(Rockie.  Moluccan Cockatoo.  Picture by Sue Schild. Picture is used with permission
from the author)
 
Aspergillosis Warning
(Note: My first moluccan cockatoo--Chester--a wild caught--died from this in 5 days, despite immediate efforts to get help.  As bird owners, we all know that when they exhibit symptoms, it is already advanced.  I miss her still.)

To see some pictures of her, go to this link: Chester

 
NEVER USE CORN COB OR CRUSHED WALNUTS AS A SUBSTRATE FOR YOUR BIRD!!!  THEY CAN CONTAIN THE SPORES THAT CAUSE THIS MOLD!!!
 
Aspergillosis: Natural Prevention and Healing Methods
by Alicia McWatters, PhD. CNC

Apergillosis, from the genus Aspergilla, is a very common fungal disease in birds. It is mainly an infection of the respiratory tract with the lungs and air sacs often being affected. Other organs of the body may be additionally affected as well, depending on how advanced the disease has developed. The species that often cause aspergillosis are Aspergillus flavus, A. niger, and A. fumigatus. Aspergillus is a fungus that produces oxalic acid in large quantities; therefore, during an aspergillosis infection, the levels of oxalic acid in your bird's body can increase substantially.
 
ETIOLOGY OF ASPERGILLOSIS
Aspergillosis is an opportunistic fungal infection. When a bird is exposed to an unsanitary environment that contains organic debris, it often becomes vulnerable to this infection. A warm and moist environment is favorable for the growth of aspergillus. Nesting and brooder that is left damp or soiled or that is dusty is a prolific place for this fungus to reside. Young chicks are particularly vulnerable to developing this infection if not kept in hygienic conditions.
 
Aspergillosis is contracted by the inhalation of mold spores or by ingestion while eating near the contaminated area. But, this fungal infection can develop in a bird whose immune system is weak and failing, unless it is exposed to an overwhelming number of spores. Malnutrition, stress, overcrowding overuse of antibiotics and steroids, and the lack of fresh air, humidity, sunlight and exercise will frequently compromise the immune system.
 
ASPERGILLOSIS PREVENTION
Of course, the prevention of a disease is always preferable to dealing with the disease after it has developed. A strong functioning immune system is the best way to prevent aspergillosis or any other disease. This begins with a healthy diet, exercise and an emotionally stable environment and clean environment. If you keep your bird's cage by a window or if it is living outside, then be sure to it is not exposed to decaying vegetation, a compost pile or other moist debris that may be the source of mold spores. Spores are very resistant to environmental conditions and can be transported by the wind or in dust particles.
 
Often times an illness or disease is caused because of an underlying nutritional deficiency, excess or imbalance (not a drug deficiency), which will be corrected quite easily with the proper diet and nutritional supplements needed. Foods should be carefully selected and prepared to avoid the feeding of foods contaminated with mold. Moist or spoiled feed can harbor the aspergillus fungus. This infection occurs in two forms: acute or chronic. Acute symptoms may include weight loss, labored breathing, loss of appetite, listlessness, and sudden death.
 
Chronic symptoms may include labored breathing, fatigue, weight loss, speech loss, nasal discharge and excessive thirst and urine excretion. Constipation or diarrhea, vomiting, conjunctivitis, and gout are sometimes seen in the latter stages of aspergillosis. There may be a clicking sound or wheezing sound during respiration. Activity is kept to a minimum and tailbobbing may be seen.
 
PATHOLOGY
There are many pathological changes that occur as a result of aspergillosis. The main changes that develop are in the bird's respiratory system with the sinuses, air sacs, syrinx, trachea, lungs, and bronchi being affected. The nervous system, skeletal system, and the eyes may also be affected causing ataxia, gout and blindness, respectively. The sinuses may be filled with a yellow-white mucous, fibrin and mycelia. A yellow-white nodular mass can develop in the trachea and bronchi. Eventually, the walls of the trachea and bronchi develop a yellow-gray or green coating and mycelia branching of the fungus. In the last stages, severe congestion of the lungs and calcification of the nodular masses leads to  mycotic pneumonia (pulmonary aspergillosis), which is followed by sudden death.
 
