To Necropsy or not to Necropsy -- That is the Question
A necropsy is an avian autopsy -- used to determine the death of a bird. Why am I writing about this? Although people don't like to discuss it, it is an important issue. Necropsy may entail a very involved and detailed examination of the bird. This can end up costing lots of money. Most people ask why they should spend money on a dead (or obviously terminally ill) bird. Although I understand and respect that question, there's more to consider than the cost, especially if you are a bird breeder or a multi-pet-bird family.
If you know for sure what caused your bird's death, then there is no cause to have an autopsy done. However, if the cause is unclear or indeterminable, you may want to consider a necropsy regardless of the expense. If you have other birds they may have been exposed and are at risk. Why not take a "wait-and-see" approach?, you ask. First, the deceased bird needs to be necropsied as soon as possible after death in order to accurately determine the cause. Any your other birds may disguise their symptoms of illness for quite some time after the death of the initial bird. Some diseases can exist in birds without any signs appearing until just before death. Diseases may be transported by or to birds in an infinite number of ways, including through droppings, feather dander, shared food/water, physical contact, airborne contaminants, etc. Diseases can exist, yet remain dormant, in some birds (these birds being "carriers" of the disease), while other birds show outward symptoms. Diseases may be transferred from bird to bird by humans, and some diseases may infect the human. Perhaps at a bird fair you played with a cute little bird. After the fair, you came home and proceeded to feed and play with your birds (after washing your hands). Next thing you know, you've got a bird dead, several not looking so well, and others that appear to be fine. What happened? You could have carried on your clothing a disease from the bird at the fair.
If you are a bird breeder, you can see the dire consequences of any avian disease being introduced to your flock. The attitude that if an expensive bird dies it is worth shelling out the money for a necropsy but if a less expensive bird dies its not worth the expense, can be a breeder's downfall. Suppose one $30 cockatiel dies. Not much is lost, right? You just buy another one and go on about your business. But what if that one bird transmitted the disease to all the other birds in the aviary, and your entire flock keels over? Aahh, now you begin to think that perhaps that one cockatiel would be worth the expense after all.
What if your parent birds are carriers of a disease, appearing to be healthy, but every baby born to them lives only a matter of months before dying? Once again, it is probably worth the expense to find out what the problem is. Especially if you sell the birds immediately after weaning and then the purchasers call you several months later saying the baby died. Now your reputation is at stake.
So you see, in certain situations, a necropsy may not be so expensive after all.
One last thing I would like for you to consider: If no one had ever had a bird necropsied, do you think we would know about all of these diseases and tragedies? Without necropsies, we would never have known of Macaw Wasting Disease, psittacosis, or even the fact that carpet fresheners can kill. Because others had the sensitivity and devotion to their birds, we were able to discover many things we would never have known otherwise. Thanks to their dedication to aviculture, deaths of our birds are prevented every day, immunizations and antibiotics have been created to combat diseases that otherwise would lead to death, and much research and testing are being done on those diseases for which there is presently no know cure or preventative.
To all of you who have lost a feathered friend and did have a necropsy done, I THANK YOU, AND OUR AVIAN FRIENDS THANK YOU.
In Preparation for the Necropsy: Immerse the body in icy water for 30 minutes. This will rapidly cool the body, delaying decomposition. Get the bird to the vet as soon as possible after death. If any delay is expected, refrigerate the body immediately. Do not freeze it as freezing causes' changes in the tissues of the body and can interfere with the exam.