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Comments on Sick Budgie Breakthrough
by Michael Cannon BVSc, MACVSc


I read Don’s article with interest and I agree with much of what he has to say. The Scientific American articles were also fascinating and I recommend reading them to all of you.

The problems Don was experiencing were significant and extremely frustrating. I always find it sad when I am dealing with a bird breeder who has a chronic, seemingly untreatable problem and observe the frustration that is causing them to be depressed, eventually leading to the loss of their passion for bird breeding. In this case, the story has a happy ending and it is obvious that Don’s passion is revitalized.

The comments on antibiotics are understandable. I have been concerned for some time of the use of antibiotics as a “cure all” when birds are sick. It worried me that people will use (or more correctly abuse) antibiotics by using them on a hunch (“my mate’s birds looked the same and they improved on antibiotics”). It is equally concerning that some bird breeders use antibiotics for a few days to “clean them out”.  In the right situation antibiotics can be life savers, but if used incorrectly that are at best a waste of time and at worst can create resistance so in future they do not cure infections. A world where many antibiotics struggle to cure infections is a world that really scares me.

Until recently, we all thought that Vitamin D was only involved in controlling levels of calcium for bones and eggs. The new research found in Scientific American and other medical and scientific literature is definitely a breakthrough. The information about Vitamin D’s anticancer role and its effect on the immune system has been a great step forward in our knowledge. The influence on such a large number of genes is also evidence of how powerful this vitamin can be, and how significant its deficiency can affect your birds. We also need to revise our opinion of the levels of Vitamin D that each individual requires.

For many years, it has been my observation that any disease is a complex of interactions between the patient, the organisms causing disease and the environment. These new revelations regarding UVB and Vitamin D reinforce how changes to the bird’s environment can impact on the organisms that are continually attacking the bird as well as the impact on the bird’s ability to defend itself from this attack.

For me the most fascinating revelation is the role Vitamin D and UVB plays in protecting our birds from chronic, recurring infections. This may help to explain some of the failed responses to antibiotics.

The concept to enclose aviaries, to control problems that were prevalent, was not a bad idea, it was its application that led to many of the problems. In every design you need to find a balance. Total enclosure in glass, plastic or fiberglass removed access to direct sunlight and the important UVB rays that were filtered out. Birds, just like people need some access to direct sunlight – if you have insufficient levels of Vitamin D in your diet or insufficient exposure to sunlight, you will develop disease, but on the other hand, if you have excessive Vitamin D in your diet or excessive exposure to sunlight you will also develop disease. The skill is in finding the balance for your birds.  At the same time you do not want to return to the problems of the past where excessive exposure to the elements led to diseases, particularly problems with infections and parasites.

The challenge is to find the balance - How much exposure to the elements is good for your birds? How do you place appropriate sources of UVB in your aviaries? The answers to these and other questions are a challenge as well as a source of frustration. The answers will vary from site to site as well as person to person! You need to find out what works best with your birds, in your backyard and your aviaries. The only means to find the appropriate balance are trial and error – to make a change and then be patient enough to allow it to develop. In Don’s case this took several months, but it did eventually pay off. He will continue to tweak these changes until he has the success he seeks. This is the fun and unfortunately also the frustration of working with live animals such as birds.

I look forward to reading the ongoing research into vitamins and other aspects of diet and environmental changes that can assist us to maintain our birds as healthy as we can. Just when you think you know it all some new research comes along that changes how we need to treat the animals in our care and in this case how we treat ourselves as well.