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.

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.

Diabetes Mellitus Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Harlequin Macaw
23 Years
Critical condition
0 found helpful
Critical condition

Has Symptoms

every symptom to the extreme

I just took my bird to the vet. She is extremely diabetic. Her sugar count was 1280. I have had her for 21 years. He seems to think that the onset was over two years ago when I took her to a vet who could not handle her for a blood test with simular yet far less severe than they have become in the last month. Treating the symptoms seem to work at the time. I feel like I am looking at quality of life issues at this point, the vet agreed, and I am considering euthanizing her. That is not an easy sentence to write or to read. She has been a joy for 21 years.

My girl of 17 yrs is having issues. I'm broken hearted. I don't want to lose her. Were trying diet while our avionvet works out what our next step is. It pains me to see her like this. She was such a wonderful ambassador of her breed.

I feel your pain. George our Galah isn't in a good way either. That thought ran thru my mind. Quality of life will he be ok. It am I just prolonging his agony. I'm with you every step cos yes this is hard to write.

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Volco and Kiwi
Agapornis roseicollis
2 Years
Fair condition
1 found helpful
Fair condition

Has Symptoms

Not really something weird

Hello Doc,
I have two lovebirds and after an examination that I did I find out that one of them has 170mg glucose and the other one 238mg. I Rwanda to know wish one is better and if they are normal. I am really worry about it.
Thank you very much.

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King DVM
1611 Recommendations
Thank you for your email. Unfortunately, without examining them, knowing more about their history and signs, I can't comment on a single blood glucose reading. Stress can increase glucose readings, and that may have been the cause of the higher reading. It would be best to have them seen by your veterinarian, have lab work done if necessary, have them examined, and come up with the best course of action so that they both stay healthy! I hope that they do well.

I heard that suet (we’re talking about outdoor birds) is a cause for this condition. We feed our birds duet year round. Thoughts?

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