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Seizures can be focal (simple or complex partial seizure, previously called petit mal or psychomotor seizure, respectively) or generalized (general seizure, previously called gran mal). A bird exhibiting a focal seizure generally doesn’t lose consciousness but exhibits localized abnormal movement of a body part (e.g., wing twitch) or unusual behavior (fear, aggression, etc.) It may progress on to a general seizure. General seizures usually begin with a tonic phase – all of the bird’s muscles contract and the patient usually falls to one side with its limbs extended. Defecation is common during this phase. After a few minutes the clonic phase begins in which there is rhythmic contraction of muscles (i.e., paddling, limb twitching, or chewing). This again lasts for a few minutes before the bird regains consciousness and moves into the postictal (post-seizure) stage.
Seizures can be due to a number of causes, either intra- or extra-cranial (inside the skull or outside the skull).
Incracranial causes include:
Infections – paromyxovirus, avian bornavirus, West Nile virus, equine encephalitis, etc.; many bacteria which can invade the central nervous system; fungal and protozoal diseases
Non-infectious – toxins (lead; organophosphates, organochlorines; chocolate; caffeine, some mycotoxins (toxins produced by grain molds)
Cerebrovascular accidents (strokes) – due to yolk embolism in our female birds, atherosclerosis, ruptured aneurism, trauma
Extracranial causes include:
Metabolic disorders (hypoglycemia, hypocalcemia, e.g.)
Hepatopathy (hepatic encephalopathy (rare in parrots))
Respiratory insufficiency leading to hypoxia (lack of oxygen to the tissues)
Nutritional deficiencies (vitamin E and B1, e.g.)
Initial stabilization of the seizuring bird may require a benzodiazepine (e.g., diazepam, clonazepam, or midazolam. Blood glucose and calcium should be assessed and administered if appropriate. Longer term stabilization requires anticonvulsant therapy such as with phenobarbital, levetiracetam, or gabapentin. Unless the inciting cause can be identified and removed, the long term prognosis of the seizuring bird remains guarded. However, short to mid-term control can often be achieved with good owner compliance. Unfortunately, there’s little that an owner can do at home once seizures arise. The bird should be wrapped in a small towel in order to avoid it hurting itself and a trip to an avian vet (please see here: www.aav.org) made. I understand the logistical problems my bird owners have in that regard, however.