Margaret A. Wissman, DVM
Posted: August 26, 2013, 6:00 p.m. PDT
Just as in mammals, parrots with diabetes have higher blood glucose levels; however, in mammals, diabetes and high blood sugar levels are caused by a lack of insulin or the body’s resistance to it, while with birds, an excess of the glucagon hormone being produced causes the elevated blood-sugar level.
Blood glucose level persistently remaining above 500 to 600 mg/dl may indicate diabetes but a definitive diagnosis can usually be made if it is persistently above 800 mg/dl. A full physical examination and chemistry analysis should be done to diagnose diabetes, including blood count, plasma chemistry panel and urinalysis.
Birds diagnosed with diabetes should always have a low-carbohydrate, low-sugar diet. Insulin injections that overwhelm the increased production of glucagon in birds can stabilize blood sugar levels but insulin has proved to be only temporarily helpful for parrots. Instead, the oral medication glipizide is a more effective treatment in most cases.
Always keep simple sugar products, such as corn syrup or sugar water (not chocolate or anything with caffeine), to administer to your bird in case it experiences hypoglycemia where the blood sugar level drops too low, which can cause shaking, pale, cool skin, anxiety and possibly seizures that could result in death.
It is more difficult to keep a bird’s blood sugar level within a tight range like humans do when diagnosed with diabetes. While there is no cure for diabetes, bird owners can keep their pet’s blood sugar within a healthy range by frequent testing and working closely with an avian veterinarian. Urine dipsticks can be used at home to monitor sugar levels. Birds should have a trace amount of sugar in their urine each day. Diabetic birds still need to be examined by an avian vet on a regular basis to monitor their blood sugar. Diet should be kept stable to prevent glucose fluctuations and moderate exercise should be incorporated into the routine to attempt to maintain blood glucose levels within a normal range.
Disclaimer: BirdChannel.com’s Bird Health section is intended for educational purposes only. It is not meant to replace the expertise and experience of a professional veterinarian. Do not use the information presented here to make decisions about your bird’s health if you suspect your pet is sick. If your pet is showing signs of illness or you notice changes in your bird’s behavior, take your pet to the nearest veterinarian or an emergency pet clinic as soon as possible.