Magnolia House Veterinary Clinic

103 Staveley Gardens
Chiswick, GB W4 2SE

(783)567-7857

magnoliavets.co.uk

Parrots and Psittacine Birds

Psittacosis:

Psittacosis is a zoonosis that can cause a potentially fatal pneumonia in people; information can be found here, if you have a persistent cough that is unresponsive to treatments and keep cage birds please mention it to your GP. We recommend that Cage birds are NEVER kept in bedrooms, birds are cleaned out daily and ideally all pet birds should be screened prior to joining a collection. As the organism responsible is intermittently shed at least 3 days of bird faeces would be required for a screening test.

Diagnosing and treating Parrots and related species.

Fundamentally Parrots are all prey species this means that symptoms of disease will usually not be manifest until the bird is extremely ill and the few early signs: loosing weight, occasional fluffing up, talking less are entirely non-specific.

"SICK" BIRDS NEED A PROPER DIAGNOSIS AND THEY NEED IT FAST

Why?

If your bird now looks "sick" that means it is now beyond the point at which it can pretend to be fine and means it is probably significantly more ill than you realise. We recommend that  any bird that looks ill should be seen that day if at all possible.

Birds operate at much higher temperatures and much faster metabolic rates, which means that when things do go wrong they go very wrong very quickly. In addition, most birds do not have large energy reserves and hence starve out from energy depletion while the bird is recovering is a real risk, early intervention gives a better outcome.

Diagnosing properly: while a physical examination is useful, there are real limits to what you can learn from it, due to the particular species adaptations. For larger parrots bloods; both smear analysis and biochemistry, x-rays, faecal analysis and possibly endoscopy should all be considered and can be done in-house while you wait. For smaller birds such as budgies and cockatiels, there are issues, size and blood volume and cost and we're happy to discuss all of these with you so you can make an informed choice about what is right for your bird. For external lab tests we use a specialist exotics laboratory with species specific normal ranges.

IF YOUR BIRD IS ILL- please bring the following to the consult if at all possible

  • An UNCLEANED cage- for larger birds obviously transporting the cage will not be possible.
  • ideally two and preferably 3 days worth of faeces
  • Where you bought the bird from, has it been screened for any previous diseases and/or had any prior medical treatments
  • a photo(s) (phone is fine) of the usual  cage/ accommodation.
  • samples of the food usually fed.

Commonly seen problems:

HYPOCALCAEMIA

This seems endemic in African Greys with only 3 birds out of hundreds blood sampled in the last 6 years having normal blood calcium values. Sadly most birds are fed an unsuitable diet and have no vitamin supplementation or access to UV light. Long term lack of vitamin D causes metabolic bone disease, can trigger feather plucking and causes clinical hypocalcaemia which will can causes shakes, muscle tremors and seizures. We strongly recommend feeding an appropriate diet for the bird species you have and also using a bird light which has both medical and behavioural benefits.

FEATHER PLUCKING

This is usually a complex disorder with multiple causes both medical and behavioural and can be frustrating to deal with. I am yet to see a case in parrots actually caused by feather mites.

A full work up is nearly always required to eliminate the medical causes and may also need non standard tests such as viral PCR tests and heavy metal assays. 

If a behavioural cause is found to be the reason then changes to lighting, bird human interaction, environmental enrichment and hormonal implants can all be used to improve your birds condition.

RESPIRATORY DISEASE

Parrot species with one New Zealand based exception have evolved to fly and have an amazingly efficient respiratory system, that lets them extract oxygen more efficiently. Any bird showing respiratory distress at "rest" in it's own cage, at home in an unstressed environment has severe respiratory pathology and should be seen ASAP. Fungal and bacterial diseases are common and are treatable. 

Signs to watch out for: Tail bobbing, fluffing, change in pitch of any vocalisations, less vocalisation, blocked nares, grubby cere.

BETTER HUSBANDRY MAKES FOR A BETTER BIRD:

Cages:

The minimum size (Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981) is full wing opening in all 3 dimensions, though a larger cage if not a full aviary is preferable. Wire gauge should be 19g for small parakeets up to 16g for macaws.

