel over seas with no apparent emotional trouble of any kind.

Around September of last year he began to exhibit vague problems- slight tail bobbing with his breathing, a growing reluctance to flap, and a sort of “fluff” or crust (almost like a deposit from hard water) appearing and disappearing in his nares. We took him to the vets, the same ones recomended by Charlie Harding, but despite blood tests and careful examination they couldn’t come up with anything wrong. Since two birds, a cockatiel and an African Grey, had moved in not long before Ranzo’s apparent health problems, I asked about allergies to their dust and communicable diseases but both birds, who went to the same vets as Ranzo, had passed their annual exams with flying colors and the vets didn’t think our bird would be allergic to their dust.

Our new housemate was at least as concerned about Ranzo’s health as we were and made every effort to keep her birds cages clean and had her birds blood checked again- but they were apparently disease-free. They never showed any signs like Ranzo’s, ate like horses and were friendly, good birds to be around.

But Ranzo’s breathing didn’t get better, in fact one night last January he had a severe episode apparently due to eating an almond in the shell. He got about half-way through eating it (one of his favorite treats) then dropped it and began gasping. He clawed at his face, whimpering with distress, chest heaving for breath then he vomited most of the almond after which he seemed greatly relieved. This was not “I love you and want to feed you” regurgitating but very distressed-seeming “get rid of this NOW” vomiting. His breathing eased right up and in a few minutes he was happily eating a crunchy.

I was a basket case of course! No more almonds! I’ve since tried him on one almond but I took it away from him almost right away as he began heaving for breath after only a little work on the shell.

So, back to the vets. Can birds develop allergies? Yes, but rarely. How about to almonds? Never heard of it. Have you figured out what the stuff in his nares is? No, never seen it before and it doesn’t look bad anyway.

I was starting to get disillusioned about these vets.

After several more visits for repeated and worsening breathing, lack of appetite and gradually declining activity I gave up on this clinic. The second to last visit was particularly upsetting- they did radiographs on Ranzo, positioning him on the board with masking tape. He came back practically catatonic from fear and crouched in the back of his cage, eyes shut and shaking like a leaf. I’d never seen him so frightened and it took him nearly two hours before he recovered enough to say anything or even come out of his cage. The vets weren’t cold about it but neither were they apologetic- it was just business as usual.

The radiographs came out of developement and the vet said she thought maybe his heart was enlarged but that she would send them to a person more experienced in reading them before diagnosing heart disease. Later, she called and said that his heart was fine but that there was a slight “grey” area around one area of his air sacs, and though it was hard to tell because he’d been wiggling so much she thought it might be aspergillis. But she wasn’t sure. I asked about tests, she said the tests were rarely conclusive but it was a common disease for African birds in our area and did I want to treat him for it? She also thought he should do a round of antibiotics “just in case.”

For some reason I didn’t feel any confidence in that clinic any more. I waffled for a while, too long, I’m sure, and went back one more time with Ranzo and my husband to try and get some kind of definitive answers from the vets. But, though they were friendly and fairly sympathetic they not only didn’t seem to know what was going on but they wouldn’t say they didn’t know. The vet just suggested antibiotics again (cefadrops- not sure of the spelling) and an antihistamine in case of an allergy. Reluctantly, we agreed, and went home to wait for the drugs to be sent to a local clinic.

The drugs never showed up- and Ranzo’s breathing was just terrible, he wasn’t eating much at all and his feet were cold. Furious, frightened and frustrated, I went to my bird lists and asked for a recomendation from people in our area and three people responded, all mentioning the clinic we’d been going to but also another clinic and a specific doctor. I called, made an appointment and took Ranzo in the next day. I also called the clinic he’d been going to and

had his records sent on as well.

