New research on the quaker parrot epidermal microbiome underscores the importance of Next-Gen Sequencing in avian medicine.

New research on the quaker parrot epidermal microbiome underscores the importance of Next-Gen Sequencing in avian medicine.

Feather damaging behavior (FDB) is particularly common in captive birds, with an estimated prevalence rate of 11.7% in psittacines [1]. FDB can be difficult for pet owners and veterinarians to prevent, and can often be debilitating for your feathery friend. Fortunately, new research on this difficult-to-treat condition is on the horizon!

In the past, diagnosing parrot skin diseases has proven to be difficult because there has not been a baseline for the parrot epidermal microbiome, both in birds with and without feather loss [2]. FDB is uncomfortable at best for your feathery friend, and if left unaddressed may result in skin infections and further complications. Current prevention and treatment methods for FDB are variable and are often dependent on the root cause of your bird’s FDB. New research using Next-Gen Sequencing (NGS) technology has provided exciting insights into the epidermal microbiome of quaker parrots (also known as monk parakeets) and the possible role of bacteria/fungi in FDB manifestation, which could have substantial impacts on how veterinarians treat the disorder [2].

If you suspect your bird is suffering from FDB, it is recommended that you make an appointment with your veterinarian to diagnose and provide a treatment plan tailored to your bird’s needs as soon as possible.

What is Feather Damaging Behavior?

FDB refers to the characteristic plucking behavior often observed in captive birds, which can range from mild over-preening to self-mutilation [3]. While the etiology of FDB is still the subject of intensive investigations in veterinary medicine, various possible causes include bacterial or fungal infections, liver disease, cancer, inflammatory skin conditions, infectious diseases, epidermal or internal parasites, metabolic or nutritional disorders, heavy metal poisonings, allergies, stress, boredom, and more [3]. In terms of predisposing factors, malnutrition is one of the largest contributing factors to FDB, as “basic seed and table food diets often create nutritional deficiencies that cause abnormal skin and feather development” [3]. Dyes in food may also cause allergies.

Proper animal husbandry is critical in providing the appropriate level of moisture to your bird’s skin and also ensures better psychological effects [4]. To aid in your pet bird’s recovery, the Merck Manual of Veterinary Medicine recommends these at home environmental changes once feather plucking is diagnosed and various medical reasons have been excluded and/or treated:

  • Ensure your bird receives 12 hours of light and 12 hours of dark quiet each day.
  • Spend time with your bird, not only to help reduce their anxiety but also to identify any triggers to their FDB.
  • Mist/bathe your bird regularly.
  • Make sure your bird has yours to help distract from plucking.

To learn more about veterinary recommendations to enrich your pet bird’s quality of life, visit the Long Island Bird and& Exotics Veterinary Clinic tips page.

Parakeets enjoy relatively humid environments.

Parakeets enjoy relatively humid environments.

What Can New Research Tell Us About Feather Damaging Behavior?

Historically, culture-based methods and PCR techniques have been used to assess potential avian infections, but there are notable diagnostic shortcomings for both [2]. Only one percent of all microbes can actually be cultured using standard culturing methods, which lack the sensitivity and ability to cultivate difficult to grow pathogens [2]. While PCR provides more rapid results, the diagnostic value of these tests is limited because they are only able to target a known set of pathogens.

Next-Gen Sequencing (NGS) has increasingly helped researchers and veterinarians characterize the avian skin microbiome. A collaboration between Texas A&M University and MiDOG has shed light on the role pathogens may play in feather-destroying behavior manifestation. This is one of the first studies to use NGS as a preliminary diagnostic tool for bacterial and fungal communities of captive birds, allowing veterinarians to assess the pathogenicity of bacteria and/or fungi and pathogen resistance between co-housed birds. The most abundant bacterial species for intact feather quaker parrots were Exiguobacterium indicum, Sphingomonas yabuuchiae, and Corynebacterium spp. Contrastingly, birds with evidence of feather loss were significantly enriched with Streptococcaceae, Methylobacterium, Clostridiales, and more. This research not only supports the use of NGS when attempting to diagnose potential FDB cases but also indicates a more complex interaction between the avian skin microbiome and feathering diseases than was previously thought.

Key takeaways from the study include:

  • Quaker parrots have low numbers of skin bacteria compared to mammals.
  • Bird skin and microbiota can be affected by the skin microbiota of cage mates.
  • Skin microbiota of quaker parrots discoverable by PCR remains uncultivatable and has received minimal clinical study.

Read the study here.

The MiDOG All-in-One Microbial Test offers comprehensive diagnostic information for birds suffering from feather-destroying behavior. Utilizing NGS technology to detect and quantify all microbial DNA through untargeted and comprehensive sequencing and quantitative comparisons to reference databases, the MiDOG NGS technology provides a useful opportunity to shed light on the microbial makeup of your bird’s skin microbiome for clinical application. The MiDOG microbiome test is a microbial identification test grounded on scientific research that provides veterinarians DNA evidence for the guided treatment of bird diseases and disorders, such as feather destroying behavior.

 

MiDOG Swab Collection Kit

 

Find out if your vet uses MiDOG before you book your next appointment!

For health-related questions about your reptile or other exotic pet, reach out to a veterinarian that specializes in exotic pets.

