By Dr. Laurie Hess, Dipl ABVP (Avian Practice)
As with other pet animals, obesity is a problem often encountered in pet 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) and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries with fat deposits that predispose to strokes). Pet birds are usually confined to cages, have their wings trimmed to prevent flight, and receive little, if any, exercise. This lack of exercise, in conjunction with high-fat seed-based diets commonly fed to pet birds, 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 of obesity for birds, this is probably a safe general guideline to use. Your veterinarian can examine your bird and give you a better idea as to whether your bird is overweight.
What causes obesity?
Obesity is the result of taking in more calories than are burned. Unlike their wild counterparts, pet birds are not given as much opportunity for daily exercise, including flying, playing, and looking for food, nest sites, or mates. Pet birds burn off very few calories in their daily lives. Additionally, many owners incorrectly feed their pet birds diets consisting mostly or totally of seeds. Seeds are deficient in many vitamins and minerals, and they are high in fat. Birds like seeds because their high fat content makes them very tasty). A high-fat diet and little exercise predispose birds to obesity.
Do birds suffer problems associated with obesity?
Obese pets have an increased risk of many diseases, including arthritis, heart disease, liver disease, stroke, and cancer. Many obese birds develop hepatic lipidosis, or "fatty liver disease." These birds are extremely susceptible to infections and stress and often die of liver failure if untreated. Finally, like obese people, obese birds have a higher anesthetic risk than normal-weight birds if they must have surgery.
How do I treat obesity in my bird?
Here are some tips to treat obesity in pet birds:
1. Increasing exercise by simply allowing your bird out of its cage to walk around, fly, or just flap its wings, and help burn calories.
2. Switch your bird from an all-seed diet to a more suitable meal plan consisting mainly of pellets, with smaller amounts of fresh vegetables and fruit, also will decrease your bird’s daily intake of calories.
3. Birds that are hooked on a seed diet may not easily switch to the preferred pelleted diet. Be patient but be consistent with a conversion plan for your bird.
4. Consult with your veterinarian who can advise you on the best method to convert your bird from a seed-diet to a more appropriate, pellet-based plan.
5. Check out the ZuPreem website pellet conversion tips, as well, and reach out to the ZuPreem pellet conversion team with specific questions.