Aspiration Pneumonia in Birds, Elephants, Bears, Lagomorphs and Ferrets

Summary Information
Diseases / List of Miscellaneous / Metabolic / Multifactorial Diseases / Disease link

This disease page is currently being used in Wildpro to link different data types and demonstrate inter-relationships. Whilst basic information is available, it does not contain comprehensive information.

Alternative Names
  • Foreign body pneumonia
  • Inhalation pneumonia.
  • Oil aspiration pneumonia

See also: 

Disease Agents


Foreign material entering the lungs. (B101)

  • In a seven-year-old Elephas maximus - Asian Elephant, which had been treated surgically by oesophagostomy for choke, aspiration pneumonia was thought to have arisen due to regurgitation of food as it reached the oesophageal stricture, then aspiration of the food. (P1.1981.w4)
  • Several bacteria, including normal inhabitants of the oral cavity, may be found in the lungs of an affected individual. (J4.179.w3)
  • Oil. (P4.1990.w1)
  • Liquids given to an animal by oral syringe or drenching; particularly mineral oil in cats. (B101)
  • Food, particularly gavage mixes. (P4.1990.w1)
  • In lagomorphs: Milk/milk substitutes, inhaled during hand-rearing. (B284.10.w10, B600,3,w3, B601.1.w1)
  • In bears: In a bear cub, a grass awn. (J23.39.w1)
  • In Ferrets:
Infectious Agent(s)
Non-infectious Agent(s) --
Physical Agent(s)
  • Presence of foreign material
General Description
  • Pneumonia characterised by pulmonary necrosis and caused by the entry of foreign material in the lungs. (B101)
  • Treatment includes the use of broad-spectrum antibiotics and oxygen therapy. Prognosis is frequently very poor. (B101)
In Birds
  • Death from asphyxiation if large quantities of food/fluid are inhaled. (B13.30.w28)
  • Poor weight gain and sometimes but not always respiratory signs with a foreign body pneumonia in response to inhalation of a very small quantity of food. (B13.30.w28)

Clinical pathology:

In Elephants
In Bears
  • Aspiration pneumonia was the cause of death of three neonatal Tremarctos ornatus - Spectacled bear and one Helarctos malayanus - Sun bear during hand-rearing. In one cub this was complicated by Pseudomonas sp. infection. (P85.1.w4)
  • Aspiration pneumonia due to inhalation pneumonia is common if care is not taken during bottle feeding of bear cubs. (J23.9.w4)
  • Aspiration pneumonia may occur in bears following vomiting or regurgitation during chemical immobilisation. (D249.w13)
  • Aspiration pneumonia was suspected in a bear which had been drenched with two litres of buffalo buttermilk twice daily for two days. (J2.38.w1)
  • A mother-reared Ursus maritimus - Polar bear cub at Denver Zoological Gardens, died at eight weeks old from pneumonia resulting from a grass awn which had been inhaled and penetrated down to the lungs. (J23.39.w1)
In Lagomorphs
  • Aspiration pneumonia may occur following inhalation of milk formula. (B284.10.w10, B600,3,w3, B601.1.w1, W730.Dec08.w1)
Clinical signs
  • Increased pulse rate, rapid, laboured breathing, sometimes fetid, sweetish breath, sometimes (depending on the species) fever. (B101)
  • Purulent nasal discharge. (B101)
  • Aspirated material may be visible in nasal discharge or in material coughed up by the animal. (B101)
  • Initially fluid sounds on ausculation of the thorax, later wheezing; there may also be pleural friction t=rubs and sometimes crackling (subcutaneous emphysema). (B101)
In Elephants
In Bears
  • In a Ursus thibetanus - Asiatic black bear, crackles on auscultation. (J2.38.w1)
    • The bear also had pyrexia (40.7 C), tachypnoea and dyspnoea, but since it also was suffering from Trypanosomiasis (and pyrexia, tachypnoea and dyspnoea were also seen in other bears with trypanosomiasis) (J2.38.w1) it is unclear to what extent the other signs were due to the pneumonia.
  • A mother-reared Ursus maritimus - Polar bear cub at Denver Zoological Gardens died at eight weeks old. (J23.39.w1)
In Ferrets
Further Information
  • Aspiration pneumonia occurs when foreign material is inhaled (aspirated).
    • Oil may be inhaled by birds when they encounter oil in the environment, while attempting to preen oil from the feathers, or when being washed, if the head is not kept clear of the wash water. (B23.38.w2, P4.1990.w1, P14.3.w9)
      • Oil inhalation pneumonia is diagnosed sometimes on post mortem examination of oiled birds. (B20.13.w10)
    • Liquid or semi-liquid food mixtures may be aspirated during gavage feeding or by regurgitation following such feeding. (B13.30.w28, B23.38.w2, P4.1990.w1)
  • Mortality is high. (B101)
  • Pulmonary lesions: pneumonia, usually antero-ventral and cone shaped (base towards the pleura); it may be unilateral or bilateral. (B101)
    • Early lesions: marked congestion, areas of interlobular oedema. Bronchi hyperaemic and filled with froth. (B101)
    • Later: suppurative and necrotic lesions with soft or liquid, red0brown, foul-smelling foci. Also acute fibrinous pneumonia and often pleural exudate. (B101)
In Birds
  • Lungs may be discoloured brownish with oil aspiration. (B36.42.w42)
  • Pneumonia. (B20.13.w10)
    • Haemorrhagic pneumonia with diffuse pulmonary congestion and multifocal bleeding into air spaces was described in a ruddy duck contaminated with spilled #6 fuel oil; it was considered that this could have been due to oil inhalation and consequent irritation of the respiratory tract. (P14.1.w11)
  • The trachea and lungs may be full of food material with acute asphyxiation due to intratracheal food/fluid placement. (B13.30.w28)
  • Pneumonia at necropsy following food inhalation. (B13.30.w28)
In Elephants
  • Gross pathology:
    • Respiratory system:
      • The trachea and the major bronchi were filled with clear frothy fluid. The lungs were markedly congested, interlobular septa were dilated, reaching up to 5 mm thick, and there were early localised areas of consolidation. (J4.179.w3)
      • Trachea necrotic, lungs contained visible food particles and there was a gangrenous pneumonia. (P1.1981.w4)
    • Lymph nodes: The tracheobronchial, mandibular, prescapular, axillary and superficial inguinal lymph nodes were congested. (J4.179.w3)
  • Histopathology:
    • Respiratory system:
      • The lung specimens revealed aspiration pneumonia characterised by small pieces of plant material with exudate in the alveoli, acute necrotising bronchitis and brochiolitis. (J4.179.w3)
      • A marked alveolar and interlobular oedema was present. There was an early fibrin and neutrophil infiltration of most alveoli. Alveolar capillaries were congested. Some alveoli presented signs of early emphysema. Small pieces of plant material and squames were observed in the alveoli exudate. (J4.179.w3)
      • The bronchi and bronchioles presented an acute necrotising inflammation with epithelial sloughing and mucosal hyperaemia. (J4.179.w3)
      • Lungs: "suppurative pneumonia and a vasculitis with areas of thrombosis and extreme congestion." (P1.1981.w4)
