By Dr. Jeanne Smith, DVM
Avian Health Service
This is the worst time of year for Aspergillois; a fungus, or mold that can be found everywhere. When the weather is warm and moist as it so often is in these coming spring months, Aspergillis grows best.
Aspergillis is that gray, fuzzy substance you see growing on bird feces, old food, seeds, on many things that become in the least bit damp. If it’s gray and fuzzy, then it’s Aspergillis. It is a common mold, and it’s in the air, everywhere. Common myth is that things need to get old and rotten or be dirty to develop it but that is simply not true. As our friends, the Millers found out, even though they cleaned their Senegal, Mai Tai’s cage daily he still caught it. The culprit was using walnut shell. In the plants where walnuts are shelled, the shells are thrown into a bin to be ground and sold as bedding. Walnut shells are excellent hosts for carrying Aspergillis, one of the best in fact. Rejected walnuts are also thrown in to be ground up and sold as bedding for our pets. For the most part they are moldy, and the mold is Aspergillis. We the consumers, of course are unaware that walnut bedding is thick with these spores. Now Mai Tai was a constant bather. He would soak his cage, causing the walnut shells to become damp and shed the spores. This mold can start to manifest in less than one day. Thus, even though the cage was cleaned every day it was not enough. Mai Tai’s symptoms were a sudden onset of labored breathing and wheezing. The Aspergillis had settled in his trachea or his bronchi. If left untreated his death would have been almost immediate. At this time he is still at the veterinary hospital. He has a canula inserted into his air sac, which is very similar to a tracheotomy. The hope is that the medication will kick in soon and kill the fungus.
Martha, a Blue and Gold Macaw, was a little luckier, if that is possible. Martha caught Aspergillis from her nestbox. After a rain the shavings became damp, thus the fungus began to grow. Even though it couldn’t be seen it was there, and even though it was changed within a day or two of becoming damp, it was too late. Martha has the chronic wasting form of this fungus, the spores most likely settled in her lower air sac. Her symptoms were chronic weight loss even though she was eating well. She is on a variety of antibiotics and her recovery is expected to be slow; months of medication may be needed before she will be declared cured.
So, if you have walnut shell bedding, please throw it out!!! It‘s not worth the chance you’ll be taking with your pet. Be sure to keep the bottoms of cages clean. Look for bits of food that can get hidden on the cage bottom. Don’t let the feces build up in a pile on the floor. In short, cleanliness will keep your bird safe, especially at this time of year.