If the infection becomes systemic then the fungus may be spread to other organs such as the brain, heart, liver, kidney, spleen, ovaries and gizzard.
 
DIAGNOSING ASPERGILLOSIS
There are a few ways to diagnose apergillosis. First, a blood test called an ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) can be performed to check for anti-aspergillus antibodies. An ELISA detects exposure to an infectious agent by combining a blood sample with an antigen of the agent and probing with an enzyme that causes color change when an antibody to the infection is present in the sample.
 
X-rays will also reveal if aspergillosis (fungus balls) are lodged in the sinus cavity, trachea, syrinx, lungs, air sacs or further down to the primary bronchi. However, any organ or part of the body can become infected with this fungus.
 
A blood test that reveals a high white blood cell count could indicate an aspergillosis infection. A fungal culture of the choana and cloaca can also help determine if aspergillus is present in the body, but it is considered normal to find aspergillus in small numbers from a culture. Cytology can also be a useful tool in detecting aspergillus cells.
 
CONVENTIONAL TREATMENT
The most common conventional treatment and the most successful at this time is a drug called Itraconazole, brand name Sporonox. Sporonox is the newest of the triazole antifungals. It is safer than ketoconazole (can cause liver damage, decreased appetite and diarrhea) or amphotericin B (can cause liver damage). Possible side effects of sporonox are liver damage and decreased appetite. None of the drugs listed above are FDA approved to use for animals or birds, though they are commonly used. Another antifungal that is commonly used for aspergillosis is Fluconazole, brand name Diflucan. Possible side effects are elevated liver enzymes and mild decreased appetite.
 
The conventional medical approach of utilizing harsh drugs to palliate/suppress symptoms of illness and disease does not affect a true cure, and sadly, often creates further harm. Even if symptoms of illness seem to subside after the use of drugs, they often return at a later date, sometimes with more vengeance, as a true cure was not effected in the first place.
 
Most importantly, I discourage the practice of treating symptoms with drugs without verification of disease. I advocate the use of nutritional therapy and alternative medicines before the use of potentially dangerous drugs as these natural treatments are often just as effective, if not more so, as conventional drugs and then conventional medicines are not needed at all.
 
HOLISTIC TREATMENT
Asperillosis is treatable and curable if caught in the early stages. There are natural alternative treatments for aspergillosis and most other common avian illnesses. In my work as a nutritional doctor, I teach bird owners, breeders and vets how to utilize natural nutrition and alternative methods to ameliorate illness and prevent it from occurring in the future.
 
Each program I design for my clients' birds is unique for that specific bird's needs. So in other words, while 5 birds may all have been diagnosed with aspergillosis, each of them would be placed on different programs for ameliorating their illness and them well.
 
So, today I will teach you about natural antifungals and immune enhancing herbs, as outlined in the charts with this article. For aspergillosis, I might recommend one ingredient or I may recommend a combination of several ingredients for their synergistic activity. What I decide to recommend will depend on the illness, the stage of the illness and how long the bird has been ill. Dosages will depend on weight, the remedy being used and the severity and duration of the illness. Sometimes herbal or homeopathic nasal drops are needed and/or nebulizing therapy. An accurate dose is very important: too low and it won't work, too high and it may carry toxic effects. Please utilize the advice and guidance of a highly knowledgeable holistic avian health practitioner or veterinarian prior to the use of ANY medicine.
 
CONCLUSION
Aspergillosis can sometimes be a life-threatening disease and immediate and competent health care is necessary. Again, remember that if the disease is caught in the early stages with prompt intervention, often times it can be ameliorated in a very short period of time. It is your choice what type of health care and treatment you wish to use for your Grey. Will you choose holistic healthcare, conventional healthcare or a combination of both?
 
CHARTS: [The charts in this article are for guidance only. Refer to a knowledgeable holistic avian practitioner or veterinarian prior to the use of ANY medicine.]
 
