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Get A Grip On Arthritis In Pet Birds

Know the signs and symptoms of arthritis in pet birds and the ways to treat it.

By Kevin Schargen, DVM, PC
Originally published in the August 2007 issue of BIRD TALK Magazine

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Paths To Arthritis Pain Relief In Pet Birds
It is a pet owner’s responsibility to provide a comfortable, stress-free life for his or her pet bird. For older pet birds with arthritis, pain management is critical.

1) Pet Bird Cage Considerations
How a pet bird's cage is setup can make a huge difference in terms of offering a comfortable existence for an arthritic bird. Dr. R.W. Thomas, owner of the Animal Clinic of Queens in Middle Village, N.Y., recommends perches and branches that vary in diameter. This setup constitutes a form of physical therapy because it allows the pet bird to consistently use different sets of muscles and joints while perching. For pet birds with advanced arthritis, a nest box with a perch-free interior or a platform-style perch serve as a resting retreat. The pet bird can lounge comfortably without having to use its toes to grasp. 

2) Keep The Extra Weight Off Your Pet Bird
Improper nutrition (a seed-only diet) can lead to obesity and predispose a bird to osteoarthritis. Work with your avian veterinarian to develop a feeding plan. After establishing your pet bird’s ideal weight, conduct regular weigh-ins on a gram scale to monitor unhealthy fluctuations in body weight.

Thomas stressed the importance of a balanced commercial (pelleted) diet and regular exposure to direct sunlight (not glass-filtered). Natural sunlight allows birds to properly metabolize Vitamin D and calcium, which is integral for bone health. Thomas also recommends at least 40 minutes of free-flight exercise each day. Aside from promoting mental health, frequent flying helps maintain normal musculoskeletal health in pet birds.

3) Watch Youet Pet Bird's Feet!
Leg and foot ailments, such as bumblefoot, should be promptly cared for to prevent excessive weight-bearing on the unaffected leg. For example, a pet bird with severe pododermatitis of the right foot may, over time, develop arthritis in the left knee due to uneven load-sharing in that joint. 

Overgrown toenails can predispose a pet bird to pressure sores and other foot ailments, which can indirectly lead to arthritis. Regular grooming is required to keep the nails at an appropriate length.

Use With Caution
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin and meloxicam are often administered to dull arthritic pain. Avian species can also benefit from these drugs but only when used judiciously. An aspirin overdose can be fatal, so it should only be administered by an avian veterinarian, who can compound the appropriate amount into a palatable suspension. Never administer more than one type of NSAID simultaneously. If a bird has been prescribed meloxicam, a few doses of aspirin during the same time period can cause serious health problems.

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