Common Medical Problems:
We commonly see malnutrition in birds. The cause is not the lack of food but rather years of feeding an incomplete and inadequate diet of seeds only. Yes, birds can live on seeds alone, but most experts now agree that their lives are shortened due to the chronic affects of malnutrition. The idea being that if you feed your bird better it will live a longer and healthier life. So what is a better diet? I don’t believe that there is only one answer to this question, partly because different types of birds will require different types of food, but also because we are still learning how to best feed our pet birds. However, there are some basics that you can utilize in the choice diet for your bird.
A pellet-based diet is going to be more complete and balanced then a seed only diet.
Veggies are good – you usually can’t go wrong by feeding your bird fresh vegetables daily. Typically, I advise my clients to convert their birds over to a good quality pellet diet, and to offer a mixture of leafy green and yellow veggies every day.
Fruits are considered treats and should only be given in moderation.
Avoid feeding any pits to birds (avocados can be toxic) and spinach should only be fed occasionally.
In general you need to provide a large variety of fresh food for your bird. Typically I recommend a core diet of an organic and color free parrot pellet. A large variety of fresh vegetables should be provided for both nutrition and mental stimulation. A small amount of seeds can be provided as a treat. Seeds should be clean and fresh. Sprouted seeds can also be offered and are a good way of introducing greens to the stubborn eater.
Macaws: Again, variety will occur with the individual types of macaws. However, in general macaws require a higher fat content in their diet which can be provided with some of the large nuts as a part of their regular diet.
African Greys: Are often subject to calcium deficiency and will require higher calcium content in their diet then other birds. The best way to provide this is by providing calcium rich foods such as cheeses and yogurt in moderation. Almonds are also a good source of calcium for birds.
Eclectus: Often require more vitamin A in their diet than other birds, but you must be very careful with supplements because it is easy to create Vitamin A toxicity. Again, providing natural sources of Vitamin A is best. Feed leafy green and yellow veggies daily. Sweet potatoes are also a source of Vitamin A that many birds enjoy.
Small Birds: Budgies & Cockatiels: These guys are my exception to the rule of pellets. In general I like to place my avian patients on a complete balanced pellet, but for budgies and cockatiels I recommend that the pellets be no more than 50% of their diet with fresh/clean seeds offered daily and of course fresh veggies.
Foods to Feed Only in Moderation:
(1)Those veggies containing a high amount of oxalates. Some common examples include: spinach, chard, and bok choy.
(2)Fruits, which can provide too much sugar in the bird’s diet.
(3)Diets that are based 100% on cooked beans calcium injections, medications to help the uterus contract and if all else fails may need to collapse the egg and remove it piece by piece. Some ways of preventing egg binding are to have your bird on a good diet, allow activity to provide good muscle tone, and prevent constant laying with breaks during the breeding cycle.
2. Feather Problems:
The most common feather problem is feather picking as discussed above. However, diseases can occur that will result in abnormal feather formation or growth. Viruses such as Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease and Polyoma Virus can often cause abnormal feather growth or feather loss. Feather cysts or ingrown feathers can occur and are common in some birds such as canaries. Changes in feather color can indicate organ disease such as yellowing which can indicate liver disease. Lastly, stress and malnutrition can both cause abnormal feather growth, delayed molt cycles and stress bars or weak points to the feather. So if a change is noted in the feather color, character or quantity the bird may have a disease condition.
3. Organ Disease
Birds like dogs, cats and indeed humans are susceptible to organ infection, inflammation, cancer and failure. The three most common organs involved include the liver, kidneys and gastrointestinal tract.
Liver disease can be from infection or toxins and is also often related to chronic malnutrition. That is, a long term diet devoid of balanced nutrients can lead to liver disease such as hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver disease). The best way to avoid liver problems is to feed a very balanced diet.
Kidney disease can be caused by a variety of factors like liver disease but again malnutrition may often play a role. For kidney health ensure a balanced diet, avoid over supplementing vitamins and minerals and provide plenty of fresh clean water to keep your bird well hydrated.
