What are Diabetes Mellitus?

The glucagon released into the bloodstream encourages the liver to make more glucose by triggering hepatic glycogenolysis. This increases the amount of glucose in the bloodstream even more, which may create a chronic glucose regulation problem. This can create further complications such as heart problems and kidney damage. The problem with avian diabetes mellitus is that treatment is difficult since bird’s systems break down and eliminate insulin quickly. Dosages have to be closely monitored and adjusted due to glucose fluctuations. There are other medications that may help such as metformin, glyburide, and glipizide. Whichever treatment your avian veterinarian suggests, you should also change your bird’s diet to reduce sugar and carbohydrates and monitor your bird’s physical activity.

Diabetes mellitus is a condition caused by a problem with the pancreas. In mammals, there are two kinds, which are referred to as type one and type two. Type one is caused by the pancreas not producing adequate amounts of insulin to deal with sugar regulation and metabolism. Type two diabetes happens when the body does not respond correctly to the insulin that the pancreas is producing. The result of both of these types are the same; the blood glucose increases to a dangerous level. Unlike mammals, birds get diabetes from too much glucagon, which is produced by the pancreas. This hormone actually makes the blood cells release too much glucose so even though the pancreas produces enough insulin, it will not be enough to control the large amount of glucose released.

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Symptoms of Diabetes Mellitus in Birds

The symptoms of diabetes mellitus that have been reported most often are:

  • Abnormal increase in urination
  • Excessive water intake
  • Weight loss
  • Lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Depression
  • Infections anywhere in the body

Causes of Diabetes Mellitus in Birds

It is not completely clear what actually causes diabetes mellitus in birds. Many experts believe it has to do with weight, diets high in sugar or carbohydrates, heredity, and hormones. However, there are many reports of birds with diabetes mellitus that have none of the above causes. Some of the common connections found in birds with diabetes mellitus include:

  • Obesity can create a hormonal imbalance
  • High sugars or carbohydrates in the diet cause elevated levels of glucose in the bloodstream
  • Hormonal gland tumor or injury can increase or decrease hormone levels, leading to increased glucose in the bloodstream
  • Genetics can make some birds more susceptible to diabetes mellitus than others

Diagnosis of Diabetes Mellitus in Birds

As with any veterinary visit, the veterinarian will do a complete physical, laboratory, and diagnostic tests. Explain the reason for your visit and your bird’s medical history, including recent illnesses and injuries. The physical examination includes auscultation and palpation, vital signs, body condition (including skin and feathers), and overall well-being. Of course, the most important test for diabetes mellitus is for blood glucose levels. This is done by getting a serum biochemistry panel analysis to determine the amount of glucose in the bloodstream. 

A bird’s glucose levels are much higher than humans and the normal amount can range from 400 mg/dl. to 700 mg/dl. However, if your bird’s blood glucose is higher than 750 mg/dl., the veterinarian will suspect diabetes mellitus. Because glucose levels can rise when stressed, the veterinarian may want to lightly sedate your bird before testing again. Also, a urinalysis will show elevated levels of glucose in the urine. Another important test is endoscopy to get a look at the pancreas, liver, and kidneys. This is done with a bendable lighted tube called an endoscope. The veterinarian is also able to get samples for biopsy or cultures. Radiographs will also be taken to check the size of the kidneys and liver.

Treatment of Diabetes Mellitus in Birds

Treating diabetes in birds may be complicated because insulin is secreted from their body so quickly. There are other drugs that can be used and other treatments, such as diet and exercise.

Insulin Injections

Treating your bird with insulin injections is difficult but can be done if you are vigilant because you have to check your bird’s blood glucose often every day. Doing this can be troublesome for you and your bird so urine test strips are usually recommended. If your bird’s glucose level drops too much, it can result in serious complications including convulsions, coma, and death.

Oral Medications

Glipizide, metformin, and glyburide are three of the most common oral medications used in treating diabetes mellitus. These are much safer than insulin and easier to regulate.

Diet and Exercise

Your bird should be put on a low carbohydrate and low sugar diet and given exercise daily to help regulate glucose levels.

Recovery of Diabetes Mellitus in Birds

You will have to continue to monitor your bird’s glucose levels its entire life. This is a lifelong disease that is not curable. You should also continue to feed your bird a low carbohydrate and low sugar diet and monitor exercise.