Stunted Baby Syndrome

Many causes of "stunted baby syndrome," which is well-documented but can occur in many species.

By Sam Vaughn, DVM, Dip., ABVP ?Avian Practice

I have a 2-week-old hawk head baby that weighs only 28 grams. The clutch mate weighs nearly 200 grams. The little one was in crop stasis. We corrected that with fluids on the crop, but he will not digest normal food. Can you help?

Wow! What a stunted baby you have. There are many causes of “stunted baby syndrome,” which is well-documented in macaws but can occur in many species.

Let’s start at the beginning ?the parents. I will bet my reputation that they are on a seed diet with fruits, vegetables and vitamins. Convert them to pellets and this problem will probably go away because you will have a healthier chick hatch from the egg.

Many stunted chicks have sneaky bacterial and/or fungal infections of the gastrointestinal tract that must be addressed by appropriate Gram’s stains and cultures. Your avian veterinarian can do this. Dehydration is the most life-threatening symptom that must be fought, and these guys can be rehydrated by subcutaneous injections of the appropriate fluid. Again, your avian veterinarian will need to do this and, possibly, teach you how to do it. Fluid therapy may need to occur every two hours, depending upon how fast the chick absorbs the fluids.

I also like to place Pedialyte or Rice-a-lyte on the crop as the only food for three to six feedings. This rehydrates the gastrointestinal tract cells and may allow them to start absorbing foodstuffs again. This is truly a maldigestion/malabsorption problem of the gastrointestinal cells. That is, they cannot absorb the nutrients and present them to the liver for processing. Thus, you get a very stunted little baby; tiny body with a huge head. Does this sound familiar?

In certain situations, I place an intravenous catheter in the right jugular vein. This allows direct intravenous fluid therapy and can also be used to force nutrients like glucose and amino acids to keep these chicks alive until we get the gastrointestinal tract functioning again. Also of great benefit is a proventricular feeding tube. This tube is placed through an incision in the esophagus, above the crop, and is threaded into the proventriculus (true stomach). This allows bypassing of the crop with a high density nutrient suspension like Pulmocare, which is used for this purpose in human medicine. Many chicks have responded to this when all else fails.

These cases are a tremendous amount of work and they are very frustrating because the survival rate is low. However, these cases are also one of my favorites, because when you save one and they turn into a normal adult, it feels so cool!

Thanks for your question.

Sam Vaughn, DVM, Dip., ABVP ?Avian Practice is an avian specialist based in Louisville, Kentucky. Certified in Avian Practice by the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners, Dr. Vaughn owns Avian Medical Services Inc. (an avicultural service and consultation practice) and is a partner in Veterinary Associates Stonefield, a full-service avian/exotic and small animal practice. Dr. Vaughn holds degrees in biology, chemistry and a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from Auburn University. Feel free to visit his web site at Telephone consultations by appointment are available by calling (502) 245-7863.

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Article Categories:
Birds · Lifestyle