Obesity in Birds
As with other pet animals, obesity is a problem often encountered with birds. Obesity is a major problem in older birds and can contribute to diseases that are commonly seen in geriatric birds such as fatty liver disease (hepatic lipidosis). Our pet birds are often confined to a cage, have their wings trimmed to prevent flight, and receive little if any exercise. This, in conjunction with high fat seed-based diets, often leads to obesity and its associated problems.
What is obesity?
In dogs and cats, obesity is defined as a pet that weighs 15% or more than its ideal weight. While we do not have as clear-cut a definition for birds, this is probably a safe guideline to use.
What causes obesity?
"Obesity is the result of taking in more calories than are burned off by the pet."
Obesity is the result of taking in more calories than are burned off by the pet. Unlike their wild counterparts, pet birds are not given as much opportunity for daily exercise, which includes flying to escape predators, playing and looking for food. Pet birds burn off very few calories in their daily lives. Additionally, many owners incorrectly feed their pet birds, by offering a diet consisting mostly or totally of seeds. Seeds are deficient in many vitamins and minerals and they are high in fat (the birds like seeds because the fat makes them taste good). A high-fat diet and no exercise predispose birds to obesity.
Are there any problems associated with obesity?
Obese pets have an increased risk of many diseases, including arthritis, heart disease, and cancer. Many obese birds develop hepatic lipidosis, also called "Fatty Liver Disease". These birds are extremely susceptible to infections and stress; obese birds have occasionally been known to die just from the stress of an examination at the veterinarian's office. Likely these birds have an underlying problem. Fatty tumors, lipomas or xanthomas are more likely in an obese bird. Finally, obese birds have a higher anesthetic risk than normal-weight birds.
How do I cure obesity in my bird?
Switching birds from an all-seed diet to a more suitable diet consisting of pellets, fresh vegetables and fruit will decrease its daily intake of calories (for details, see our handout for feeding your particular species of pet bird). Be advised that birds that are hooked on a seed diet may not easily switch to the preferred pelleted diet. Your veterinarian can give you tips on slowly switching the diet (a bird's diet should NEVER be switched quickly, as the bird may refuse to eat and literally starve to death).