HERBAL ANTIFUNGALS
ALFALFA: Contains antifungal compound.
ALOE VERA: This herb has antifungal properties properties.
PAU D'ARCO: This is a South American herb that acts an antifungal, antibacterial and strengthens the immune system. Pau D'arco is one of the best herbal antifungals available.
ECHINACEA: It is one of the most commonly used herbs for strengthening the immune system and fighting fungal, viral and bacterial infections.
GARLIC: Garlic acts as an antimicrobial medicine and may ameliorate bacterial, viral, parasitical and fungal infections. This herb is high on my list as an antifungal.
USNEA LICHEN: This herb has been used as an effective antifungal and antiparasitic, but its main use is for those illnesses that cause respiratory or lung infections.
GOLDENSEAL: Goldenseal has infection-fighting properties against fungus, bacteria, viruses and protozoa and strengthens the immune system. Excellent for inhibiting infection-causing fungi.
TURMERIC: This herbal medicine is active against fungi.
OLIVE LEAF EXTRACT: A medicine since biblical times. This herb contains antifungal, antibacterial and antiviral properties. It is used to boost the immune system and cure various types of infections.
LICORICE: Contains numerous fungicide compounds.
CHAMOMILE: This herb is a potent fungicide.
LEMONGRASS: This herb is very useful against fungal infections.
 
HERBS FOR IMMUNE ENHANCEMENT
PAU D'ARCO: This is a South American herb that acts an antifungal, antibacterial and strengthens the immune system. Pau D'arco is one of the best herbal antifungals available.
GARLIC: Garlic acts as an antimicrobial medicine and may ameliorate bacterial, viral, parasitical and fungal infections. This herb is high on my list as an antifungal.
ASTRAGALUS: A Chinese herb used as an adaptogen and helps stimulate the immune system.
BEE POLLEN: A yellowish dust that is produced by the anthers of male flowers. This substance has been found to strengthen the immune system.
LIGUSTRUM BERRY: A Chinese herb that boosts the immune system by increasing white blood cell production.
USNEA LICHEN: This herb has been used as an effective antifungal and antiparasitic, but its main use is for those illnesses that cause respiratory or lung infections.
GOLDENSEAL: Goldenseal has infection-fighting properties against fungus, bacteria, viruses and protozoa and strengthens the immune system. Excellent for inhibiting infection-causing fungi.
KELP: This is a seaweed and it provides numerous minerals that aid in a healthy immune system.
PROPOLIS: A resinous substance collected by bees from the plants, tree, waxes, essential oils and pollen to glue up holes in the hive. Known for its ability to boost the immune system and increase the formation of immune cells when fighting an infection.
RED CLOVER: Helps to enhance the immune response to infection.
ROYAL JELLY: This is a substance that is produced by young nurse bees from pollen and honey. Very rich in nutrients and contains antimicrobial components as well as boosts the immune system.
OLIVE LEAF EXTRACT: A medicine since biblical times. This herb contains antifungal, antibacterial and antiviral properties. It is used to boost the immune system and cure various types of infections.
 
SUPPLEMENTS:
Probiotics are a very important part of a program for aspergillosis. I recommend those that are manufactured by Natren and Standard Process.
A complex enzyme supplement is also beneficial and is especially important to add to a diet that consists mainly of cooked foods or a synthetic commercial diet that is enzyme-free.
Caprylic acid, a naturally occurring fatty acid with antifungal properties, is a very important part of a successful aspergillosis treatment program.
Spirulina or blue green algae are useful for immune system support and for promoting overall good health.  
 
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Alicia McWatters resides in New Mexico with her family, a flock of five companion birds and many animal friends. She bred African Greys and Pionus Parrots for many years, and currently works as a holistic avian nutritional consultant. She can be reached for a private consultation at (505) 281-5168. Alicia is also co-author of the book, "Super Nutrition for Animals! Super Nutrition for Birds too!" and the author of "A Guide to a Naturally Healthy Bird."  To order, call 800-903-3837.

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