What are Arthritis?
A degenerative inflammatory disease of the joints, this can be a primary condition in birds or be secondary to problems or injury of the joints or supporting tissues of the bird. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis in pet birds. In many cases, multiple joints will be impacted, with the exception of when the disease occurs as the result of trauma. Arthritis will cause pain in the bird experiencing the condition. Other forms of arthritis include septic arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and gout.
Arthritis is a degenerative, inflammatory condition of the joints, which may be a primary illness or secondary to another condition a bird is suffering from.
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Symptoms of Arthritis in Birds
Joints that are affected by arthritis may appear red, swollen and/or hot. The toes of your bird may look disfigured, or point in a direction that does not seem natural.
There are several types of arthritis that can be experienced by your bird.
- Septic arthritis - This is when the inflammation that occurs is due to a bacterial infection
- Osteoarthritis - An age-related condition that results in degeneration of joint tissue
- Rheumatoid arthritis - Resulting from immune-related processes
- Articular gout - Resulting from toxic waste products accumulating in your bird’s joints
Causes of Arthritis in Birds
Osteoarthritis will usually happen in older birds as a result of degeneration in their joints. Pet birds will often spend a high percentage of the day on their feet, as well as sleep on one leg. Over time, this stress can lead to changes in the bird’s foot and leg joints. Birds that weigh more than they should, as well as those with an injured leg who have to put their full weight on the other leg, are at an increased risk of arthritis.
Diagnosis of Arthritis in Birds
Your veterinarian will conduct a physical examination of your bird to determine whether he is experiencing joint problems and what is causing them. Your veterinarian may notice that your bird’s toes are disfigured to some degree. Birds whose joints ache may snap at them and pretend to bite them, as they don’t understand pain. Other symptoms to keep in mind when considering arthritis, are that your bird may experience pressure sores and may not be able to easily grip their perch. In addition, they may also struggle to grip their perch and move around their cage. They may seem clumsy and you may notice that they lose their balance.
Treatment of Arthritis in Birds
Treatment will depend on the type of arthritis your bird is experiencing. It is a good idea for your bird to have a complete blood count taken prior to the veterinarian prescribing medication. In some birds, antibiotics or antifungal medications will be recommended. NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatories) are possible options, though it is important to note that these are usually not labeled for use in birds. Aspirin is a good choice, though the dose is important so it must be prescribed by a veterinarian. Providing your bird an appropriate diet will be helpful; it is important he maintain an appropriate weight as additional weight will add more stress to his joints. Also, eating well can help minimize systemic inflammation in your bird.
Other recommendations for birds suffering from arthritis include (discuss with your veterinarian prior to administering):
- Apple cider vinegar can be given and this will help to maintain the optimum pH balance so that minerals don’t crystalize in the joints of your bird; a small amount can be mixed into your bird’s water
- Aloe Vera gel or a small portion of the leaf can be fed to your bird; it must be organically grown so as to not harm your bird with pesticides (some birds may have a negative reaction to Aloe Vera so it is important you test this treatment first by putting some on your finger and touching your bird’s foot; you can then wait 24 hours to see if there is a reaction)
Should your bird have any infected pressure sores, antibiotics and/or anti-inflammatories may be recommended. Hibitane cream, which is an antibacterial and antifungal, can be applied to open sores.
Recovery of Arthritis in Birds
While arthritis cannot be cured, it can be managed. Most birds with arthritis are sensitive to cold temperatures; providing a heat source in one part of their cage will allow them to select the temperature that meets their needs at any given time. Heated perches are also an option as the joint pain will be helped by the warm perch.
Other things that you can do to help your bird include:
- Take away metal grates that are on the bottom of the bird’s cage
- Keep your bird’s nails trimmed so that they don’t get caught and cause your bird to injure himself
- Provide flat perches for your bird (or place two right next to one another)
- Rearrange your bird’s cage so that it better meets his needs and allows him to more easily move around
- Hard surfaces where your bird walks in his cage should be made softer to avoid his getting sores; old clothing is useful for this and thick material is great for cushioning or you can also cover the floor of his cage with old carpet