Toucans: Husbandry and Medicine
World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress Proceedings, 2009
Zalmir S. Cubas, DVM, MSc
Itaipu Binacional - Refugio Biológico Bela Vista. Av., Foz do Iguaçu-PR, Brasil

Toucans and toucanets (family Ramphastidae, order Pisiformes) are widely distributed in the Neotropics from south Mexico to northern Argentina. These active and colorful birds are popular pets frequently taken to veterinary practitioners for medical assistance.

Feeding

Free-ranging toucans eat mainly fruits, arthropods, bird eggs, young birds and small vertebrates; occasionally leaves and flowers. In captivity toucans are particularly sensitive to iron storage disease (or hemochromatosis); therefore low iron diet (around 40 ppm) should be provided (Cubas, 2007).

Restraint, Anesthesia and Surgery

A net, a towel or leather gloves are used to capture toucans in their cages or aviaries. Birds are gently grasped first by the beak and the body is wrapped in a towel to control flapping wings. Care should be taken not to obstruct the nostrils at the insertion of the upper beak (Cubas, 2007). Isoflurane is the most recommended anesthetic agent. For short surgical procedures a combination of ketamine (20 mg/kg) and xylazine (1-2 mg/kg) IM or EV (slowly) provides anesthesia, analgesia and muscle relaxation (Cubas, 2007). Propofol, tiletamine-zolazepam and other drugs can also be used according to the veterinarian's experience. In painful surgical procedures such as orthopedic and visceral surgeries the association of an opioid analgesic such as butorphanol (1-3mg/kg IM) or fentanyl (0.02mg/kg IM) is recommended (Paul-Murphy, 2006)

Beak fracture is a common lesion to occur in stressed birds, which may injure themselves against wire netting. First treatment includes control of hemorrhage, wound disinfection, debris removal, fluid therapy, nutritional support and prevention of secondary infection. Care should be taken not to insert liquid or contaminants in the inner part of the beak. Healing (complete keratin deposition) usually takes weeks to months. Thereafter acrylic repair is possible for mechanical or cosmetic purposes. Prosthetic beak devices can be designed using either dentistry resins or the beak of a dead specimen of the same specie (Cubas, 2007; Cubas, 2001).

Dermal lesions and bone fractures are managed as in other avian patients. Birds unable to fly sitting on abrasive floor, may develop bumblefoot and abrasive dermatitis in and above the hock joint, and are treated as in raptors. Infected wounds demand parenteral antibiotics (Cubas 2007).

Diagnostics

Blood sample for hematology and serum biochemistry (Table 1 and 2) are collected in the right jugular vein. The ulnar vein can be used for fluid and drug injection.

Diseases

Infectious Diseases

Escherichia coli and Salmonella sp. are potentially pathogenic in debilitated birds (Cubas, 2003). Avian pseudotuberculosis (Yersinia pseudotuberculosis) has been reported as the cause of death of toucans in North American and European bird collections. Rodents and free-ranging birds are incriminated as the reservoir and carriers of this bacterium (Cornelissen and Ritchie, 1994). Avian tuberculosis was diagnosed in toco toucan (Ramphastos toco) and black-necked aracari (Pteroglossus aracari) [Cornelissen and Ritchie, 1994; Worell, 1996]. Clostridium colinum infection was reported in six birds that died without premonitory signs over a period of four months (Cubas, 2001). Bacteroides spp. (var. nonfragilis) was isolated in a toucan that had severe necrotizing enteritis with multiple nodules filled with caseous material, and hepatitis with multiple granulomatous lesions (Cubas, 2007). Candidiasis (Candida albicans) and aspergillosis (Aspergillus sp.) occur in debilitated birds and chicks showing retarded growth. The author has seen young toucans and toucanets with severe necrotizing esophagitis caused by multiple bacteria and fungi infection. There are scarce reports of viral diseases in toucans. Newcastle disease virus was isolated from three of 48 toucans in a quarantine station in the United States. A herpesvirus serologically unrelated to Pacheco's disease virus was identified in a toucan. Reovirus was recovered from a toucanet that died of enteritis (Ritchie, 1995).

Parasitic Diseases

Capillariosis (Capillaria sp.) is one of the most important causes of toucan death in captivity in Brazil. Capillaria worms adhere to the intestinal mucosa, causing loss of anemia, dehydration, emaciation, hypoproteinemia, hyporexia, anorexia, apathy, lethargy, and brown to bloody diarrhea. Worms can be particularly resistant to usual anthelmintics (CUBAS, 2007). Fenbendazole at the dose of 50 to 100mg/kg/day for 10 days may be effective. Adult filarids of Dessetfilaria guianensis and Dessetfilaria braziliensis have been found in the aorta, pulmonary trunk and auricle of free-ranging toucans in French Guiana and Brazil (Cubas, 2001; Cubas, 2007).

Coccidiosis and Giardia sp. can occasionally cause diarrhea in toucans. It was reported the death of two toco-toucans possibly due to sarcocystosis in a zoological collection in Brazil (Cubas, 2001).

