I was just wondering if birds are physically able to cough. Their throats and lungs are very different from ours, but they must have some sort of mechanism for getting rid of foreign bodies accidentally taken in.
For that matter, can they vomit? I have heard that a horse is physically unable to vomit - is this true? What about other animals? I know that cats and dogs, and us of course, can vomit but no idea about other animals. I did have a friend who had as far as she knew had never ever been sick. ?When she was unwell and the doctor asked her if she was feeling sick she said "I don't know". Might this have been because she was lacking in some aspect of the mechanism (reverse peristalsis) that makes it possible?
Surprised I haven't thought of asking this question before!
Given that birds can regurgitate food for their young it would surprise me if they couldn't vomit. However, I'm no zoologist and don't know much about bird anatomy so wouldn't like to say one way or the other. But, the ability to expel toxins from the body is quite fundamental for survival so, if an organism isn't able to vomit as we would recognise it, then some alternative mechanism would surely exist?
Yes, birds are able to vomit, and many do it daily. Birds of prey regurgitate indigestible hair, feathers and bones of small prey that they swallow whole. This means that these parts return really from the stomach, hence it is vomiting. However, birds also regurgitate food for their young, as Jonathan said. That food is kept in the crop (an enlargement of the base of the oesophagus) or in the oesophagus itself. They are very tolerant to stuff in their throats and don’t vomit it unless they want to.
I don’t know if birds can cough like mammals. The movement of air in their lungs is very different from other animals’. There are two inhalations and two exhalations in each complete cycle, which include passing of air in other organs than just lungs (air sacs).
The trachea should be protected against accidentally inhaling objects by the glottis valve at the rear of the mouth (oropharynx). I know that hand-feeding baby parrots can lead to accidental inhalation of liquid food, and I don’t think birds are able to cough in that situation.
Anyone has more about this?
I remembered just after sending the post that birds do regurgitate food or pellets, but was unable to edit it for some reason. Thanks to you and others for the helpful and interesting answers so far. I have never fed a baby bird; but have read that the larynx of babies and young children is in a different place from adults (higher or lower, can't remember) and only moves to its adult position when the child is older; (helps to prevent choking while breast feeding). Might this be true for mammal young in general?
What about ruminants such as cows? Or other groups of mammals? Reptiles and fish? The one that swallowed Jonah vomited (assuming the original word really does mean fish), but that may have been a one-off
I haven't the knowledge to comment on birds, but can confirm that horses (and presumably other equids) can't vomit because of the angle the oesophagus joins the stomach and because of the "extra strength" ring of muscle at the stomach entrance. In fact, if they do suffer any regurgitation of stomach contents (very rare and only in severe illness) it comes via the nostrils and is almost invariably fatal because the animal is unable to expel more than a fraction of it and it's immediately inhaled. Because they can't vomit, they are much more prone to stomach disorders such as colic, or accidental poisoning if they eat something they shouldn't.
I could do with a slightly stronger stomach sphincter (suffer from occasional acid reflux), but not that strong! Poor horses!
I gather that they can't breathe through their mouths either, as we can. Is that true?
Absolutely true. Although they can cough effectively via the mouth, all other respiration is through the nostrils. A horse with a blocked nose is in real trouble. Every racing season we lose horses (including in the Grand National) when they burst a blood-vessel and end up with a nose-bleed that basically drowns them. Whoever said horses love to race lied - they love to run, yes, but not to explode from stress while a little monkey-man beats them on with a stick!!
Not sure about cows - bet they are the same though (not so good to race, obviously!!).