Description: Malnutrition can cause a specific problem or it can suppress a bird’s immune system, or it can cause a decrease in reproductive performance or it may delay healing after an injury or surgery. Birds with signs of malnutrition often have developed preferences for unbalanced diets.
Poor nutrition is not a specific disease, but because of the multiple effects it can have on a bird’s health, it is an issue of utmost importance. Obesity can result from malnutrition, causing heart problems, pressure sores and fatty tumors (called lipomas or xanthomas). Malnutrition can also lead to fatty liver disease (hepatic lipidosis), one of the most detrimental effects of obesity, where normal liver cells are replaced with fat. Because the liver will eventually be unable to properly function, you bird could eventually develop cirrhosis of the liver (where the liver cells are replaced with scar tissue and fibrotic tissue).
A lack of energy can also result from malnutrition, especially in baby birds, but adults can also experience energy-deficiency. A lack of protein, calcium or vitamin A also leads to serious health problems and growth deformities.
Malnutrition is not only caused by a bird not eating a proper diet, but it can also be a result of parasites in the intestinal tract taking nutrients away from.
Baby birds not receiving the proper nutrition during growth and development may have a head that appears disproportionately large for its body, or it might appear stunted, and in some species, limb or skeletal deformities may occur.
Protein deficiency can present as discoloration in the feather’s normal coloration, although this is more likely to indicate long-term deficiency. A lack of beta-carotene (which is converted to active vitamin A in the body) may be characterized by white-yellowish plaque in the mouth and blunted choanal papillae.
Immediate Care: Most nutritional problems occur from long periods of either feeding a bird an unbalanced diet or from a bird being fussy and picking out only certain foods to eat. Keep a scale in your home and weigh your bird weekly and bring your bird to an avian vet if significant weight loss or gain suddenly occurs. Birds suffering from hypovitaminosis A can respond positively and quickly to beta-carotene supplementation, which is safer than injections with vitamin A. Vitamin A usually comes in a very concentrated injectable solution that can be easily overdosed, unless a compounded solution is specially formulated by a pharmacist. Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, which is stored in the liver and other tissues, and can be toxic if overdosed.
If you suspect nutritional problems, contact your avian veterinarian who can perform a physical examination and any appropriate lab tests. Your avian vet will also evaluate your bird’s diet for any deficiencies or excesses. Once evaluated, your vet can recommend a balanced, nutritious diet for your bird, based on the species, activity level and your lifestyle. A bird should never be forced to convert to a new, foreign diet until it has had a clean bill of health and even then, it must be closely monitored to ensure that it is consuming the new diet.
Long Term Care: Unless a bird has suffered a permanent injury from a malnutrition-related disorder, it will usually do quite well once dietary conversions have been made, based on your avian veterinarian’s recommendations. Birds that have survived for years on a seed-based, nutritionally poor diet will usually begin to thrive once converted to a healthier diet. A pelleted diet will work as a base for most birds, along with supplementation with fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, healthy table foods and the occasional seed treat. Weigh baby birds daily (on an empty crop, first thing in the morning) and adult birds on a weekly basis.
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