Topical Medication of Birds (Disease Investigation & Control - Treatment and Care)

Summary Information
Type of technique Health & Management / Disease Investigation & Control / Treatment & Care / Techniques:
Synonyms and Keywords Creams, Ointments, Eye drops
  • Topical medications are used on the skin and in the treatment of ocular conditions.
  • Creams and ointments may be applied to the skin, ocular drops and ocular ointments may be used in the eyes.
  • Applicator such as a cotton wool bud may be used to apply the minimal required amount of topical preparations to the required site on the skin.
  • If non-water soluble ointments are used, the area should be covered with a dressing/bandage to avoid feather soiling
Appropriate Use (?)
  • Allows direct application of the medication to the affected area.
  • Avoids systemic effects of medication.
  • Water-based preparations should be used if possible.
  • Ocular drops are preferred to ophthalmic ointment for waterfowl.
  • Rapidly-absorbed / rapidly drying preparations preferred.
  • Elizabethan collar may be used in some species to avoid interference.
  • May be used in association with bandaging.
  • Dimethyl sulphoxide (DMSO), which is rapidly absorbed, may be used as a carrier for other drugs. It has been used in combination with dexamethasone and antibiotic in the treatment of bumblefoot lesions (B14, P4.1990.w2).
  • Propylene glycol allows systemic absorption of some cutaneously-applied drugs (e.g. ivermectin) (B13.17.w16).
  • Use of a live yeast-cell derivative (LYCD) appears to increase the epithelialisation rate of wounds (P4.1990.w2).
  • 1% silver sulfadiazine water-soluble cream may be used for the topical treatment of burns, and is also effective against most bacteria.
  • Bacitracin, neomycin and polymyxin may be used topically in combination against a wide range of pathogenic bacteria.
  • Camphor spirits and tincture of benzoin have been used topically in the treatment of bumblefoot.
Complications/ Limitations / Risk
  • May be ingested during preening, which may lead to systemic effects - may be toxic.
  • Minimal amount required to cover the area to be treated should be used.
  • Oil-based formulations are liable to disrupt waterproofing and insulation and should be avoided if possible.
  • Rapid closure of nictitating membrane makes application of eye drops/ointment difficult.
  • Gentamicin sulfate cream should be avoided, as work in dogs indicates it impairs wound contraction.
  • Nitrofurazone preparations should be avoided, as work in mammals indicates that this slows epithelialisation.
  • Wound powders designed for use in mammals may contain chemicals which should be avoided in birds due to their potential toxicity, for example benzocaine (e.g. in Aureomycin Topical Powder, Fort Dodge Animal Health), propoxur and coumaphos/coumafos (both found in Negasunt, Bayer plc.)
  • Substances used in haemorrhage control of nails and bills (e.g. silver nitrate, ferric subsulfate) should not be used in feather follicles, as they may cause irritation and foreign body reaction.
Equipment / Chemicals required and Suppliers
  • Topical medication (cream, ointment or drops), as indicated.
  • Bandaging materials if required.
Expertise level / Ease of Use Simple to use after basic instruction.
Cost/ Availability Variable availability and cost, depending on preparation required.
Legal and Ethical Considerations In some countries there may be legislation restricting the diagnosis and treatment of disease in animals to licensed veterinarians. For example in the UK: "The Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 (Section 19) provides, subject to a number of exceptions, that only registered members of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons may practice veterinary surgery."(see: LCofC1 - RCVS Guide to Professional Conduct 2000 - Treatment of Animals by Non-Veterinary Surgeons).).

Use of Drugs (Medication):

  • Many drugs are not registered for use in particular bird species and care should be taken in their use, with proper regard for possible toxic effects. Consideration should be give to relevant legislation regarding the use of drugs.
  • In the UK, guidelines regarding the use of drugs are set out in the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons Guide to Professional Conduct 2000: (see: LCofC1 - RCVS Guide to Professional Conduct 2000 - Choice of Medicinal Products).
Author Debra Bourne
References B11.34.w2, B11.5.w18, B13.16.w11, B14, P4.1990.w2, V.w5

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