Lupron & Birds
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Lupron & Its Use In Avian Medicine
By: Sandee L. Molenda, C.A.S.

For those that spend time on the Internet, lately there has been a lot of talk of using the drug Lupron for a variety of problems found in birds. It has been touted as a ‘miracle’ cure by some proclaiming it solves medical problems ranging from chronic egg laying (usually seen in cockatiels) to feather destruction to behavioral issues such as biting and aggressive behavior. These types of claims merit investigation from all avenues and in researching this article, I have obtained information from the manufacturer, research veterinarians and veterinarians that have pioneered the use of this drug in aviculture as well as anecdotal information from pet bird owners. It is hoped that this information will educate you in order to allow you to make the right decision for your bird and it’s situation.

What is Lupron? Lupron Depot belongs to a class of drugs called gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) agonists. It is used to decrease the human body’s production of specific hormones, natural chemicals that influence the behavior of certain cells. Because Lupron Depot can reduce the production of both male and female hormones, it is used to treat specific conditions in men, women, and children. The manufacturer performed no clinical trials of this drug on birds and makes it clear that veterinarians are prescribing it ‘off label’ something that is commonly done with most human drugs that are used on animals.

What are the Conditions for Which it is Prescribed? In humans, Lupron is used to treat prostate cancer, endometriosis, fibroid tumors and early puberty. In birds, it has been used to alleviate chronic egg laying and other reproductive problems as well as behavioral problems including aggression and feather destructive behaviors.

What are the Side Effects, if any? In humans, Lupron has had many side effects ranging from hot flashes (in men as well as women), sexual side affects, headaches, increased testosterone production, poor control in the pubertal process, bone pain, bone loss, kidney problems, spinal cord compression, psychological and neurological problems.

Fortunately, in checking with veterinarians that have prescribed Lupron for treatment in birds, none of these side effects have been observed. This is most important due to the high incidents of bone loss in humans but not in birds. Birds, of course, have hollow bones and the possible loss of bone in birds could be disastrous. This concern, however, seems to be not a problem in birds taking Lupron. The only side affect that has been reported is a mild, brief facial skin flushing in a Scarlet macaw. Dr. Brian Speer did state that at present time, with the use of Leuprolide acetate in birds, adverse drug-associated effects are not recognized or documented. In non-domestic avian species, veterinarians typically have to use drugs off-label, as there are precious few true understood drugs that can be applied to the multitude of species and age groups of birds that we must provide medical care for. With off-label use comes some good, and some potential bad - needless to say.

Is Lupron Successful in Preventing Chronic Egg Laying? Chronic egg laying is defined when a hen lays repeated clutches or larger than normal clutch size. This can exhaust the hen and reduce calcium to dangerous levels. Lupron, along with environmental dietary changes, helps to decrease the level of reproductive hormones thereby stopping egg production. Dr. Jim Miliam first reported on using Lupron several years ago as a way to reduce egg laying in cockatiels.  Both Dr. Heather Bowles and Dr. Fern Van Sant, veterinarians that prescribe Lupron for their avian patients, stressed very highly the importance of providing appropriate diet, photoperiods (daylight hours) and other environmental changes such as removing ‘nest like’ or stimulating toys or cage accessories and moving the cage to a new location in addition to Lupron injections. Dr. Bowles reports that the Fallston Veterinary Clinic treated 210 birds with reproductive disorders and found the treatment to have improved or resolved in approximately 83% of the cases. Lupron has also been reported successful in treating tumors and cysts. Dr. Bowles reports that treatment may be intermittent or chronic to remain effective.

However, Dr. Miliam also reported a rebound effect in which the birds actually laid more eggs after the effect of the drug wore off.  According to Dr. Susan Clubb, “as a GNRH inhibitor, when the drug is no longer acting to inhibit the GNRH, there is a rebound of the negative feedback system controlling the production of gonadal hormones.” Dr. Clubb reported that she had tried, on a very limited basis, using Lupron to induce egg laying in birds which were not doing so, without much success. Dr. Clubb occasionally uses Lupron for reproductive problems to inhibit egg production for a while but warns owners that the effect is not really long lasting.