Noninfectious Diseases

Hemochromatosis or iron storage disease is one of the most common causes of toucan mortality in captivity. The liver may show areas of necrosis and degenerative processes. Etiological factors are the excessive dietary iron and high rates of iron absorption and retention in susceptible bird species. Clinical signs can go from subclinical to nonspecific, such as apathy, dyspnea (with ascites) and anorexia. Necropsy findings may vary from liver congestion and slight enlargement to rusty hepatic discoloration with multiple round foci of different sizes in the parenchyma, fibrin deposition and ascites. Liver biopsy is currently considered the most accurate method of diagnosis, and microscopic changes consist of granular pigments of iron deposits in the hepatocytes and mononuclear-phagocytic system. Reduced hepatic function can be assessed by elevated values of liver enzymes and changes in iron panel. Treatment consists of daily to weekly phlebotomy, deferoxamine mesilate (100mg/kg/day SC for 110 days) or deferiprone (50mg/kg PO bid for 30 days) (Cubas, 2007).

Young birds fed solely on fruits and insects are likely to develop rickets and emaciation. Clinical signs are beak softened with wrinkled appearance, lameness, spontaneous fractures, feather discoloration and non-specific signs. Toucans are susceptible to cardiovascular diseases. Predisposing factors to arteriosclerosis are obesity, high-fat diets, advanced age and chronic liver failure. Pancreatitis and diabetes mellitus have been reported in toucans. Clinical signs are loss of weight, decreased appetite, polydipsia, polyuria and lethargy (Cubas, 2007).

Table 1. Hematology values in toco toucan(Ramphastos toco).*

Parameter

Toco-toucan

Mean

Range

n

Erythrocytes x 106/mm3

2.49

2.24-2.74

7

PCV (%)

46

44-47

7

Hemoglobin (g/dL)

16.40

14.61-18.19

7

MCV (fL)

195.60

176-214

7

MCH (pg)

65.10

53-76

7

MCHC (g/dL)

35.30

31-39

7

Leukocytes/_L

5,500

2,100-8,800

3

Heterophils/ _L

3,730

536-6,923

3

Lymphocytes/ _L

2,060

992-3,127

3

Eosinophils/ _L

0

0-63

3

Monocytes/ _L

0

0-20

3

Basophils/ _L

0

0-20

3

*Correia, 1999
Editor note: _ in the above table show as unidentified symbol in the original paper and pdf

Table 2. Selected serum biochemical values in toco toucan (Ramphastos toco).*

Parameter

Toucans

Mean

Range

n

Total protein (g/dL)

3.5

2.8-4.4

86

Albumin (g/dL)

2.1

1.4-2.4

86

Globulin (g/dL)

1.79

1.4-2.2

86

A:G ratio

1.42

0.92-2.67

86

Calcium (mg/dL)

10.2

8.8-11.8

86

Cholesterol (mg/dL)

175.1

104-254

86

Glucose (mg/dL)

297.9

222-363

 

Plasma iron (_g/dL)

     

TIBC (_g/dL)

     

LDH (IU/L)

257.6

180-319

86

AST (IU/L)

243.3

141-340

86

ALP (IU/L)

43.3

14-88

86

Bile acid (_mol/L)

54.4

16-86

86

Uric acid (IU/L)

7.93

2.4-14

86

* Fudge, 1999.
Editor note: _ in the above table show as unidentified symbol in the original paper and pdf

References

1.  Cornelissen H, Ritchie BW. Ramphastidae. In Ritchie BW, Harrison GJ, Harrison LR (eds.): Avian Medicine: Principles and Application. Lake Worth, Florida: Wingers Publishing Inc. p.1276-1283 and 1337 (appendix), 1994.

2.  Correia LS. Laboratório Ambiental. Cascavel, PR, Brazil: Editora Universitária-Edunioeste,1999, p.248-249.

3.  Cubas ZS. Medicine: Family Ramphastidae (toucans). In Fowler M.E., Cubas, Z.S. (eds.): Biology, Medicine and Surgery of South American Wild Animals. Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Press, p.188-199, 2001.

4.  Cubas ZS. Pisiformes (tucano, araçari, pica-pau). In: Cubas, Z.S.; Silva, J.C.R.; Catão-Dias, J.L. Tratado de Animais Selvagens--Medicina Veterinária. São Paulo: Editora Roca, 2007, p.210-221.

5.  Cubas ZS. Pisiformes (woodpeckers, barbets, puffbirds, jacamars, toucans). In: Fowler ME, Miller RE. Zoo and Wild Animal Medicine. 5 ed. St. Louis: Elsevier Science, 2003. p. 261-266.

6.  Fudge AM. Laboratory reference ranges for selected avian, mammalian, and reptilian species. In: Laboratory Medicine: Avian and exotic pets. Philadelphia: WB Saunders, 1999, P.375-400.

7.  Paul-Murphy J. Pain management, chap 8. In: Harrison GJ; Lightfoot TL. Clinical Avian Medicine, vol 1. Palm Beach, FL: Spix Publishing, 2006, p.233-239.

8.  Ritchie BW. Avian Viruses--Function and Control. Lake Worth, Florida: Wingers Publishing, Inc. 1995, 514p.

9.  Worell A. Medicine and surgery of toucans. In: Rosskopf Jr. WJ, Woerpel RW, eds. Disease of Cage and Aviary Birds, 3rd ed. Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins, 1996. p.933-943.

 

Speaker Information
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Zalmir Silvino Cubas, DVM, MSc


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