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Cancers and Tumors of Pet Birds


Teresa L. Lightfoot

, DVM, DABVP (Avian), Avian and Exotics Department, Florida Veterinary Specialists

Last full review/revision Jan 2020 | Content last modified Oct 2020
Topic Resources

As the average age of the pet bird has increased, so has the incidence of cancers and tumors. Avian cancers include most of the common locations and categories seen in other companion animals.

Internally, cancer may occur in the ovaries, kidneys, liver, stomach (often not identified until the bird has died), pituitary and thyroid glands, and the muscles and bones. Both surgery and chemotherapy have been used successfully in treating these internal cancers.

Skin cancers (squamous cell carcinomas) are most likely to occur around the eyes and beak, on the tips of the wings, and on the toes. Radiation therapy has been used to treat these cancers with some success. Tumors called fibrosarcomas may also be noticed as reddened patches on the skin.

Lipomas most often occur on the breastbone or chest area of budgerigars (budgies).

Lipomas most often occur on the breastbone or chest area of budgerigars (budgies).

Lipomas are fatty tumors that occur most frequently in budgerigars. They are most often located on the keel (breast bone) or in the chest area and are benign. It is not necessary to remove the lipoma unless it is large enough to cause discomfort to the bird.

Xanthomas are yellow, fatty masses that occur under the skin but are not true neoplasms. The wing tips, keel, and the chest area are common locations, although xanthomas may be found anywhere. Xanthomas are seen in many bird species, and the incidence is very high in cockatiels and budgies. The cause is unknown, but dietary improvement, including diets with sufficient vitamin A precursors (such as beta carotene) may be helpful in treatment. Surgical removal is an option in advanced cases. Like lipomas, xanthomas are benign, but tend to become ulcerated and bleed as they enlarge.

Lymphoma occurs in pet birds commonly, as it does in other companion animals (see Malignant Lymphoma in Dogs Malignant Lymphoma in Dogs Malignant lymphoma is a common cancer in dogs. It is a progressive, deadly disease caused by the harmful growth of lymphocytes. Lymphoma most commonly arises from lymphoid tissues in the bone... read more ). Lymphoma usually occurs in multiple tissues, most commonly the liver, spleen, and kidneys. Both radiation therapy and chemotherapy have been used successfully in the treatment of lymphoma in birds.

Pituitary adenomas are most common in budgerigars and cockatiels. They may be seen as acute conditions of the nervous system, with signs such as seizures and muscle spasms. Affected birds may also show signs related to the pituitary hormone(s) that are involved, for example causing excessive thirst and increased urination.

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