Ranzo was diagnosed by Dr. James Onorati, DVM of Des Moines, Washington, as having PDD, airsaculitis and a fungal infection. Dr. Onorati did radiographs and took blood to come to this diagnosis but did not do a crop biopsy as he was afraid that it could be fatal to such a small bird. Ranzo’s blood tests were apparently normal and healthy, except for the fungal infection. He showed no signs of zinc poisoning or parasites. On the radiographs Ranzo’s proventriculus(?) was somewhat enlarged and his spleen was moderately enlarged. There was also a “gray area” in one side of his air sacs that the doctor interpreted as either airsaculitis or possible scarring from an earlier disease but as it, and his proventriculus and spleen, had changed slightly since the last radiograph taken in January, he decided it was airsaculitis.

Dr. Onorati also syringed out Ranzo’s nares and cultured the saline but n othing grew. Ranzo’s breathing, which had become very labored (tail bobbing, chest heaving, rasping in his nares) became much easier after the syringing and he was much more active over the following week, flapping a lot and seeming to have a better appetite. Interestingly, Dr. Onorati listened with a stethescope to his chest and then to his head and then again when Ranzo was asleep for the radiograph. When Ranzo was unconcious there was no rasping sound to his breathing at all. His lungs also sounded perfectly clear.

Ranzo was nebulized for approximately two months with Clotrimizole and is taking 0.13ml of Celecoxib and Terbinafine twice a day. He was also given Baytril.

His breathing problems seem to have eased a great deal but he is still very easily winded when flapping, which he avoids, and he seems to sometimes experience pain when panting, sometimes even whimpering for a few breaths. He also looks repeatedly at his chest, arching his neck, eyes pinning and sometimes preens in an agitated way around his chest and under his wings. These two symptoms are not always connected.

We have given no over-the-counter medications.

We have used no herbal or other medications other than what the vet has given us except for aloe vera gel and organic apple cider vinegar in water, greatly diluted and not all the time.

His medications are given to him mixed in cashew butter or peanut butter, both organic and unsalted and kept refrigerated. Dr. Onorati thought this was great and was very pleased that we weren’t having to towel him twice a day.

Droppings: Ranzo’s droppings were what first alerted me to something going on besides the heavy breathing, which we thought were due to an allergy response to something in his environment. We use newspaper for tray lining and I change it often, as needed, during the day. He starts out every morning with fresh paper for his morning poop. The first change I noticed was that there were bubbles in the clear urine and that the dark, solid feces had changed from soft and gloppy medium green to a more tubular shape and a darker green. Since this was about the time that we were changing him over from Pretty Bird (the African mix recomended by Charlie Harding) to Harrison’s high potency coarse I wasn’t surprised. I expected the droppings to change but then Ranzo also started making a sort of squeaking noise when doing his morning poop and seeming to have to strain as well.

The heavy breathing took us to the vets the first time but the change in his droppings made us take him back again. More blood tests were normal as were cultures from his droppings so no answers there.

Today (October 19, ’03) his morning poop had clear, slightly bubbly urates, white urates slightly mixed with the darker, thick-textured dark feces. This is the way they’ve been for nearly a year now, not changing much except to become thicker or thinner and sometimes with very little clear urine, especially

in the morning poop.

Over the last year, starting in or about September, Ranzo, who had taken to the Harrison’s with delight, began to eat much more, especially the Harrison’s. He started eating less of his “bird bread,” bean mix or other foods I offered him which before he had liked well enough. He was never big on veggies,

even when offered from our own plates (no butter or salt, of course!) and except

for soy beans he stopped even playing with veggies. He would still eat corn on the cob, apple and a few other things but mainly he just pigged out on the Harrison’s. The original vet was concerned about this because of the fat content but Ranzo’s weight remained the same no matter how much he ate. She wanted me to put him on a low fat diet but I resisted this due to my reading about diet in general and also the fact that he wasn’t overweight.

In reading about other folks’ birds on various lists I began to realize that Ranzo had gradually become entirely too tidy, quiet, well-behaved and inactive. I watched him as much as I could when he couldn’t see me and I noticed that he spent more and more time just sitting on a perch. He played less, rang his bells less, acted out less…

We had had a friend move in temporarily in the fall with two birds, a cockatiel and an African Grey, so we thought maybe he was feeling intimidated but even when he was with us on various rides in the car he remained quieter than before and the vet didn’t think there was any connection.

