No squawking when it comes to pain
By Amy Ettinger
Researcher finds ways to evaluate and treat pain in birds
A dog may limp when in pain. A cat can hide or hiss. But sick birds often show no symptoms at all until an injury becomes debilitating. Dr. Joanne Paul-Murphy of the University of California–Davis is a renowned expert in
pain management for birds, and thanks to Morris Animal Foundation funding, she has learned a lot over the years.
“Birds are programmed to show that nothing is bothering them. They don’t whine or cry,” says Dr. Paul-Murphy. “Birds are not really domesticated, and so we haven’t really learned to understand when a bird is in pain.”
To carry out the research, her scientific team developed an apparatus to test the birds’ discomfort without causing any real pain or injury. The apparatus is outfitted with a hidden camera, because a bird will alter its behavior if it thinks it’s being watched.
The apparatus is a perch that warms up, and if the bird feels that the perch is too hot, it will lift its foot, causing the perch to automatically cool down. “If a bird is on a warm perch and is given analgesic, its pain threshold is higher, and it won’t lift its foot as quickly,” says Dr. Paul-Murphy.
With Foundation funding, Dr. Paul-Murphy and her colleague Dr. David Guzman have also studied how nalbuphine, a morphine-like drug, affects parrots. Her studies in this area found that nalbuphine works for about three to four hours. Hoping to find a longer-lasting drug, they continued the research by looking at the effects of tramadol in parrots.
“Tramadol is given orally but may not provide as much pain relief as butorphanol,” says Dr. Paul-Murphy. It does have a few advantages, however: “We can send patients home with it, and it provides pain relief for a longer period of time.”
Recently, Dr. Paul-Murphy and Dr. Guzman teamed up to look at the effect of different pain-relief drugs on raptors. The researchers are learning that analgesics work very differently in different avian species.
“A parrot is as different from a kestrel as a cat is from a horse,” says Dr. Murphy.
The team chose to work with American kestrels because they are very common in wildlife rehabilitation facilities. So far, the results have been very surprising.
“We see great differences when compared with the other species of birds we evaluated,” Dr. Guzman says. “This is very important because it will help veterinarians to make the right choice regarding which opioid drug, and at what frequency, to provide it to kestrels and, by extrapolation, to some other raptors in pain. It will ultimately improve their welfare and health.”
Posted by MAFon May 18, 2012. Permalink