JAMES HARRIS, DVM
Limp leg might mean kidney tumor
My fun and friendly parakeet seems to have broken his leg. It must have happened earlier today during his crazy flights and bumps into the mirrors and such. In the past, he would just curl his foot or simply avoid putting stress on the leg by not using it. Now, it just hangs there loose like a little string or rope; he doesn't bend it or use it in any way. When I touch it, he doesn't react. It has not changed in color or swelled nor does it appear to bleed from any point.
-- Eric, firstname.lastname@example.org
It's possible your bird has broken his leg, as you say. He might have snagged an overgrown nail on something inside the cage and struggled to free himself. Birds thought to have broken bones should be confined to their cages and placed in a dimly lit area to encourage inactivity. They should be kept warm to reduce shock and seen by an avian veterinarian as soon as possible. Your veterinarian may be able to feel a break by palpation but will want to properly define it with a radiograph. The doctor may splint the leg or decide to stabilize it with surgery first. However, all this said, it's rare for a caged bird to fracture a leg, and I don't think this is your parakeet's problem. In fact, I'm afraid he may be seriously ill. Budgies are very prone to develop tumors; it has been estimated that 90 percent do. One of the most common tumor locations is the kidneys - which is where the main nerve from the spinal cord to the legs passes through. As these tumors grow, they start to put pressure on the nerves. The result is paralysis. If the tumor interferes with the branches of the nerve that control the muscles that contract the foot, the result is a limp foot. If the nerve branches that control the muscles that extend the foot are involved, the foot is clenched into a tight ball. If the entire nerve is involved, the leg hangs. Usually the sensory branches are also involved, so the bird feels no pain. A radiograph (X-ray) should confirm any tumors. Unfortunately, kidney tumors in birds are usually malignant. They can't be surgically removed and techniques such as implanting radioactive beads have yielded poor results.
James Harris, DVM is owner and medical director of the Mayfair Veterinary Clinic in Sandy Bay, Tasmania, Australia. He founded Montclair Veterinary Hospital in Oakland, Calif., and has served as medical director and chairman of the board for the International Bird Rescue Research Center in Berkeley. Dr. Harris' numerous professional honors include California and National Bustad Companion Animal DVM Awards.
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