Both other birds were healthy (as per the usual well-bird tests by the same vet) and their owner was a gentle, kind person whom Ranzo liked. The cockatiel was grumpy and the grey was a feather breaker with only down on his chest but otherwise both birds were in good shape, ate well, played, talked, sang, did tricks, etc. William and I could handle both of them reasonably well (the grey was a little tricky- he was somewhat shy and insecure) but we made sure that Ranzo was always the first bird to get treats or attention from us, and our friend did the same with her birds. We made sure to wash our hands a lot, the birds had no direct contact and they did not share toys or food bowls. There was no apparent stress from them moving in, or moving out again which they all did last spring.

Feeding: Morning and evening Ranzo gets a bird bread made with an organic, no-salt corn bread mix to which I add various ingredients but most often organic, whole eggs (usually two with well-washed shells), peas, corn, organic baby foods such as squash, carrots, sweet potatoes, cooked birdy bean mix (organic, human grade), etc. I vary this with sprinkles of spices such as cinnamon (organic) or

hot peppers (organic), steamed veggies such as soy beans, broccoli, peas, corn, etc, and occasionally a bit of pasta or quinoa (organic, sprouted and cooked for us).

All fruits and veggies are thoroughly washed. I buy organic as often as possible.

He has a bowl of water which I change frequently during the day.

He has pellets available, usually refilled twice a day and about the amount recomended on the Harrison’s package.

For treats he gets a nutriberry or three, a few (five or six) organic sunflower seeds, an occasional small spray of organic giant millet, banana chips, apple slices, corn on the cob (about an inch at a time), and lately I’ve been offering him Harrison’s power treats but he’s not all that keen on them…

Ranzo also really likes tortilla chips and french fries but we don’t give him much of those!

We never feed dairy products (we don’t eat them ourselves, except for 1/2 & 1/2 in our coffee and ice cream but Ranzo doesn’t get those items ever), or sweets other than the banana chips.

I don’t give him supplements as a regular thing, though occasionally I add spirulina or Nekton vitamins to his food bowl for a change. He doesn’t seem to notice one way or the other.

There are no supplements in his water other than an occasional, very dilute organic apple cider vinegar and/or garlic juice or aloe vera gel.

I have given him probiotics, both a human, soy based version and benebact mixed in his food.

Ranzo seems to be very conservative where foods are concerned and is not motivated by treats. He prefers praise to food rewards and has gotten mad at us

for trying to bribe him before, during or after toweling for wing trims or medicating. We offer him everything that we eat that is appropriate for birds (the usual no’s such as chocolate, caffeine, etc) and though he is interested and appreciates the attention he usually will not actually eat any of it. He is especially disdainful of leafy greens.

I’ve used various strategies over the years but the only ones that worked even a little to expand Ranzo’s diet are eating the food myself and making yummy

noises (which is lots of fun!) and him watching our friend’s birds who would eat anything, especially if it was on a spoon. The grey in particular was eager to eat off a spoon and would hold it himself. Ranzo was starting to show interest in this but then the other birds moved on and along with getting sicker

and eating less and less he was also more and more resistant to trying new things or even eating former favorites.

Lately, he has had good and bad days for eating. Today he’s eating lots of crunchies, ate some bird bread, soy beans, a nutriberry, three sunflower seeds and a few sesame seeds off a crust of bread. For dinner, after a piece of bird bread, I gave him some of our dinner- a spoonful of quinoa, two or three soy beans, a slice of baked yellow squash and a baked clove of garlic. He ate some of everything.

Environment: I’ve already mentioned the birds and woman moving in and then back out again. The only other thing that has changed in his home environment is that my

friend also brought with her several house plants. I have since read more about

mold, especially black mold, which my friend believed had killed a parrotlet of hers in another home. Our home is not apparently moldy but I wondered about her plants so I removed the most obvious possible source of mold, a basket around a potted plant. The basket went outdoors and the plant went into the basement and was shortly given away. My sinus problems, which I’d never had before, seem to be easing or even going away- I’m not swearing to a connection but Ranzo also seems to be a bit more active and cheerful, too.

No new location for his cage, no new birds, no new interior items, some guests but no one as housemate, etc.

