Amitriptyline, a tricyclic antidepressant, is used clinically to treat feather-destructive behavior in psittacine birds at a recommended dosage of 1–5 mg/kg PO q12–24h, which has been extrapolated from human medicine and based on anecdotal reports. The purpose of this pilot study was to describe the individual and population pharmacokinetic parameters of amitriptyline after a single oral dose at 1.5 mg/kg, 4.5 mg/kg, and 9 mg/kg in healthy African grey parrots (Psittacus erithacus, n = 3) and cockatoos (Cacatua species, n = 3). Three birds received an initial 1.5 mg/kg oral dose, and blood samples were collected for 24 hours at fixed time intervals. Serum concentrations of amitriptyline and its metabolites were determined by polarized immunofluorescence. After determining the initial parameters and a 14-day washout period, 2 African grey parrots and 1 cockatoo received a single oral dose at 4.5 mg/kg, and 3 cockatoos and 1 African grey parrot received a single oral dose at 9 mg/kg. Concentrations reached the minimum therapeutic range reported in people (60 ng/mL) in 4 of 10 birds (4.5 and 9.0 mg/kg). Concentrations were within the toxic range in 1 African grey parrot (9 mg/kg), with regurgitation, ataxia, and dullness noted. Serum concentrations were nondetectable in 3 birds (1.5 and 4.5 mg/kg) and detectable but below the human therapeutic range in 3 birds (1.5 mg/kg and 9 mg/kg). Drug concentrations were continuing to increase at the end of the study (24 hours) in 1 bird. Elimination half-life varied from 1.6 to 91.2 hours. Population pharmacokinetics indicated significantly varied absorption, and elimination constants varied between species. Although amitriptyline appeared to be tolerated in most birds, disposition varies markedly among and within species, between the 2 genera, and within individual birds. The current recommended dosage of 1–5 mg/kg q12h in psittacine birds appears insufficient to achieve serum concentrations within the human therapeutic range and does not yield predictable concentrations. Results of this study suggest doses of up to 9 mg/kg may be necessary, although that dose may produce adverse events in some birds, and elimination half-life is sufficiently variable that dosing intervals are not predictable. Therapeutic drug monitoring combined with response to therapy is indicated to determine individual therapeutic ranges.
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