Spiroform Pharangitis (Spirochetes)

Kenneth R Welle, DVM, Dipl ABVP-Avian

Pharangitis caused by spiral shaped bacteria, herein referred to as psittacine spiroform pharangitis (PSP), and is often found in cockatiels.

Clinical signs observed with this disease are similar to those caused by pharangitis of any etiology.  Most often, owners are unaware that there is a problem.  A pharynx that is bright scarlet red has increased mucous, and oral pain can be exhibited.  Other signs include head shaking, excessive yawning, dysphagia, and retching.  Occasionally, sinus swelling will be present.  In one case, a cockatiel chick presented with a ‘lockjaw’ syndrome similar to those described for Bordatella Avium infection and Enterococcus sp.  No Bordatella or Enterococcus was isolated.  Other associated problems include elevated lower eyelids, conjunctivitis, phthisis bulbi, blepharitis, and crusts.  These last signs may not be related to spiral bacteria, but more to concurrent disease.

Diagnosis is made based on the finding of spiral shaped gram-negative bacterial organisms on gram stained pharyngeal swabs.  These organisms may also be found in a crop wash.  Elevated white blood cell count will most likely be associated with concurrent disease and not PSP.

Treatment with oral doxycycline is highly successful.

As pharyngeal inflammation appears to be the primary lesion of this disease, the name psittacine spiroform pharangitis is proposed for this disease.  The pharyngeal inflammation is more common and more severe that upper respiratory signs.  The number and variety of concurrent problems suggest that this disease often occur in birds that are otherwise compromised.  Many of these problems are common in the general population of cockatiels.  It is not suggested that this disease is responsible for these concurrent problems.  This disease should be considered when vague clinical illness occurs in cockatiels.

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