Ranzo lives in and on a Cal Cage, a table top with a branch for access between it and the cage and sleeps at night in his travel cage in my office. The cages themselves are wiped down often with water and vinegar (mostly to keep dust down) and washed with a mild detergent and GSE or bleach and rinsed thoroughly and allowed to dry in the sun, when it’s out. Regardless, it’s all wiped down and dry before Ranzo’s back in it again.

Cage papers are changed at least daily, sometimes twice or three times if necessary after messy food or lots of toy destruction and the trays are washed.

Food and water dishes are changed daily, more often as needed and always clean. The dishes are stainless steel or ceramic.

Breakfast and dinner are removed after a couple of hours. If we have to leave during the day I leave him less perishable food items such as pellets, nutriberries, apple, etc rather than corn bread or bean mix.

Pellets are fresh daily or more often as needed and the same for water, which is sometimes four or more times depending on how much “soup” Ranzo makes!

There are no insects present in or on his food.

Social interaction: We do not have any other pets and Ranzo is an only bird. When my friend’s birds were here he mainly ignored them, though eventually he did show interest in the cockatiel. When staying with his usual sitter he calls her pug dog by name and enjoys throwing food for him but otherwise he ignores the other birds. He is quieter around other birds, especially if they are noisy.

When Frank the Cat was alive Ranzo was very interested in him, especially Frank’s tail and pink nose. We protected them from each other of course. Ranzo

seemed untroubled by Frank’s death but later reacted very badly when we said, “say, bye-bye, Ranzo,” on preparing to leave him at the sitter’s. We had said the same phrase when we took Frank away to the vet’s to be euthanized (when old age, kidney disease and a horrible sinus infection were too much for him) and Ranzo definitely reacted unhappily and very strongly to this phrase!. It took an hour of explanation and reassurance before Ranzo calmed down enough for us to leave. Later, I sat down with him and talked to him about Frank and his death and how we hadn’t meant to frighten him or make him think that we were

leaving him forever and since then Ranzo has been much more confident about being left behind.

He’s confident around strangers and we’ve been careful who we ask him to step up for so that he’s never been frightened or upset by strangers other than the vets.

The last two years have been very stressful for us (as it has been for lots of people) and we’ve been very worried about Ranzo’s health. We know birds can easily sense peoples’ moods and we’ve made every effort to be sincerely cheerful and calm around him- but he’s with us nearly 24 hours a day wherever we

are and so it’s not easy to keep things from him.

We’ve tried to mitigate his stress by keeping his schedule even and predictable in the midst of other changes. He gets daily showers (which he asks for by name), lots of ambient and direct attention, praise for all good behaviors, new toys, old toys rotated, regular bed time in a quiet, warm room, affection when he solicits it including head and beak scritches, etc.

Our house has an open plan for the main floor with picture windows on three sides overlooking the neighborhood, including our second lot (vacant) which is mostly overgrown with blackberries and willow. There is lots of light all day long on even the cloudiest day but he also has a day-light bulb in a lamp over his cage. There is a lot of wildlife here including dozens of kinds of birds and he can see for miles to water and mountains and the beautiful sky.

Ranzo’s cage is by the piano and one wall. He prefers his cage to not be covered unless he’s actually sleeping and has carved holes in cage covers that well-meaning sitters have placed for his comfort not realizing his preference for vision in all directions. He is calm and untroubled by most noises or activities, but his one big fear is diesel trucks backing up with beepers. He was startled by one once right next to our van and he’s never gotten over it. We keep an eye out for the garbage truck or delivery vans and give him lots of reassurance and get him out of direct sight of “truckasaurus.” He’s afraid of snake-like items, such as a friend’s long, spiral stick (used for juggling- hard

to explain) and he’s not fond of ladders. Otherwise, he’s bold and confident especially with just a little reassurance or explanation.

He seems to be fine with being alone, though of course since we’re not there it’s hard to tell! But, toys are used, food gets eaten or tossed, the water dish is bathed in or used for washing food or toys, and he’s apparently untroubled by us leaving and seems glad to see us when we come back. He’s not often alone, though, as we are either home or traveling for our job either with him or he’s at a sitter’s.

