Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Nine things I learned: feeding pet birds, bearded dragons and tumours in rats

exotics vets
Drs Mike Cannon, Robert Johnson and Brendan Carmel in front of the impressive fish tank at Bova Compounding.

It was a dark and stormy night two weeks ago when I ventured south to Caringbah to Bova Compounding laboratory for a CE evening on exotic pets. It was an evening of revelations for a number of reasons, not least of which this was my first tour of a compounding pharmacy. I expected a hokey little pharmacy, but the facility was sparkling white, with quality control that was mind blowing and quarantine protocols that brought to mind those scientists-in-white-space suits scenes in infectious disease movies.

As a vet I utilise this facility a lot as many medications don’t come in doses or formulations appropriate for my patients (for example, compounding pharmacists can turn almost any pill into a fish or liver flavoured liquid for the less pill-friendly canine and feline patients, and even combine medications into one pill so there are less tabletting "events" each day).

Needless to say, exotics vets dispense compounded medications a lot to ensure that the appropriate dose and the right formulation is given to a patient. Anyway, it was a wonderful opportunity to have a peek behind-the-scenes.

But that isn’t the main thrust of this post. The three speakers were three of my favourite exotics vets: Michael Cannon of Cannon & Ball Veterinary Surgeons, Brendan Carmel of Warranwood Veterinary Centre, and Robert Johnson of South Penrith VeterinaryClinic.

Birds should not be fed all-seed diets. Most of us know that, but do you know why?
Dr Cannon commenced with a passionate discussion about feeding birds. We’ve been getting it wrong for years: feeding pet birds exclusively on all-seed diets leading to all kinds of health problems including obesity, hepatic lipidosis and even atherosclerosis.

  • Birds in the wild spend around 70 per cent of their lives foraging for food. This entails exercise, variation in diet and environmental enrichment. The average pet budgie is simply served a bowl of seed in its cage, so it simply has to lean over and dig in. It’s a tragic picture. But there are plenty of ways to feed birds more creatively including providing a varied diet, providing exercise and environmental enrichment and training birds to “work” for food (for example, making packets of vegies which parrots can unwrap).
  • Dr Cannon recommends offering seed for ten minutes only, then removing it and providing vegetables (and did you know sunflower seeds contain a higher percentage of fat than a Mars Bar or McDonald's french fries?)
  • Human foods toxic to birds include chocolate, avocado, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and rhubarb leaves.

Rats can develop pituitary adenomas, which are difficult to diagnose and challenging to treat.

Dr Carmel discussed treatment of geriatric rats. We’re all familiar with geriatric rats that suffer from vestibular disease, which is often presumed to be secondary to otitis media.
  • In fact, some of these rats are suffering from spectacularly large pituitary adenomas. These are visible as enormous lesions on MRI (or post mortem in deceased patients).
  • Clinical signs of pituitary adenomas include head tilt, circling, a wide-based stance, ataxia and proprioceptive deficits.
  • The incidence is lower in ovariectomised rats (Dr Carmel performs ovariectomy rather than ovariohysterectomy in rats). It may be possible to reduce oestrogen levels with GnRH agonists such as Deslorelin implants, but it is difficult to conclude whether this will reduce the incidence of pituitary adenomas in rats.

bearded dragon pet health
A bearded dragon contemplates some blueberries.

Dr Johnson provided some fantastic insights about pet bearded dragons.
  • Over-handling is associated with numerous health problems, including metabolic bone diseases and constipation. Often it is the devoted owners who report that they spend their nights watching TV with their beardie on their shoulder who are guilty of over-handling. According to Dr Johnson, while those beardies are enjoying “The Voice”, they’re also not at their preferred environmental temperature and thus may not achieve their preferred optimal body temperature.
  • I never knew that lizards become more omnivorous as they mature, more commonly enjoying fruit, vegies and some flowers (apparently they love dandelions. What a beautiful image).
  • When casting fractures in beardies and other lizards, Dr Johnson sometimes uses Elastoplast and then applies Vetbond on top of this to “set” the cast.
In truth I learned a gazillion things and walked away with a fantastic set of lecture notes, but it left me with the feeling that the best vets don't just know how to treat their patients in the consulting room: they have an excellent understanding of how those animals live at home.