"...I just don't know how you're supposed to tell what causes the twirling. There
are so many reasons! Blown inner ear, vitamin deficiency, infections,
genetics, etc etc."
I hear this question all the time. There are lots of opinions about twirling and it is very hard to know which treatment might save your bird. There are a few ways that you can determine what is causing the twirling.
Ruptured Inner Ear Infection
If the bird is twirling and also frumped & fluffed, eating and drinking much less, basically just sitting around the cage sleeping with the head tucked under the wing, the "sick bird" look, then you may be dealing with a ruptured inner ear that is infected. The sick bird look tells you that the bird is also feeling unwell. In this instance only, use both the Medistatin (Nystatin), fungal or Trimethoprim Sulfa, bacterial to heal the infection. If an infection is present, then using both medications simultaneously will heal most forms of bacterial or fungal infections. I have always used them together since you can't tell what type of infection it may be.
If the bird is otherwise acting normal (tight feathered, eating and drinking normally, flying, basically acting perfectly normal except for the twirling) then neither medication is going to help. A ruptured inner ear that never gets infected has no need for a medication, so using either will not help the twirling condition. As the infection heals, I think the rupture in the ear must heal closed, because when it works, the twirling behavior stops. But I would never breed this recovered bird because I believe that twirling is genetic.
If the twirling is caused by the ingestion of fungal toxins from contaminated wet seed or soft food, then Medistatin or Nystatin or some other drug used to treat fungal infections are the treatment options. In this instance, the bird would most likely be fluffed and frumped also, indicating that it is not feeling well.
These are the only 2 instances when medications will be of any help. The theories about it being caused by vitamin deficiencies, in my opinion, isn't applicable. Every time I have had birds start to twirl, they have been on a good diet with most supplements being in the drinking water, or coated onto their seed mixture, so I knew that they were getting them. When all the supplements are mixed into the soft food, you might not exactly know that the particular bird that is twirling is eating it. When they are in the water, you are sure that they are getting the supplementation or they would die of dehydration.
Twirling does come on very suddenly in a lot of cases. In one instance I had a bird exhibit the twirling movements for a few minutes, stop for several days, then do it again for a brief time. But eventually the bird began to twirl constantly. This bird came to me from another breeder along with one of his brothers. Within 6 months both brothers were twirling. Two other friends of mine bought birds that were also related to these brothers and both of their birds twirled too. This is why I believe that twirling does have a genetic component to it. When I first began breeding Gouldians, I had paired a SF yellow-back cock with a yellow-back hen. Right after the hen had finished laying her clutch of 4 eggs, the cock started twirling. I had heard about there being a possibility of it being genetic, so I allowed the pair to incubate and raise their babies. All 4 eggs hatched, but by 6 months of age, 2 of the 4 babies had died. I kept both of the other chicks and by the time they were 2 years old, both were twirling. Twirling is usually precipitated by some sort of stressful event. In the case of both of these birds, the only stress in their lives was going through the molt each year. I never set them up to breed as I didn't want to pass this gene any further.
Paramyxovirus the Cause?
Dr Branson Ritchie, with the University of Georgia vet school, believes that twirling is caused by a paramyxovirus. I assume this is because they did necropsies on birds that had twirled and found the virus in tissue samples. Most paramyxoviruses are highly contagious. Except for those 2 brothers who were housed in a large flight with a number of other males, none of whom ever twirled, I have never had more than one twirler at any time.
It is always very sad when this happens to any bird, but as far as I know, no one really knows what causes the twirling behavior that doesn't kill the bird, but leaves them unable to stabilize themselves and perch without falling. I had one bird that lived with this behavior for 4 years before he died. Except for the unbalanced perching, he did everything else any bird would do. One word of precaution...whenever you have a twirling bird, it is best not to give them any deep water dishes for drinking or bathing. I had one that got into the bath and almost drowned, I rescued him, warmed him up and dried him off and he was fine. Had I not found him when I did, (his head was completely submerged in the bath and he wasn't moving) he would have drowned.
Show me the Money!
I know how difficult it is to watch a small bird go through these contorted behaviors. In 18 years of raising Gouldians, I was able to cure only 1 twirler with Trimethaprim Sulfa because I believe he had developed an inner ear infection. I tried every one of the other suggested cures for twirling that you can find if you do a Google search on twirling. As people we always want to fix everything. This just isn't always possible. I'm not saying that you shouldn't try. But I just hate it when people convince us that this drug, or that vet visit will work, just give me the money to pay for it. I've been there, done that, and most of the time it just doesn't work with twirling. I surely hope to be proved wrong someday, but in the meantime, I just want folks to know that when they are trying to cure twirling, they are most likely throwing their money away.
Medistatin is a powdered form of Nystatin that we can obtain without a prescription in the US. But the directions on the label give dosing for crop feeding in handfeeding formula or mixing into a softfood mix. It does not dissolve in water and to coat it onto seed, you would have to coat the seed first with some sort of oil so that it will stick and not fall to the bottom of the dish.
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