References

  1. Ebisawa, K., Nakayama, S., Pai, C., Kinoshita, R., & Koie, H. (2021). Prevalence and risk factors for feather-damaging behavior in psittacine birds: Analysis of a Japanese nationwide survey. PLOS ONE, 16(7), e0254610. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0254610
  2. Krumbeck, J., Turner, D., Diesel, A., Hoffman, A., & Heatley, J. (2022). Skin microbiota of quaker parrots (Myiopsitta monachus) with normal feathering or feather loss via next-generation sequencing technology. Journal Of Exotic Pet Medicine. doi: 10.1053/j.jepm.2022.04.004
  3. Lightfoot, T. (2020). Skin and Feather Disorders of Pet Birds – Bird Owners – MSD Veterinary Manual. Retrieved 30 April 2022, from https://www.merckvetmanual.com/bird-owners/disorders-and-diseases-of-birds/skin-and-feather-disorders-of-pet-birds
  4. Chitty, J. (2003). Feather plucking in psittacine birds 2. Social, environmental and behavioural considerations. In Practice, 25(9), 550-555. doi: 10.1136/inpract.25.9.550

Categories: Birds/Parrots, Exotic Pets, Next-Gen DNA Sequencing Technology, Skin Health, Veterinary Dermatology

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“Clients expect their veterinarians to stay up to date on all matters that affect the health and well being of their non-human family members. The current technique that we have used to determine the presence and antibiotic sensitivity of organisms causing disease in our pets is over a century old.

With the emergence of dangerous antibacterial resistance, it is critical that veterinarians are able to offer laser focused diagnostics and treatment. MiDog enables us to offer care that exceeds the typical standard of care.”

Bernadine Cruz, DVM, Laguna Hills Animal Hospital Laguna Woods, CA

“I love the absolute abundance and comparing the fungal with bacterial infection. I do not worry as much about getting a false negative urinary infection reading as I do with traditional urine cultures. Several times the same urine would culture negative but MiDOG would detect pathogens.”

Michael Morgan, DVMQuail Animal Hospital, Tustin, CA

“The MiDOG All-in-One Test is amazing, I would use it instead of culture and sensitivity.  Such rapid and detailed results, I will reach for MiDOG before culture next time!

Thank you very much MiDOG, for sharing the opportunity to try your technology.”

Martha Smith-Blackmore, DVM, President of Forensic Veterinary Investigations, LLC – Boston, MA

The MiDOG All-in-One Microbial Test is our new gold standard of pathogen identification. The results are so accurate and valuable – especially with assessing both bacterial and fungal infections with the same sample.

Thank you MiDOG!”

Kathy Wentworth, DVM, Diplomate ABVP Canine and Feline Practice – PetPoint Medical Center, Irvine, CA

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Cathy Curtis, DVM – London, UK

“I have had great results using the MiDOG® Test. Compared to traditional culture tests, I am better able to target the treatment for dogs because the MiDOG® Test is so sensitive that it identifies all pathogens including bacteria and fungi, as well as antibiotic sensitivity.

The cost and turnaround time are about the same as a culture test, but I get much more data. The test has great performance and I believe the NGS technology will be a game changer for veterinarians treating dogs with lesions or other infections.”

Michael Kavanagh, DVM, Practice owner – Saddleback Animal Hospital, Tustin, CA

“It’s helpful to have an NGS spectrum because it gives you a broader insight of what’s happening and what might be going on.”

Richard Harvey BVSc DVD DipECVD PhD FRSB FRCVS – European Specialist in Veterinary Dermatology – Head of Dermatology, Willows Veterinary Centre & Referral Service – Solihull, England UK

“I have been using MiDog for over 4 years now and exclusively as my test of choice for all cultures for 3 years.  It is so great to submit a culture and feel confident there will be a result when it comes back, especially for urine cultures.  The reports were intimidating at first because they contain so much information.  After the first few, I am now quickly able to glance over it and pick out the highlights.  I can then come back later and pour over all the details.  I have been extremely pleased with my patients’ results using the test as well.  I don’t envision ever going back to traditional culture and susceptibilities again.”

Brian M. Urmson, DVM, Columbiana Veterinary Associates

“As an exotic veterinarian, there are numerous tests we have to consider to check specific bacterial and fungal organisms based on the species. MiDOG eliminates the need for many of these separate samples and provides definitive results quickly to help us treat our patients more efficiently and effectively. The lab is wonderful to work with and has never rejected our samples- they even processed a lizard toe we amputated and determined the cause of skin infection.”

Dr. Melissa Giese, Chicago Exotics Animal Hospital

“MiDOG’s diagnostic approach offers the unique ability to identify pathogens that evade traditional culture and sensitivity testing. I have found that adding a molecular based testing approach in the form of Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) from MiDOG to my routine diagnostic cultures can be extremely helpful in the identification and diagnosis of uncommon pathogens in veterinary medicine.”

Dr. Wayne Rosenkrantz, Animal Dermatology Clinic – Tustin

“She [Dr. Krumbeck] really did a great job of making complicated concepts accessible and demonstrating the value of your services. I’m really looking forward to working with MiDOG on my research project!”

Dr. Yaicha Peters, Animal Dermatology Clinic – San Diego

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Dr. Richard Harvey, BVSc DVD DipECVD PhD FRSB FRCVS; European Specialist in Veterinary Dermatology

“We’re seeing that, if we prescribe too many antibiotics or they’re taken too frequently, animals are developing inappropriate or pathogenic strains of bacteria. We’re also seeing that our antibiotics are just not working against them anymore… It’s a good example of why we need better diagnostic testing, like MiDOG, so that we’re selecting the correct antibiotic every time our patients have an infection.”

Dr. Alissa Rexo, DVM, CVA, DACVD, Mid-Atlantic Veterinary Dermatology