    • Lymph nodes: hyperaemia. In the tracheobronchial lymph nodes, acute lymphadenitis. (J4.179.w3)
In Bears
  • Gross pathology:
    • Respiratory system: a grass awn was found to have migrated down and penetrated a lung lobe, with resultant pneumonia, in a mother-reared Ursus maritimus - Polar bear cub at Denver Zoological Gardens. (J23.39.w1)
In Ferrets
  • Histopathology:
    • Respiratory: Pulmonary necrosis, fibrosis, abscessation, inflammatory infiltrate and accumulation of fibrin; in the bronchioles and alveoli, particulate matter may be seen. Pleuritis. (B627.13.w13)
Diagnosis/ Investigations
  • Often from the clinical history. (B101, B547.2.w2)
  • Radiographically, there is a mixed bronchial alveolar and interstitial pneumonia pattern, but there may not be much radiographical change in the acute condition. (B547.2.w2)
  • Pyrexia may develop but this is variable depending on the species. (B101)
In Elephants
  • Pathology: The pulmonary lesions found were similar to those seen in cattle with aspiration pneumonia. (J4.179.w3)
  • Culture and identification: Peptostreptococcus micros, Eubacterium lentum and two unidentified anaerobic gram-positive and gram-negative bacilli were isolated from the lungs. The first two isolates are normal oral cavity inhabitants and have been isolated from the lungs in human cases of aspiration pneumonia. (J4.179.w3)
In Ferrets
  • HIstory, physical examination, radiography, haematology; tracheal lavage sample - cytology and culture. (B602.7.w7, B232.6.w6)
  • Radiographs of the thorax. (B602.7.w7, B627.13.w13, B631.26.w26)
    • Primarily the dependent lung lobes are involved. (B602.7.w7)
      • Aspiration pneumonia can be seen in the caudal left cranial lung lobe and right middle lung lobe. The dependent parts of of the caudal lobes may also (or alternatively) be involved. (B631.26.w26, B627.13.w13)
    • Involvement of the small airways may be visible radiographically if aspiration pneumonia is severe. (B627.13.w13)
    • Atelectasis may be noted. (B627.13.w13)
  • Give broad-spectrum antibiotics if an animal is known to have inhaled any foreign substance, before any clinical signs develop. (B101)
  • Keep the affected animal quiet. (B101)
  • Provide general supportive care and oxygen therapy. (B101)
In Birds
  • Supportive treatment for oil inhalation pneumonia includes provision of a high-fat low carbohydrate diet. (P4.1990.w1)
  • Following aspiration of food, rapid placement of an air sac cannula, together with aggressive antimicrobial therapy (e.g. Trimethoprim-Sulphonamide, plus ketoconazole) and steroid therapy may be attempted. (B13.30.w28)
    • Note: The prognosis is poor; apparent cure may be followed by chronic fungal infection. (B13.30.w28)
In Elephants
In Bears
  • Enrofloxacin 5 mg/kg intramuscularly once daily for five days, plus prednisolone 0.25 mg/kg intramuscularly once daily for five days was given to a bear to treat suspected pneumonia following drenching with buffalo buttermilk. (J2.38.w1)
In Lagomorphs
In Ferrets
  • Oxygen should be given if breathing is difficult. (B232.6.w6, B602.7.w7, B628.11.w11)
  • Diuretics may help with gaseous exchange in the lungs. (B232.6.w6)
  • Fluid therapy should be given. (B232.6.w6, B602.7.w7, B628.11.w11)
  • Provide very palatable foods; force feeding may be necessary. (B232.6.w6, B602.7.w7, B628.11.w11)
  • Antibiotics should be given whilst waiting for a culture result. (B602.7.w7, B631.26.w26)
  • Note: A combination of these antibiotics may be required. (B602.7.w7)
  • Treatment should be given until clinical signs have stopped and the ferret's lungs are clear on radiographs. (B631.26.w26)
In Birds
  • Weak birds should be given fluids by parenteral routes (e.g. intravenous or subcutaneous), not given food orally. (P4.1990.w1)
In Bears
  • During anaesthesia, ensure the head is slightly downhill of the body so that any liquid regurgitated runs out of the mouth and is not inhaled. (D249.w13)
    • If the bear vomits during anaesthesia, ensure adequate drainage from the mouth, if necessary by pulling up on the hind legs. (D249.w13)
  • When bottle feeding bear cubs, make sure they are kept on their front (stomach down), not on their backs, and that the hole in the nipple is not too large. (J23.9.w4)
In Lagomorphs
  • If hand-rearing, control the rate of milk intake by using a syringe rather than a feeding bottle. (B284.10.w10)
In Ferrets
Techniques linked to this disease
WaterfowlINDEXDisInvTrCntr.gif (2325 bytes)
Host taxa groups /species Further information on Host species has only been incorporated for species groups for which a full Wildpro "Health and Management" module has been completed (i.e. for which a comprehensive literature review has been undertaken).

List does not contain all other species groups affected by this disease. [N.B. Miscellaneous / Traumatic Diseases tend to be under-reported and the majority are likely to affect all bird and mammal species, given exposure to the related disease agents/factors.]

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