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An Effective Treatment Regimen
for Budgies Suffering From
AGY (Megabacteria) Disease

by Norman Webster

Disclaimer: I take absolutely NO responsibility for any unfortunate consequences that occur as a result of treating your bird or birds as described in this article. I am not medically trained, and the treatment described may not work for you. Always consult your vet for advice on how to deal with avian medical problems.

This article describes a regimen for treating budgies that have an Avian Gastric Yeast (AGY) infection. The regimen usually results in unmistakable improvement within a few days that confirms the diagnosis and sets the budgie on a path to a symptom-free existence. Unfortunately, budgies so treated are not cured but rather are in remission. The treatment must be continued if the bird is to remain well, and even then, it may not be possible to maintain sick birds with this treatment indefinitely. I have had several birds remain symptom free for a year or longer, including one that has now entered into his third year of continuous treatment. Basically, the regimen consists of orally administering 0.3 ml of saturated Megabac-S [1] solution twice a day. Exception: If the bird is critically ill, it has been my experience that you will need to begin with heavier dosing (three or four 0.3 ml doses a day), possibly combined with hand-feeding and antibiotic therapy to deal with possible opportunistic bacteria. Within a week, if the bird is then eating normally, twice a day dosing without further supplemental feeding or antibiotics should be possible.

Notes: The following notes provide additional information that could be of interest and possibly important. Some are experience based and describe considerations that may be vital to successful treatment.

1. Megabac-S Storage and Handling:
Megabac-S should be handled with care. It tends to degrade easily. The container shouldnít be opened except when necessary and then for no longer than is required. It should be protected from heat and stored in the refrigerator. It should be protected from UV. Do not expose the powder or mixed solution to sunlight, fluorescent light, sky light, or other UV sources. Megabac-S powder tends to weaken with time. My experience has been that year old Megabac-S is noticably less effective than newly purchased Megabac-S and should be replaced. Also, note that the prepared solution degrades noticeably within days. Consequently, never mix more than a few days worth of solution at once. And once you mix it - use it. Important: Vetafarm recommends that Megabac-S be used to treat a flock, as opposed to treating individual birds that are already sick. This article describes its use to treat birds that are already sick. The Vetafarm recommended regimen and the one described here are quite different.

2. Mixing Megabac-S Solution:
For treating up to three birds (two doses each per day), I generally mix one level ľ tsp of Megabac-S powder with 2.2 ml of water. The spoon provided with Megabac-S is fine and holds nominally ľ tsp. There is nothing precision about this procedure. Careful weighing isnít necessary. A larger number of birds can be treated by simply scaling up the amount of solution prepared using the relationship:

1 Megabac-S measuring spoon of powder + 2.2 ml of water yields 6 doses (each 0.3 ml)

Helpful Hints:
Personally, I use a 4 ml vial. I begin by placing 1 ml of water in the vial, followed by the Megabac-S powder. Then I insert the stopper and shake briefly to mix the contents. Remove the stopper and add the second ml of water. All that remains is to insert the stopper and shake until the powder is dissolved. The resulting treatment solution will be straw-colored and typically may be a little cloudy.

It helps to have a very small funnel (you can make one from paper but a very small plastic funnel is easier to use and less likely to spill). Without a funnel, getting the powder into the vial without spilling it will be a tricky operation. Use a toothpick or some other small tool to help guide the powder through the funnel and into the vial. You can set the vial upright in a small baby-food jar to prevent it from falling over and spilling.

3. How Administered:
The solution is administered orally using a syringe. I use a 0.5 ml syringe to give the bird a 0.3 ml dose. You may find administering the solution easier if the tip of the syringe is first filed down with an emery board to narrow the tip thickness some. It may also help to put a scratch on the barrel at the 0.3 ml mark. Youíll always be able to find the scratch easily, with a fingernail, even in subdued lighting or if the numbers on the barrel have worn off.

You may find that the treatment solution tends to gel after sitting a few hours. Simply give the vial a few vigorous shakes to restore the contents to a liquid state, thereby allowing the next dose to be drawn.

Donít administer the solution in one big swoosh - a little bit at a time, giving the bird time to comfortably swallow each bit, seems to work best.

4. Frequency:
If youíre just commencing treatment with a very sick bird that isnít eating, start with three or four doses a day. You may have to hand feed it as well for a few days. Once the bird is feeling better and eating normally, it will only need to be treated twice a day.

