Across the east coast of Australia, wild Rainbow Lorikeets (Trichoglossus haematodus) have been plagued by a disease called Lorikeet Paralysis Syndrome leaving them flightless. Since the 1970’s, cases have appeared from as far north as Bundaberg in Queensland and all the way down to Sydney in New South Wales.
What is LPS?
Lorikeet Paralysis Syndrome (LPS) is the sudden onset of paralysis in wild Rainbow Lorikeets that affects more than one thousand birds each year. You may have heard this condition also commonly referred to as Clenched Foot Syndrome.
A study conducted by David Phalen & Alex Rosenwax indicated that within Sydney the disease is more prevalent in juveniles (12‐16 weeks of age) and observed during October to June. Interestingly, there is higher incidence rate during the summer months of December – February, which means the disease is seasonal in nature.
Unfortunately, the cause of LPS is unknown. There have been many causal hypotheses such as lead or cadmium poisoning, thiamine deficiency, avian avulavirus or pesticides. Due to the sudden onset of paralysis which is synonymous with neuromuscular junction dysfunction, recent research has been focused on a specific plant toxin as the culprit.
Symptoms of LPS
- Clenched feet (unilateral/bilateral)
- Bird unable to perch, stand or walk
- Generalized body weakness (due to inability to forage for food)
- Paralyzed wings/tail (inability to fly)
- Unable to blink or swallow
- Ataxia (uncoordinated movement)
- Paresis (partial paralysis & weakness)
- Voice change
A lorikeet displaying most or all of the above symptoms will have reached the advanced stages of the disease. However the symptoms mentioned above are synonymous with neurological disorders such as head trauma or spinal cord injury. As a result, in some cases it can be hard to differentiate LPS from other neurological disorders.
The below are suggestive pathophysiology’s however are not definitive criteria for the diagnosis of LPS
- Increase in creatinine phosphokinase
- Increase in aspartate aminotransferase
- Increase in plasma phosphorus concentrations
- Increase in sodium and chloride concentrations
- Lymphopenia (low lymphocyte count)
- Increase in uric acid
Unfortunately there is no cure to LPS however there are a few techniques you could try to give the lorikeet the best chance of survival.
- Clean fresh water for electrolyte balance
- Neocare feeding formula administered via oral syringe
- OR Lorikeet Nectar Wet or Dry Formula
- Multivitamin drops/powder
- Opening clenched feet and exercising in cycling motion 5-6 times daily
If you are a veterinarian with access to extra pharmaceutical resources, try administering the following:
- Pain relief e.g. Meloxicam 1 mg/kg every 12 hours for 3 days
- Eye drops (if unable to blink)
Rehabilitation is a long term process where most birds require intensive care during the initial stages. Treatment efficacy is also dependent on the severity of nerve damage. Over time, nerves with minor injury can regenerate and paralysis may only be a temporary symptom. Suffering lorikeets (with no treatment success) should be euthanized as that is the most considerate option.
Help a Lorikeet
What do you do if you find a distressed Rainbow Lorikeet with clenched feet? Help it, of course!
If you are not comfortable handling the bird, you should call your local bird rescue organization. If you’re in Australia, give WIRES a call on 1300 094 737 and explain your bird situation. WIRES may request you take the bird to your local vet for triage. Alternatively, you can call the vet or local council.
More experienced handlers should treat the bird against shock with the steps below:
- Place the bird in a cardboard box
- Keep the bird warm
- Keep the bird in quiet room
Lastly, if you’re on the Australian east coast, participate in this study conducted by the University of Sydney & iNaturalist to help determine the cause of LPS. Participate now!
Lacasse, C., Rose, K., Allen, M., Ward, M., Pulscher, L., Giles, A., Hall, J. and Phalen, D. (2021). Investigation into clinicopathological and pathological findings, prognosis, and aetiology of lorikeet paralysis syndrome in rainbow lorikeets ( Trichoglossus haematodus ). Australian Veterinary Journal, 99(10), pp. 432–444.