When birds pick and choose
Seed-based diets can cause problems for birds of the parrot family, so a varied diet is preferred.
IT IS important to catch changes in our animal companions’ behaviours and habits as early as possible to address any potential disease before it becomes untreatable. But it’s more difficult to spot problems in some species, and birds are among the most difficult.
Birds are essentially wild creatures that have adapted to captivity and they still possess many wild traits. One is their tendency to hide symptoms in the face of illness. This is an adaptation to living in a group. When a bird shows symptoms of disease, they are targets for predators and attract attention to their flock. The flock will reject them in order to avoid unwanted attention. Unfortunately, this same behaviour continues in captivity and can make it very difficult for caretakers to spot problems.
Kiwi is an 11-year-old sulfur crested cockatoo living with Mandy in her apartment. She is fed a diet of “parrot mix” as well as fruit and vegetables of varying types. She spends a lot of time out of her cage and is tightly bonded to Mandy.
Over the past two months or so, Mandy reports, Kiwi has been drinking more water and her droppings have changed colour from a deep emerald green to a brighter “electric” green. She has not shown any other changes, but Mandy has noticed that the papers in the bottom of her cage seem to be wetter than they had been in the past.
There is, without question, a problem with Kiwi. The change in colour of the droppings indicates a possible liver problem. When the liver in some types of birds is not functioning properly, a chemical change in the make-up of the droppings, as processed by the liver, causes the change in colour.
The increased thirst and what sounds like increase in production from the urinary tact can be caused by liver disease, although there are many diseases that also can lead to these symptoms.
The product of the urinary tract in birds is different than in mammals. Mammals produce urea, which is a liquid, while birds produce a solid material, yellowish to white in colour, called uric acid. It is surrounded by liquid, mostly water, and then excreted. When birds drink excessively, as is the case with Kiwi, they will excrete excessive amounts of water from their urinary tract.
Kiwi needs diagnostic testing, including a blood and urine analysis. Again, the earlier the cause is discovered, the more likely Kiwi can be helped. Right now, it is not known how long Kiwi has been dealing with the disease.
If indeed Kiwi is dealing with liver disease, diet can be considered a possible cause. Seed-based diets in psittacine patients (birds of the parrot family) are a long-term recipe for disaster. This is due to several factors. First of all, seed-based diets allow birds to pick and choose what seeds they like to eat and leave those they don’t, leaving the diet unbalanced. Frankly, even if a bird eats all the seeds in a mix, the diet would still be unbalanced. Another problem is that seed-based diets are high in fat. This fat can get deposited in the liver and, over time, lead to death from liver failure. Kiwi is a candidate for this scenario.
If indeed Kiwi’s blood work shows a liver problem, then an endoscopic exam and biopsy of her liver are recommended. This will help determine the type of liver problem, and to what degree it has progressed. From there, a treatment plan can be formulated to hopefully turn her around with a dietary change.
Kiwi and all psittacine birds should eat a varied diet – which can be inconvenient for some caretakers. A pellet-base diet can provide complete nutrition. – The Modesto Bee/ Tribune News Service
Birds are among the most difficult when it comes to monitoring health problems, given their tendency to hide symptoms in the face of illness. — TNS