Crop Burns in Birds

Slow days happen
…in the veterinary world, just like every else.  There are many useful ways to spend a little extra time in the office but one of the best is on certain patients.

A young Umbrella Cockatoo was recently brought in for food spilling out of her crop.  Sounded like a crop burn…After the exam I could agree.  Joy was wonderful to be around both prior to and after her surgery.  Nothing like the extra time you need to work with a baby on the “step up” command … of course head scratching and snuggling were also a requirement!

Joy eating

How Do Crop Burns Happen?

Crop burns occur when overheated formula is fed to birds who are not yet weaned.  It is usually caused when formula is microwaved and hot spots develop randomly.  This is one of the reasons you never want to purchase an unweaned bird (which is illegal in many states) – it can be a very expensive learning process.

Crop burns are usually noticed a few days after the burn actually occurred.  The tissue of the crop and overlying skin are damaged but take few days to open up and let food out.  In most cases this condition is not an emergency.  Surgery is usually delayed until a fistula (a hole from the outside into the crop with healing of the crop edges to the skin) has formed.  We have to wait until all the damaged tissue has died so that we know how much has to be removed.  Surgery is usually planned about 3 to 5 days after the food is visible.

Joy the Cockatoo

BUT – it’s not a good idea to wait before having your bird examined by the vet.  She might be very sick and need supportive care.  Also, there is a way for a crop burn to become a serious emergency – if the crop wall is burnt open but the skin is not.  Food can collect under the skin and even get into the air sacs.  This can cause physical damage and a serious systemic infection.

Surgery to repair the crop is usually quite successful.  It can reduce the overall size of the crop so it is very important not to overfeed the bird in the week following surgery. Luckily, most birds do very well.

Joy’s Story

Joy came to us with food pouring out her chest – actually out of a hole in he neck.  Her owner had syringed fed birds in the past.  But this kind of damage can occur even to the experienced bird caregiver.

When the time was right, we took Joy to surgery to remove the damaged tissue and repair the crop.  First, the scab that forms between the crop and the skin must be removed.  All abnormal or suspect tissue, whether skin or crop, must be cut away.  In Joy’s case, she had burns in two areas of her crop, although only one had made a whole.  In retrospect this was one lucky bird.  If the crop had burned a little bit more she might have had food pour out into the space under her skin.  This is very dangerous.

However all went well.  The surgery was successful and Joy woke up from anesthesia ready to get back to eating and growing.  Here is a close up of her surgical incision:

Close up of surgical site

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