What is Cardiac Disease?

There are several species of birds that are prone to developing cardiac disease. These include waterfowl, doves, pigeons, turkeys, chickens and psittacine birds. The most common psittacine birds that are affected with cardiac disease include blue fronted amazons, African Grey parrots, cockatoos, Quaker or Monk parrots and macaws.

It is fairly common for a domesticated bird to suffer from cardiac disease, especially the long lived species. Just like in humans, birds can suffer from high cholesterol, heart attacks and hardening of the arteries. As your bird ages it is important to do periodic checks of their cardiac health to find any changes and quickly treat them before their health is significantly impacted.

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Symptoms of Cardiac Disease in Birds

When a bird is suffering from cardiac disease many times the symptoms are nonspecific and are accompanied by other diseases. This makes it more difficult to properly diagnose cardiac disease until the other diseases are treated. If your bird is exhibiting any of these symptoms contact your veterinarian for an appointment to discuss the possibility of cardiac disease.

  • Lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Abdominal distension
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Bluish tint to skin around the eyes, especially noticeable in African Grey parrots
  • Exercise intolerance

Causes of Cardiac Disease in Birds

Just like in humans, there are several causes of cardiac disease in birds. Genetics will play a role in the development of cardiac disease, as will age. New research suggests that cardiac disease in birds can be caused by an inflammatory disease. Heart problems will result after your bird suffers long periods of chronic inflammation. 

Diet and exercise will also play a role in the development of cardiac disease. A bird that prefers to sit on their perch rather than exercise and be active will be more likely to develop cardiac disease. Birds that are overweight will have an extra strain on their heart and can suffer from cardiac problems.

Diagnosis of Cardiac Disease in Birds

It is more difficult to diagnose cardiac disease in birds since many times there are other health problems that hide the symptoms of any heart problems. There is limited research being done on avian cardiac disease. When testing for any cardiac problems in your bird, there are very limited points of reference and that means there is not really a normal reference point to determine if your bird’s test results are abnormal or normal.

Most diagnostic techniques are inadequate for a bird since the size of the bird is significantly smaller than other animals that are tested. Their naturally fast heart rate also makes diagnostic techniques basically useless. The stress that each test puts on the bird can be extremely detrimental to their overall health.

Your veterinarian will use radiographs if your bird is not overly stressed by the procedure to determine if the heart is enlarged. Generally, a diagnosis of cardiac disease is done based solely on physical examination.

Treatment of Cardiac Disease in Birds

Since treating cardiac disease in birds is relatively new, there are few studies that exist and even fewer medications that have been tested and approved for domesticated birds. The biggest problem with the medications that have been approved is that a medication may work on one bird species but not necessarily in another species. There are no universal medications that can be used for all domesticated bird species.

Another problem with trying to properly treat cardiac disease in birds is that in most cases the disease is not diagnosed until the heart is showing advanced changes due to the disease or the heart has completely failed.

Preventing cardiac disease from ever occurring is much more effective than actually trying to treat it once it does occur. Keep your bird on a diet that is low in fat and cholesterol and keep your bird active. A proper diet will go a long way in preventing cardiac disease in your bird. Speak with your veterinarian about the proper nutrition for your bird and what your bird’s diet should consist of. Just like with humans, a diet rich in heart-healthy foods will keep plaque from building in the arteries. 

Keeping your bird caged is not allowing them to have adequate exercise. A flight cage outside where they can move and exercise is a great way to keep their heart healthy. Be sure that they are getting daily exercise.

Recovery of Cardiac Disease in Birds

Most birds that are diagnosed with cardiac disease are diagnosed too late for any available treatments to be effective. You know your bird best. If you notice any changes in their behavior that could be indicative of having heart problems, have your veterinarian do a full assessment. Early detection is essential to your bird living a longer life with the proper management of the disease.

You can help prevent your bird from developing cardiac disease by being aware of what is in your bird’s diet. Remove fatty foods that are high in cholesterol to avoid any plaque buildup within their arteries. Allow plenty of exercise so their heart muscle can remain strong and healthy.