Egg-Laying Ailment

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Q: We have a problem with a breeding pair of Goffin’s cockatoos. The female has a history of becoming critically ill whenever she lays a clutch, which is only one egg. She becomes catatonic and is found lying on the bottom of the cage, unable to respond to stimulation. My veterinarian was able to bring her back with fluid, calcium and antibiotic therapy. This problem has become repetitive, and all that the vets have been able to do is bring her “back to life” when it happens. They admit that they have no idea what is causing the problem. All of her work-ups come back normal. One consulting vet suggested giving the bird a hysterectomy. What is your opinion?

A:I believe that your female Goffin’s may have a problem with calcium metabolism. This means that her body’s immediate demand for calcium to encapsulate the egg is met as a priority, and, unfortunately, this is calcium that she cannot spare. Therefore, she goes into shock. Just the fact that she only lays one egg per clutch is cause for concern about her calcium metabolic capabilities. Many times this is due to simple hypocalcemia (abnormally low blood calcium). When this is the case, supplementation with calcium often straightens out the problem. In other cases, even though sufficient dietary calcium is available, the birds are deficient in vitamin D3. This vitamin is necessary for proper calcium absorption.

Whenever both calcium and vitamin D3 are available in sufficient quantities and there is still a problem, vets are understandably stumped. This is a problem that we at the Voren Research Institute for Psittacultural Science have been working on for several years. Although the final results of our research will not be in until the end of this coming breeding season, the results to date are very promising. It appears that low magnesium levels are the culprit. Those at the cutting edge of human nutritional research tell us that magnesium is the regulator of calcium metabolism.

If your vet is satisfied that the calcium and D3 levels in your bird’s diet are sufficient, then I suggest that you try supplementation with magnesium. If I am correct, then your bird should lay a normal clutch of two to three eggs and not go into shock. If I am wrong, then you will have to have your vet “bring her back to life” again. The call is yours. A hysterectomy is forever, but so is death.