Tumors - Xanthomas in Birds
What is a Xanthoma?
Xanthomas are discrete masses or diffuse, thickened areas of skin that are yellow-orange and dimpled in appearance. They are accumulations of fat and cholesterol and are most commonly found in cockatiels and budgies (and they are more often found in females).
"Genetic predispositions, high fat or high cholesterol diets and trauma may be contributory to their formation."
The wing tips, breast region and the area of the bird's ventral abdomen (often between the legs and around the vent) are the most common sites of xanthomas. They are often locally invasive and destructive. This infiltrative tissue is weak or friable and can be easily damaged or ulcerated, especially as it proliferates and gets bigger. Birds will sometimes cause self-trauma by picking at them. The cause of xanthomas is currently unknown. Genetic predispositions, high fat or high cholesterol diets and trauma may be contributory to their formation.
Are there any treatments for Xanthomas?
It has been reported that some individual birds will respond to nutritional therapy. Often these birds are on high fat, all seed diets. Weaning slowly onto a balanced diet (pellets + fruits and vegetables) plus supplementation with vitamin A or vitamin A precursors may be successful. If the xanthoma continues to enlarge, or becomes ulcerated, bleeding, infected or painful, surgical removal is required. If the mass is left untreated, it may become large enough to impair the bird's movements. In addition, the bird becomes susceptible to sudden bleeding episodes and may bleed to death.
The goal of surgery is to completely remove the xanthoma and any surrounding fatty, necrotic or ulcerated skin. The more complete the excision, the less likely the tumor will recur. Sometimes the tissue so diffusely infiltrates areas of surrounding skin that surgical excision may be incomplete; in these cases, the mass will be "debulked" as much as possible. In some cases, the xanthoma is so large that to remove it all would not leave enough healthy skin to close the surgical wound. Suturing incompletely removed xanthomatous tissue is complicated by the fact that the tissue is weak and may not hold the sutures well. Occasionally, the only way to remove a xanthoma from the wing tip is amputation.
Consult a veterinarian familiar with birds for further guidance.