If the bird is ill, but is still eating well and isnít critically sick, you should be able to begin with two doses daily of the Megabac-S solution. This regimen should be continued indefinitely. At no time should treatment be discontinued, or should the dose size be reduced below 0.3 ml. Note: Although two doses daily of 0.3 ml has been demonstrated to work adequtely with small to mid-size budgies, larger or more frequent doses may be required with large exhibition type budgies.

5. Impressions and Opinions:
Thereís a lot of mystery and uncertainty in all this. Although it may turn out that many of the following underlying assumptions are, in fact, incorrect, they seem to be consistent with my experience and observations to date. Anyway, for what itís worth, hereís what I now believe.

a. A lot of budgie aviaries and many, many budgies are infected with AGY.

b. Most budgies tolerate the presence of AGY without becoming ill.

c. If a birdís immune system becomes impaired - perhaps from stress, the AGY may become pathogenic, resulting in sickness that leads to the eventual death of the bird. I have had several instances where AGY illness followed directly on the heels of a bacterial infection that was successfully treated. Some people believe that AGY is frequently (perhaps always) a secondary infection.

d. If treated as described above with Vetafarm Megabac-S, a bird ill with AGY will likely go into remission and become symptom free. These birds still need to be treated indefinitely. Birds in remission are still infected or are extremely susceptible to reinfection from non-symptomatic infected birds. Once a bird becomes ill due to AGY, it is suspect for the problem for the remainder of its life. Although I would like to believe that AGY illness will prove to be a temporary condition in at least some birds, I have yet to see one of those birds. However, my aviary is very small and my observational and treatment experience quite limited, possibly leading to my views being more pessimistic than is warranted.

6. About that Diagnosis:
A reasonable first question a reader might ask is, ďHow do I know if my bird is suffering from AGY?Ē Itís a critical question and, unfortunately, it doesnít have a simple answer. There is absolutely nothing unique to AGY induced symptoms that make the diagnosis easy, nor is there any test that will help. The bird may seem to be ďa little off,Ē it likely will prefer to be alone, it may sleep more than usual, prefering to be in a warm location. As the illness progresses, the bird will begin to lose weight and there will be a steady loss of energy and stamina. The birdís dropping will eventually become abnormal. At some point it may appear to have ďdry heaves.Ē If it begins bringing up frothy glop, itís a strong indicator of AGY. It also means youíve got a very sick bird and treatment must be started asap. The bird may linger, very sick, for a considerable time, or death may come in a few days. Basically, the bird is starving to death because itís digestive system is no longer working normally. A microscopic examination of the a dropping smear may show the presence of the organisms (they look like giant rod-type bacteria). On the other hand, they may not be observed in a fecal smear. Mouth, throat and crop smear cultures will prove negative for AGY, but might well show that there is a bacterial infection in progress as well.

My approach, on suspecting that a bird might have AGY illness, is to immediately begin treating it for AGY. Sometimes Iíll also begin antibiotics as well because the bird may also have a bacterial infection that stressed the bird, weakening itís immune system and allowing the AGY to flourish. Of course, if you simultaneously start antibiotic and Megabac-S, and then the bird improves dramatically in a few days, thereís no straightforward way of knowing whether it was the Megabac-S or the antibiotic that turned things around. If you begin with just Megabac-S and the bird responds dramatically in a few days, then the birdís illness is unmistakenly due to AGY.

7. Final Comments:
AGY is a common organism in budgies. Although it may be tolerated without causing illness throughout a budgieís life, it is capable of causing a fatal illness that often proves discouragingly difficult to treat effectively. It typically doesnít sweep through an aviary like the plague, causing many deaths in a short time. Instead, it tends to take a bird here and a bird there. Even though the loss may be considerable over time, in a large busy aviary, the individual deaths may pass almost unnoticed, but the ongoing attrition may nevertheless place a significant burden on any aviary's resources over time. The treatment described here is effective and easily managed. Although it definitely represents a step forward, it nevertheless falls far short of the much needed sure cure.

[1] Megabac-S, a product of VetaFarm, can be ordered directly from VetaFarm (Australia) (www.vetafarm.com/index2.asp), or, in the US, from New Hampshire Bird Supply (www.birdsupplynh.com), from Foy's Pigeon Supplies ( www.Foy's Pigeon Supplies.com) or other vendors.

  Last revised July 4, 2008