When birds pick and choose

Seed-based di­ets can cause prob­lems for birds of the par­rot fam­ily, so a var­ied diet is pre­ferred.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Pets - By JEFF KAHLER

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

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