How Is Lupron in the Management of Undesirable Behavior? It seems that it depends on what is causing the undesirable behavior. Behaviors such as aggression, regurgitation and inappropriate sexual activities demonstrated improvement with Lupron and behavioral counseling. Dr Bowles reports that using Lupron, while the owner also works with a qualified avian behaviorist, can alleviate some of these symptoms so the owner may learn appropriate methods for handling their bird. She does state quite strongly, however, that Lupron is not a ‘quick fix’ and that all owners should receive instruction on how to handle their bird properly. Dr. Brian Speer advises caution with the use of Lupron for treating undesirable behavior. Although Dr. Speer acknowledges these products can produce a transient drop in the behavior, this “does not address the nature of the signals being received and sent between bird and owner, and hence, cannot be viewed as curative in intent or result.”

Is Lupron Successful in Resolving Feather Damaging Behavior? Again, it depends on what is causing the feather destruction. If it seems to be hormone related, several veterinarians reported success in treating with Lupron. For example, Dr. Susan E. Orosz reported success in feather damaging behavior reduction in birds that were also exhibiting reproductive behaviors. Dr. Kenneth R. Welle recommends using Lupron to treat feather destructive behavior but only in birds that are mature and also exhibiting inappropriate sexual behavior. Dr. Bowles reports in 31 cases of ‘reproductive hormone” related feather destruction, a 66% success rate with a combination of Lupron and dietary and environmental changes. As a side, Dr. Bowles did report that parrotlets, unfortunately, did not seem to respond well to Lupron in preventing feather damaging behavior. However, Dr. Van Sant stated that she had seen an improvement in parrotlets treated with Lupron as well as appropriate environmental changes.

How Long Should Lupron Be Administered? This, of course, needs to be discussed thoroughly with your veterinarian, however, all of the veterinarians interviewed that Lupron should be administered for periodic treatment for particular disorders. None felt that birds should be treated with Lupron year round unless it was under extreme circumstances. Dr. Bowles reported treating a budgie with an inoperable ovarian tumor that is inoperable (the owner does not want chemotherapy) and the clinical signs greatly improved. Also, an African grey that continuously formed ovarian cysts making her severely ill but a heart condition prohibits performing anesthesia and surgery. Lupron can also aid in stabilizing a bird for surgery and reducing the size and vascularity of the ovary & oviduct for removal.

In Conclusion I hope you have found this information useful, as I know I learned a lot doing the research. I believe each person needs to discuss these issues with their own veterinarians to make the correct decision for themselves. Remember that all the veterinarians consulted for this article stressed the need and importance of having an appropriate diet, correct housing, enrichment items, a clean environment and appropriate owner/bird interaction regardless if the proposed the use of Lupron or not.

Dr. Speer stressed the high cost of the drug (currently a class action lawsuit is pending against the company due to the price of the drug) and stated he would really love to see the costs of multiple and repeated injections re-placed into primary environmental and behavioral therapies for many birds. Dr. Speer also expressed concerns about “excessive use - primarily in that the REAL issues rarely are discussed or addressed; these include pair bond reinforcement, reproductive imprintation, and other issues that must have a primary behavioral intervention if true success is to be achieved.” He admitted Lupron can be an effective tool - but rarely will function as a sole "treatment" for the resolution of reproductive hormonally related issues.

Research Sources –

Heather L. Bowles, DVM, AVBP

Susan Clubb, DVM, AVBP

Heidi L. Hoefer, DVM, AVBP

Teresa L. Lightfoot, DVM, AVBP

Lupron Depot Web-Site

Jim Miliam, DVM, AVBP

Susan Orosz, DVM, Ph.D.

David Phalen, DVM, AVBP

Brian Speer, DVM, AVBP, ECAMS

TAP Pharmaceuticals Products, Inc.

Kenneth R. Welle, DVM, AVBP

Donald Zantop,  DVM, AVBP


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Last modified: February 26, 2006