Ranzo spends most of his day out of his cage unless we’re off running an errand. He has access to our dining room table with is protected with a vinyl cloth (no, he doesn’t chew it, or the table) by way of a madrona branch in a christmas tree holder. There are toys in his cage, on his cage, on the table and on the branch but there are also places that are empty. This changes but not on any real schedule, mainly in response to washing the cage, toys, perches or company coming over.

When Ranzo was well he LOVED to flap and it was one of the rare times when he would get really noisy. We always encourage his flapping and make noise with him- lots of fun! He likes traveling in the car and seeing new places and people. He enjoys time on the floor, under supervision of course, and is often with us on the couch for an hour or so in the evening when we watch tv. He climbs all over his cage and madrona branch, chews up wood toys with enthusiasm,

is completely unafraid of new toys, especially when I tell him something like, “Guess what I’ve got for you, Ranzo!” He loves his showers and asks for them by name and refers back to them during the day.

He goes equally well to either my husband or myself, and though I’m the favored one who gets to pet him the most, when I was gone for four days last month Ranzo did let William pet him for several minutes. They also exchange “kisses,” which is nose to nose touching.

Ranzo has offered to feed me many times (which I politely decline, reminding him that William is my husband) and has acted out at William with tail flaring and pinning eyes but only in spring and fall since he turned three. As for other sexual behaviour, he once attempted something like sex with a paper towel tube but looked very confused before, during and after. Last spring he chewed up a ton of wood toys- there were chips everywhere! Not so much of this this fall but a fair amount of perch pruning. Sometimes he is very defensive of

his cage but will usually step up if not on a hand then on a stick after a bit of persuasion and then he’s fine and goes right to being his sweet self again.

Cage and toys: Ranzo’s main cage is a California Cage (24x24x20) and a travel/sleep cage (14x14x16). The day cage is rarely covered, the travel/sleep cage is covered at

night or during travel when the weather isn’t perfect or at night- though Ranzo tucks himself into the collar of William’s coat at night. He also has a cat-carrier type travel cage.

Perches vary from natural branches (thin, medium and thick, bouncy and stiff), a grooming perch (not concrete) in front of his Cal cage water dish, a flat platform, and those stiff rope perches and a spiral rope perch. The spiral perch is in his travel cage and is his preferred place inside the cage but on the outside he prefers a rope-covered ring wedged and clipped into the top of the cage. In the Cal cage the preference is harder to note but he seems to like

a slender branch near the top third of the cage. On top of the cage is a play area with welded metal “ladders” decorated with a ribbon wood perch (very thick) and a slender, branching perch made of madrona. He likes this last one a

lot and has modified it by chipping away at the ends of the branches. He does the same with the bigger branch that gives him access to the dining room table.

I use newspaper in both cages, though at one point I used none at all and washed out the trays several times a day because Ranzo was not only chewing the paper but eating it. He only did this for a little while and seems to have stopped so I’ve replaced the paper again- but I keep an eye on him! He can reach his papers and enjoys perusing the contents which is one reason I change them so often.

Favorite toys include soft-hardwood chews provided by a local luthier, leather strips (which I also had to remove due to eating but are now only being chewed on again) woven together with plastic toys, Shredders and toys made of the same material, a variety of bells, coconut shell both in pieces and in halves, quick links, the lables on new toys (!), metal chain (stainless steel and only under supervision), puzzle toys with treats inside (he’s way too smart for these to pose much trouble for him), chop sticks, q-sticks, shoelace ends… Basically, Ranzo thinks just about anything is a toy.

When he was well he could be very aggressive with his toys, especially his bells- he would bang the hell out of them, telling them to, “Step up! Step UP!! STEP UP!!!! Goooood boy,” on a regular basis. Lately he hasn’t done much

of this though some of his old playfulness has returned. Today we had a nice session of him throwing toys off the table for me to retrieve. He also had a good walk around the living room investigating the floor and cushions, paper, etc with me following along on my hands and knees.

