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Living with PDD: Meggie's Story
Meggie, AHN's Cornerstone of Inspiration and Hope for Living with PDD
When the founding members of AHN began the StopPDD website,
Meggie the Congo African Grey was the cornerstone and inspiration of hope for "Living with PDD".
On Wednesday, August 13, 2003, Meggie finally succumbed to pathology-confirmed PDD. We wish Meggie's family peace, and extend our thanks to them for sharing Meggie's story.
Meggie - Living with PDD...
My full name is Cindi Dickey. I live on the East Coast with my husband of 22 years, Michael, and our three children, ages 22, 20 and 16. They are important in this story, as I have always had their support. And Michael has paid all of Meggie's vet bills without once complaining.
Meggie came to me through an 'angel' on the
Grey Connection. In October 1999, this sweet lady rescued Meggie at full price from horrible conditions in an area pet shop. In that store, the little Grey who was to eventually become mine was in a cage on the floor so small that she had to sit hunched over. She had no perch or toys. She was sitting in her own waste. The formula she was on was fed to her from a bowl. The 'angel' would not even have seen the little Grey if the bird had not called out with a tentative "Hello?" from the back of the store.
An appeal came out over the Grey Connection for a permanent home for this little baby Grey. The rescuer only wanted what a breeder would charge much less than the pet store's price tag. I volunteered to give her a 'forever' home. I had always dreamed of having an African Grey! Our 'angel' had Meggie vet-checked. Little did I know that the vet check was far from sufficient.
I picked her up on November 1, 1999. She was five months old. I named my new parrot after a character in my favorite movie, The Thornbirds. Meggie was a sweet little CAG from the moment I got her. To this day, she has never, ever bitten me. Within a week, I had earned her trust and she came to me, scampering across the top of her cage if I patted my chest and said, "Come here, Meggie!" She would 'climb aboard' and spend the whole day with me, if I let her.
In January 2000, I read from other list members on the Grey Connection that their Greys weighed far more than my Meggie. She only weighed 374 grams. The lady who had rescued her told me to get her to a vet, which I did. I took her to an avian vet who didn't have a very nice bedside manner, and he performed tests on her. When I paid the bill, I realized immediately that the vet-check Meggie had had before I had gotten her was
grossly insufficient, as this bill was over $300.
Because the vet put Meggie to sleep just to draw blood from her, and did so without my permission, I found another avian vet, a board certified one, for the follow up appointment. Records were transferred. Meggie examined well, but was too thin. After a few days, the blood test results came back, and Meggie was found to be positive for Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease(PBFD). Through the valiant efforts of my vet, we helped Meggie fight off the circovirus with a course of Echinacea, and she tested negative at 90 days.
Over the next two years, however, Meggie came down with numerous infections. Some were identifiable as e-coli, and others were "suspected" to be anaerobic in nature. (Anaerobe cultures are very specific and expensive, I was told). I would frequently have to administer antibiotics through injection. Meggie would always get better, but was always too thin. No matter what I did, she would only eat a certain amount of calories and then stop. This cycle repeated itself over and over. I threw out all her toys. I disinfected her cage. I fed her only the best foods. Nothing seemed to help stop the repeat infections. My conures were never ill.
Right after Christmas 2001, Meggie started plucking the feathers in the vicinity of her crop. She had never plucked at all before; in fact, people commented on just how beautifully feathered she was. I remembered advice I had read that plucking should always be evaluated by a vet to rule out a medical cause. First I wanted to see if the plucking stopped when the hustle and bustle of Christmas died down. It did not. I took Meggie to the vet. All tests came back normal, except there was
heterophil activity that once again signaled some kind of infection or inflammation to my vet. Once again, Meggie was put on antibiotic injections.
Meggie seemed to feel better, but declined again in February 2002. This time there was a different symptom: retching. She would try to vomit over and over again, with no production because she was also starving and there was nothing to vomit. The vet was very concerned. I could see it in her eyes. We did x-rays and heavy metal poisoning tests. Nothing. Reglan was prescribed to stop the vomiting. Diflucan was given in case Meggie had a yeast infection, even though cultures showed no yeast.