Avoid Galvanised steel as the birds will chew the bars leading to zinc poisoning, plastic coated wire is usually galvanised.

Do buy a stainless or powder coated cages.

A simple cage design is much easier to clean than a complicated one.

Perches:

Most perches supplied with cages are unsuitable- replacement with cleaned fruit tree branches is recommended: Apple, Cherry, Pear, Blackcurrant + Ash, Birch, Elder, Hazel and Willow are all suitable.

These perches will be destroyed - this is normal parrot behaviour and this is to be encouraged.

A varying diameter of perch is also encouraged as it improves the feet, discourages bumblefoot and results in natural beak and nail wear.

Toys:

Toys are also recommended; a toy box of 7+ toys is recommended with only 3 being in the cage at any one time- rotating the toys prevents boredom and encourages play.

Toys with food hidden inside or “puzzle toys” are strongly recommended but a mix of climbing, manipulation and puzzle toys should be provided. Some toys should be provided purely to be destroyed- inner tubes from toilet rolls are perfect for this and unlike other cardboards have a low zinc content.

Parrots are like small children and will often play more with a cardboard box or tube than the expensive toy they were just bought.

All toys must be non toxic (this includes zinc and hence should be made of stainless steel).

Light:

The Animal Welfare Act (England and Wales) 2006 means pet owners are now legally obliged to care for their pet properly by providing these five basic needs:

  • somewhere suitable to live
     
  • a proper diet, including fresh water
     
  • the ability to express normal behaviour
     
  • for any need to be housed with, or apart from, other animals
     
  • Protection from, and treatment of, illness and injury.

75% of all pet cage birds have chronic malnutrition which breeches points 2 and 5.

A lack of Ultraviolet (UV) light is arguably an issue with point 3 and a definite problem with point 5. 

At time of writing I am not aware of any specific prosecutions relating to individual pet birds.

For indoor kept birds an appropriate source of UV lighting is strongly recommended.

  1. Birds see in 4 or 5 colours (red, green, blue, UV (high UV)) provision of UV allows normal vision and hence more normal behaviour.
  2. UV (specifically UV-B 315-280nm) is required to convert provitamin D to D3 the active form. (2003)

Vitamin D is required to absorb calcium from the diet. As most birds are fed a calcium deficient diet a lack of vitamin D exacerbates the problem.

Glass blocks all forms of UV so unless you have plastic windows an indoor housed parrot will not be exposed to UV without an artificial source. Bird lights are inexpensive and have a huge benefit on both bird health and behaviour. Please ask in your next consult about how this can help your bird.

DIET:

Most birds are fed an all seed diet, these tend to be too protein rich, too fatty, vitamin and mineral deficient and are often contaminated with fungi and bacteria. If you eat food that is off you are likely to get ill.

Comparison of two diets with estimated requirements:

Typical values for an all seed diet

Harrisons Adult Lifetime Coarse

Estimated requirements

Protein:

22-23%

15%

12%

Lipid (Fat)

51-52%

5.5%

4%

Vitamin A (IU/kg)

470

4000

5000

Vitamin D (IU/kg) 

0

1077

1000

Calcium 

0.11

0.6

0.5

There are 13 minerals required for Healthy birds but with the exception of Calcium the exact values required are currently unknown they are:

Calcium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Sodium, Potassium, Chloride are essential, Zinc, Copper, iodine, selenium, iron and manganese are only required in trace form.

Our recommended order of preference for Parrot Diets:

70% Complete Pelleted diet such as Harrison's with 30% Fruit/Veg.

Sprouted pulse diet

A Seed/Pellet mix with 30% Fruit/Veg with some vitamin and mineral supplementation.

A Seed/Pellet mix with 30% Fruit/Veg.

If you have to feed an All Seed diet then feed dehusked seed which has a much lower level of contamination and is better value per kilo.

We are happy to advise about diet changes- both what to change to and how to do it, birds tend to be monophonic and wary of new diets, this should be tackled as a slow gradual process. 

 For mor information check out our Pet Health Section