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Malnutrition can cause serious health problems for both young and old pet birds.

Margaret A. Wissman, DVM
Posted: April 8, 2013, 1:30 p.m. PDT

blue-and-gold macaw
Gina Cioli/I-5 Studio/Courtesy Catherine M. Cross
Feed your bird healthy foods to prevent malnutrition problems.

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 a fatty liver (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 fall victim to cirrhosis of the liver.

Raw or cooked peanuts may contain aflatoxins that are dangerous to birds if ingested (though commercial peanut butter has proved safe according to government testing).

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.


Baby birds not receiving the proper nutritional diet can have a lack of energy, signaled by having a head to big for their size, not being the proper size for their age and often leg deformities occur. Energy-deficiency in adult birds is difficult to detect because the owner often never realizes there is a problem until its too late. Aflatoxins may damage the kidney or liver and it can cause immunosuppressive problems.

Protein deficiency can present itself as a discoloration in the feather pigment, although this could signal a deficiency that has occurred for a long period because the changes do not show overnight. A lack of vitamin A in a bird's diet is characterized by white-yellowish plaque in their mouth and is most likely caused by the bird being fed a seed-only diet.


Most nutritional problems occur over of long periods of malnutrition and feeding a bird a bad diet. Keep a scale in your home and weigh your bird on a regular basis and bring your bird to an avian vet if significant weight loss of gain suddenly occurs. Vitamin A deficient birds can respond positively and quickly to injections.


Permanent diet modification solves malnutrition problems if your bird is able to overcome the initial detriment of a diet lacking proper nutrients. Weigh baby birds daily and adult birds on a weekly basis. A diet with pellets as a base works well for most birds, supplementing their diet with fresh fruits and vegetables, with the occasional seed treat.

Disclaimer:'s Health Index 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.

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