Toys are changed around periodically but on no particular schedule. Some favorites tend to stick around while others change out randomly.

Lighting: Mostly natural light from the picture windows but also a day-light lamp over his cage which is lit on darker days. His day tends to start around 9-10 and end about 8:30 in the evening. He does go outdoors, in his cage, and rides in the van very often. We don’t use a nightlight.

Water: Water is filtered (Brita) or bottled. He has usually two bowls, one in the Cal cage and the other on top on the play pen. The travel cage has one dish. I generally don’t add anything to his water, though lately I’ve used the aforementioned vinegar/garlic/aloe additions but not as a regular thing.

He loves his showers. We have a chlorine filter on it and he gets regular showers with either of us, just about every day. It’s harder when traveling as he hates misting bottles but he’s starting to appreciate that a little more. We don’t force it on him. He occasionally bathes in his water dishes, especially when William washes the van windows when we are filling the gas tank.

Household safety: We’ve always erred on the side of ecological kindness so there aren’t many heavy duty cleaners in our house. The most common cleaner is vinegar, followed by Simple Green, baking soda, etc. GSE is my disinfectant of choice. Bleach is rarely used (we have a septic system plus it’s horribly toxic), laundry soap is unscented and we don’t use fabric softeners.

We do have carpets but they’ve never been washed. (Yuck.) When we do this to prep the house for selling we’ll take Ranzo out of the house. Regardless, we’ll be using the least toxic solution we can find.

We don’t burn candles, use perfumes, air “fresheners,” teflon pans (we use only cast iron, stainless steel or ceramic), no aerosols, pesticides, no smoking

allowed in the house (hardly any of our friends smoke and they don’t handle the bird at all), vaccuming is apparently not a problem for sneezing or plucking, home heat is electric air or wood stove (regularly and professionally maintained), the temperature varies from about 55 to 75 depending on the weather

(hotter with sun but then windows are open and the bird is shaded)…

I do have houseplants. Ranzo has never been in contact with them and they are well out of reach of his cage. I don’t use any pesticides on them, leaf “shiners” or strong-smelling fertilizers.

No pest extermination has been done here except mouse traps, also well out of reach of Ranzo’s cage.

Outdoors: Ranzo has spent time in the garden but mainly on the deck and inside his travel cage with me immediatly beside him. He has had no contact with any wild animals, fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, grass, etc. As far as we know he’s never been bitten by a mosquito and we’ve been careful to keep an eye on that, but it would be easy to miss if it had happened.


One more note: Yesterday we took Ranzo back to Dr. Onorati for a checkup now that his nebulization is done. Dr. O was very pleased at his appearance and thought he looked just great. (Ranzo is beautiful- shiny, deep-colored feathers, bright eyes, etc.) He took blood, a sample of a dropping and swabbed the back of his throat for follow-up tests. Ranzo had gained a couple of grams, which really made Dr. O happy and when I described Ranzo’s droppings he didn’t seem terribly concerned, though he did make note of them in his records. He also said he’d been asking around about the stuff in Ranzo’s nares and he hadn’t found anyone who could tell him anything so he was going to culture that again, too.

I asked him about the tests that Gloria mentioned (viral activity from white blood cell differentiation, serum protein electrophoresis and immunoglobin diffusion) but Dr. Onorati thought they were not indicated as Ranzo’s blood tests have come back apparently completely dead-center of normal. This included iron levels, white blood cell counts and protein levels. I asked him about the question of whether house plants were okay or not and he thought that having house plants was just fine as long as Ranzo wasn’t actively playing in the dirt or eating the leaves or being treated with chemicals or strong fertilizers. I know some of you may have strong feelings about this subject and I welcome your opinions and experiences but I don’t think I’ll get rid of all my plants immediately, though I have just given back a number of them that belonged to my sister. I will also keep a close eye on them for odd smells or anything growing that doesn’t belong there!

Today Ranzo is active, eating well and talking a little. Shortly we’ll have a shower. He’ll start asking for it at any minute!

Thanks for reading this- I’m sorry it’s so long and involved but again I welcome your comments and thoughts on Ranzo’s health and environment.