African Gray Parrot With Squamous Cell Carcinoma

In January of 2012, I noticed some blood in my parrot’s cage.  Ni is an African Gray parrot who picks her feathers.  I assumed she had just pulled another one, but closer inspection revealed a bloody mass in the area of her preen gland (uropygial gland).  The next day, I performed surgery and removed the mass.  Unfortunately, the biopsy results confirmed my worst fear.  Ni had a very aggressive form of cancer known as squamous cell carcinoma and the tumor cells extended all the way to the margins.   

Squamous cell carcinomas that occur in the area of the uropygial or preen gland are usually seen in birds that are on poor quality diets.  The lack of vitamin A causes squamous cell metaplasia that eventually changes to a carcinoma.  Ni has always enjoyed a good diet.  She eats a mixture of vegetables, fruits and organic pellets.  This couldn’t possible be the cause. . .or could it?  I started Ni on Harrison’s Sunshine Factor, hoping for the best.

Two months have passed and I am happy to report that Ni is doing well.  Right after surgery, her incision broke down as the tumor remnants started to grow again.  After two weeks of vitamin A supplementation, the tumor started to shrink and Ni no longer required medication to control her pain.   I suspect the Arizona heat may have effected her otherwise great diet during transport.  In any event, as a veterinarian and bird lover, this is a wonderful development to share with all of you who care about birds.  If your bird is diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma, be sure to ask your veterinarian about vitamin A supplementation.  Below is a picture of the tumor before I removed it.   


Published by kristennelsondvm

Dr. Kristen Nelson grew up on a farm in Watertown, Minn., where she developed a deep love for animals of all kinds. She received a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Minnesota, College of Veterinary Medicine. Kris then completed a small-animal internship at the prestigious Animal Medical Center in New York City. In addition to writing and speaking, she cares for small and exotic animals in Scottsdale, Az. Dr. Nelson is widely quoted in the media. Her credits include Ladies’ Home Journal, USA TODAY, the Los Angeles Times and numerous radio and television interviews. Dr. Nelson has written two books, Coated With Fur: A Vet’s Life and Coated With Fur: A Blind Cat’s Love. Kris and her husband Steve share their home with rescued cats, birds and a dog.

5 replies on “African Gray Parrot With Squamous Cell Carcinoma”

  1. We have a Senegal who has just been diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma. Centered on the preen gland; tail has been amputated. What was the long term outcome for Ni?

    1. I am sorry to hear about your Senegal. Ni is doing well with no signs of recurrence. She is playing on the top of her cage as I write. As I stated in the post, this kind of cancer is often associated with a lack of vitamin A. Since her surgery, I supplement her diet with Harrison’s Sunshine Factor mixed into her vegetables once a day. Eighty percent of her diet is still organic pellets as before the cancer. The prognosis for Ni was guarded after surgery because I did not get clean margins. The pathologist told me it would be a matter of months – that was three years ago. When I updated the pathologist on Ni a year ago, he was surprised to hear she was still alive. Although he still feels the vitamin A supplementation is not the reason, he cannot explain why the tumor has not recurred. I hope that helps!

        1. Cleo was operated on in October 2014. Her tail was removed. There were concerns that the margins might not have been adequate. But approaching a year later, she is healthy and happy. She gets NutriGreen supplement in food daily. She gets fresh organic fruits and veggies and organic cooked grains.

          1. I am so happy to hear that Cleo is doing well. Unfortunately, my bird’s cancer came back in June under her wings and she did not survive the surgery to remove the 3 mets. Ni had almost 5 cancer-free years after her tail amputation. I miss her greatly. I hope Cleo can beat this. My best to you and Cleo!

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