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
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
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 –