Meggie seemed to rebound a bit, but then became ill again. She would not eat, was retching, and lost more weight. My heart sunk when I noticed undigested millet in her stool. I took her back to the vet again. She just sat there, watching Meggie as she stood in the entrance of her carrying cage. The vet asked me if I noticed how Meggie's head would slowly tilt to her left, and if I noticed how Meggie would then correct the tilt. I had to admit that I did see this. I had always thought it was just an endearing quality of Meggie's. The vet tube fed Meggie at this visit, and while she was holding her head stationary in the towel, she noticed that Meggie's eyeballs moved independently. She showed me this and called it a 'nystagmus'. & She said that the two neurological symptoms, along with the retching and weight loss, could indicate PDD. My heart froze. This could not be happening to my sweet Grey! Tears filled my eyes and rolled down my face.
Because I try to read everything I can about avian care and disease, I knew that further tests could be done to possibly diagnose Meggie. I asked my vet to refer us to the Veterinary Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (VHUP). She refused. Meggie's stools turned black and I was told by Bobbi Brinker that she might be starving. I called my vet and she never called me back, which upset us greatly. We felt that she had washed her hands of Meggie. I started hand feedings of
Harrison's formula and Meggie started rebounding. I called VHUP, crying, and pleaded with them to see Meggie without a
vet referral. As soon as they heard her story, they saw Meggie within two days. We now had yet another vet, but it felt good to be in the capable hands of Dr. Karen Rosenthal.
Dr. Karen, as she is affectionately called by her patients, fell in love with Meggie. She did not only want to know her symptoms, she wanted to hear all about Meggie - what she says when she is well, what her favorite toys are, etc. I felt like we had finally found the person to make Meggie well. Dr. Rosenthal agreed with our (now former) vet that Meggie might have PDD. But until other tests were run, she said it could also be avian tuberculosis or even cancer. Meggie stayed at the hospital that entire day, undergoing tests. Dr. Rosenthal called me to tell me that Meggie's proventriculus seemed enlarged just on a normal x-ray. I gave her permission to do
We received a call in the late afternoon breaking the news to us that Dr. Rosenthal was giving Meggie a tentative diagnosis of PDD. On the contrast studies, Meggie's proventriculus was extremely enlarged. The findings suggested that the walls of the organ were thin. Mobility of the barium through the gut was very poor. Dr. Rosenthal did not want to do a crop biopsy as Meggie was so sick. She asked us if we would be willing to start a new drug called Meloxicam. She explained that it worked the same way that the Celebrex worked, but was made for avian use in Europe and was thought to have less side effects than the Celebrex.
Within a week, Meggie showed drastic improvement. I had to feed her an entirely soft diet at first. So I fed her a fresh avian mash, organic baby food by syringe, hand feeding formula, and I made her beloved birdie bread with Harrison's High Potency Mash. Meggie no longer was passing undigested food. Her grip strength improved. There was no retching anymore. She gradually started regaining weight. At the hospital, Meggie was a scant 314 grams.
After four months on the Metacam (brand name of the Meloxicam), Meggie seemed to plateau with regard to weight gain. She is 385 grams, her heaviest ever, and is doing very well. Meggie plays again, talks all day long, eats well, hangs upside-down and beats up her toys. She has stopped plucking her crop altogether and is fully feathered. As of this writing in August 2002, Meggie has been off of the Meloxicam for one month, and there is no sign whatsoever of the return of any PDD symptoms. She now eats pellets, her soft mash, and her birdie bread and sustains her life without any supplemental hand feedings. We celebrate every day with our precious Grey and thank God that she came into our lives. She has taught us such a special love and has added so much to our lives.
In loving memory of Meggie.
May you fly free in our hearts forever!
Avian Health Network, Inc