Gastrointestinal disease can involve problems anywhere from the mouth through the cloaca. Common problems include crop burn and injury in chicks, foreign body ingestion, toxins, viral infection, bacterial and yeast overgrowth. Pay close attention to your pet’s normal weight and food intake will allow you to identify a GI problem early.
4. Infectious Disease:
- Infectious disease includes parasites, fungus/yeast, bacteria, and viruses.
- Internal parasitic infections: are uncommon in birds raised and kept indoors but will be seen in aviary birds especially if kept on dirt flooring or cages with poor cleaning/hygiene. Signs may range from malnutrition and diarrhea to the absence of any symptoms. Fungal diseases: are common in birds housed in unsanitary conditions, those in more humid parts of the U.S. and those housed with poor ventilation.
- Fungal infections can be GI such as megabacteria, often seen in budgies as chronic wasting, or more commonly may involve the respiratory tract and cause wheezing or respiratory distress.
- Yeast: candidia is common in chick being handfed and is often related to overfeeding or feeding at improper temperatures. Yeast overgrowth may also be seen in birds on long term or numerous antibiotics. Common signs are regurgitation and weight loss, failure to thrive
5. Foot Trauma Commonly caused by other birds in the cage.
Foot trauma may be seen as wounds or bleeding on the toes. Additionally causes include constriction by material such as thread wrapping around the toes and causing necrosis and blackening. Another cause is trauma in the flighted bird allowed lose in the house who is allowed perch on a door that is closed or landing on a hot surface.
6. Reproductive Disease
As with dogs and cats, reproductive disease in birds can take a variety of forms including dystocia (stuck egg or egg bound), ectopic egg laying, oviduct infection or rupture, hormonal problems and more. Signs of reproductive behavior can range from aggression to a weak and lethargic bird. The egg bound bird will often, but not always have a history of egg laying. She will attempt to pass the egg over many hours to days. The longer the egg remains the more gravely ill she will become. Illness develops from dehydration, malnutrition and pressure of egg on kidney’s. Typically the bird will be found sitting on the bottom of the cage often very lethargic and intermittent straining may be noted by the owner. The vent will often have feces present and an abdominal bulge may be noted. Care should be taken on handling the dystocia bird so as to not break the egg in her oviduct. The bird should be taken to your veterinarian as soon as a problem is noticed. Veterinary therapy will include hydration, lubrication, calcium injection and possible hormones. As a last resort surgery is performed to collapse the egg from within allowing delivery.
Constant egg laying:
Another common reproductive problem in pet birds and cockatiels see to be notorious for this condition. Many pet birds will lay eggs throughout the year with or without a mate. Unfortunately, owners often remove the eggs from the cage and this forces the bird to lay a new clutch. Repeated egg laying is very hard on the hen and can result in very low calcium and egg binding, among other problems. If you have a chronic egg layer I recommend purchasing a few plastic egg of the appropriate size and once the bird has laid her clutch (usually a set number of eggs each clutch) you should replace her eggs with the plastic and allow her to sit on the fake eggs.
This does two things
- 1) prevents for from laying a new clutch for a short time and
- 2) prevents fertile eggs (if a mate is present) from being hatched and causing a further drain on the hen. I also suggest attempting to reduce the hen’s daylight hours to mimic a winter environment in an attempt to bring her out of the breeding season. And of course, it is vital that a chronic egg layer be on an excellent diet that is rich in calcium and sunlight/vitamin D.
Occasionally, a bird will have internal problems associated with egg laying. This can include problems such as an ectopically laid egg and cystic follicles. In addition to a bird that is feeling and acting sick, you may notice fluid build up in the birds abdomen. Such birds should be taken to a veterinarian immediately.
Behavioral issues were discussed above. If behavioral problem persist it may be beneficial to contact a recognized avian behaviorist and of course consult with your veterinarian.
So, these are just a very small sampling of some of the medical and surgical conditions your veterinarian will see and treat on a regular basis. Please, if you are concerned your pet is showing signs of illness, have him examined by your avian veterinarian.