What is Iron Storage Disease?

Iron storage disease, also known as ISD, can be caused by stress, genetics, and diet.  It is a life threatening condition with a poor prognosis once clinical symptoms develop.  This condition is caused by increased levels of iron within the liver leading to damaged cells, membranes, and proteins.  Symptoms can be vague at first so, at the first sign of any symptoms, you need to take your bird for an evaluation immediately.  You know your bird better than anyone, so if you suspect he is not acting like himself, take him to his veterinarian for an exam and blood work as soon as possible.

If your bird is showing clinical symptoms of iron storage disease, death is soon to follow.  You need to treat this as a medical emergency and get him to a veterinarian immediately.

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Symptoms of Iron Storage Disease in Birds

Symptoms can vary from case to case but may include:

  • Weight loss
  • Anorexia
  • Depression
  • Dyspnea
  • Biliverdinuria
  • Distended abdomen with ascites 
  • Circulatory failure
  • Hypoalbuminemia
  • Paralysis 
  • Enlargement of liver
  • Enlargement of heart
  • Enlargement of spleen
  • Death 

Types

In birds, when there is excessive iron accumulation in the liver, it is known as iron storage disease.  As the iron level increases in the liver, the hepatic lysosomes get damaged, leading to the release if ionic iron.  This release results in oxidative damage to the membranes and proteins.

Causes of Iron Storage Disease in Birds

It has been noted most birds affected by iron storage disease are those who intake excessive amounts of dietary iron.  Certain diets can affect your bird’s iron levels, but not all diets affect all birds the same.  One diet that may be perfectly healthy for one of your birds may not be good for another.  In addition to diet, genetics and stress can also play a role in the development of this condition.

Diagnosis of Iron Storage Disease in Birds

Radiographs to check for enlarged organs, particularly the heart, spleen, and liver can help the veterinarian with her diagnosis.  It will also allow her to check how his lungs look if he is having breathing difficulties or if he seems to have fluid accumulation somewhere in his body he shouldn’t.  

Blood work will be recommended not only to check the organ function as a whole, but to look for significant findings that may help the veterinarian in her diagnosis.  Hypoalbuminemia may be seen in your bird’s blood work if he is suffering from ISD.

Diagnosis will only be one hundred percent if a liver biopsy is taken and tested.  Without a biopsy, your veterinarian can give you a ‘likely’ diagnosis and rule out other illnesses, but cannot give an error free guarantee.  

She will need to rule out other possible causes of his symptoms such as hepatic lipidosis, hepatic necrosis, and congestive heart failure.

Treatment of Iron Storage Disease in Birds

While it may seem unrelated, you need to monitor the amount of vitamin C in your bird’s diet.  Vitamin C increases the uptake of iron from the diet and directly affects his iron levels.  Going over your bird’s diet with your veterinarian, nutritionist, or specialist can ensure your bird is receiving the best diet possible.

Your veterinarian will also want to perform blood work to check organ system values.  A complete blood count (CBC) and chemistry panel will provide her with information she needs on how everything is functioning internally.  She will want to repeat this lab work periodically to ensure everything is stable and levels are remaining in a safe range.

There is also a treatment known as iron chelation.  It is a form of treatment that can be used to remove heavy metals from the blood by injecting a chelating agent into the veins.  By injecting an iron chelation, it removes iron specifically, not other metals that may be in his system.

Supportive therapies and treatments will also be provided according to your bird’s specific needs.

Recovery of Iron Storage Disease in Birds

In many cases of ISD, symptoms appear shortly before death.  This means if your bird is showing clinical symptoms prognosis of recovery is poor.  The best thing you can do for your bird is try and prevent this condition from developing in the first place.  This means ensuring he is eating a proper balanced diet and taking him for routine blood work at the veterinarian’s at least every couple years.  This is not a condition that should be taken lightly so if you believe your bird is not acting like himself, you should take him to his veterinarian as soon as possible.