By Rebecca Sweat
Many veterinarians cite obesity as the No.1 health problem among pet birds today. Just like with people, pet birds become overweight when they consume too many calories and don’t get enough physical activity. This excess weight puts stress on a bird’s bones, joints and internal organ systems. Obese birds are also more susceptible to diabetes, pancreatic disorders, liver disease, thyroid problems, atherosclerosis and heart disease.
If you’ve got a pudgy parrot, take steps to remedy the situation. Usually this involves putting the bird on a formulated diet (which is less fattening than the typical seed diet), greatly restricting high-calorie treats like honey seed sticks and human sweets and snack foods, and providing your bird with more opportunities for exercise.
Of course, you may have no idea whether there’s a plump body underneath all your bird’s feathers. You can’t just look at a medical book and see what your bird “should” weigh. “Some birds are built differently than others of the same species -- some are taller and some are shorter, some are more muscular or more stocky, and some have small bones while others are big-boned,” noted Julie Burge, DVM, a veterinarian with a private practice in Missouri. As a result, a bird with a small bone structure is going to have a lower normal weight than a bird of the same species that has a heavier bone structure or more muscle mass.
You can, however, use your own powers of observation to determine whether or not your bird is overweight. Veterinarians suggest you watch for the following signs:
Fat rolls or a “spare tire” around the bird’s abdomen, hip or around the neck and crop. The keel bone (the bone running down the center of the bird’s chest) will be buried under fat, and the bird will appear to have “cleavage” on the beast area.
Visible fat under the bird’s skin. You can examine what’s underneath the skin by wetting the bird’s feathers and skin with rubbing alcohol. In healthy weight birds, the skin is thin and transparent, and you are able to see the blood vessels, muscle contours and bones underneath. An overweight bird has thick yellow-colored fat layers underneath the skin, similar to broiler chickens for sale in supermarkets, and you cannot see anything under the fat.
Labored breathing or excessive panting, especially after physical activity.
Heat intolerance: the bird may hold its wings out from its body and breathe with its mouth wide open. It may appear anxious or agitated, or have a blank stare on its face.
The bird may squat on the perch with legs far apart and appear to be unable to sit normally with its legs close together.
If you suspect that your bird is overweight, have your bird checked over by an avian veterinarian as soon as possible. Your veterinarian will help you tailor a diet and exercise regimen that’s right for your particular bird -- and safely bring your bird down to a healthy weight.
* See "Get Up Off That Perch" in the May issue of BIRD TALK for more information.