Bill Repair in Waterfowl(Disease Investigation & Control - Treatment and Care)

Summary Information
Type of technique Health & Management / Disease Investigation & Control / Treatment & Care / Techniques:
Synonyms and Keywords Bill Prosthesis
Description The following description outlines the procedure as described by Bush (B10.20.w16), Altman, R.B. (B12.44B.w8), Martin, H. & Ritchie, B.W. (B13.42.w15),Olsen, J.H. (B13.46.w1), Coles (B14).
  • Bill repair and prosthesis involves improvisation.
  • Corrective trimming may be sufficient for minor defects.
  • Fiberglass or acrylics may be used to support minor defects or minor fractures during healing.
  • It is important to remember that the bill will continue to grow, therefore long-term follow-up and adjustment or replacement of the prosthesis may be required.
  • Good anchoring in the remaining bill is vital to the success of any repair. Stainless steel pins may be placed transversely, onto which a framework may be built from e.g. wire and pins, before covering with acrylic.
  • If a small area of the premaxilla is missing, the open end may be plugged with e.g. self-curing acrylic surgical glue and shaped (B14).
  • Materials which do not generate heat while curing are preferred at least for the layer immediately adjacent to living tissue to avoid tissue damage due to heat.
  • Bone plates and external fixators may be used to support fractures and allow bill use during healing.

Examples of use in waterfowl:

Duck (Anas crecca - Common teal ) missing half of distal bill. A prosthesis was made from approximately 1/3 of circumference of 10ml plastic (polypropamide) syringe barrel, overlapped onto remaining bill and attached with wire sutures (stainless steel) (B14).

Duck (Anas platyrhynchos - Mallard) with deformed upper bill. A prosthesis was formed from temporary dental bridge acrylic, moulded to the deformed bill and to the opposing bill surface while still soft and shaped after hardening, then attached to the bill stump (B12.44B.w8).

Canada goose (Branta canadensis - Canada goose): Pins (fully threaded Kirshner wires) were places one in each margin of the maxilla. A mould in two (dorsal and ventral) halves was made from a Canada goose model. The nares and oral cavity of the goose were plugged with cotton wool, the dorsal half of the mould was fitted over the maxillary stump and the wires, held in position and filled with dental acrylic. The ventral half of the mould was then pushed down over the acrylic and the mould held until the acrylic hardened, then removed. A fine brush was used to apply extra acrylic to strengthen thin areas and "feather out" the caudal edges of the prosthesis over onto the remaining bill, carefully avoiding the external nares. Final shaping and smoothing was carried out using a high-speed hand-held drill, and lamellae were created using a grinding disk. The prosthesis was still stale after six months (B13.46.w1).

Appropriate Use (?)
  • Initial supportive treatment is important: control of haemorrhage, provision of nutritional support and prevention of infection (B13.42.w15).
  • Correction of defect (missing area) not always required - dietary adaptation may be preferable, e.g. provision of soft food, provision of extra-deep layer of food in feeding bowl. (B13.42.w15, V.w5)
  • Materials used to build prostheses may be stronger than the bill itself. (B10.20.w16).
Complications/ Limitations / Risk
  • May become infected (bacterial or fungal infection).
  • Prostheses require replacement due to bill growth (B13.42.w15).
  • Care should be taken not to cause tissue damage if acrylics which generate heat while curing are used (B10.20.w16).
  • Application of a prosthesis may cause further damage to the remaining bill (V.w6).
Equipment / Chemicals required and Suppliers
  • Fiberglass or dental acrylic is commonly used.
  • High-density polyethylene has been used for parrot bill prostheses.
  • Pins, wire, bone plates, as required.

(B10.20.w16, B14)

Expertise level / Ease of Use Procedure should only be undertaken by an individual with appropriate clinical training and practical experience; this would usually be a veterinarian.
Cost/ Availability Variable.
Legal and Ethical Considerations It is important to differentiate between a requirement for bill prosthesis to produce a functional bill and the use of a prosthesis for aesthetic reasons. In many cases the remainder of a bill is sufficiently functional for the bird. Addition of a prosthesis simply for aesthetic reasons should be avoided due to the risk of causing further damage to the bill (V.w6).

In some countries there may be legislation restricting the use of this type of technique 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).).

Author Debra Bourne
References B10.20.w16, B12.44B.w8, B13.42.w15, B13.46.w1, B14, V.w6

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