What is Low Blood Calcium?

Low blood calcium level in birds is also known as hypocalcemia, calcium tetany, osteoporosis, and cage layer fatigue.  It occurs when there is not enough calcium in your bird’s diet and environment to support healthy growth.  For example, if there is not enough calcium in your bird’s diet, his body finds it where it can, in many cases from his bones.  This leads to reabsorption of his bones and weakening of his skeletal structure.  As a result, your bird can be malformed, weak, susceptible to trauma and fractures, and other secondary issues.  Low blood calcium can be a very serious condition that needs to be addressed properly.  If you are able to correct his diet and restore his blood calcium levels to the appropriate amount, prognosis is good.

Low blood calcium, also known as hypocalcemia, can be a very serious condition for your bird.  If you suspect he may be ill or he has somehow injured himself, take him to a veterinarian for evaluation immediately.

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Symptoms of Low Blood Calcium in Birds

Symptoms can vary greatly but may include:

  • Muscle weakness 
  • Skeletal malformations 
  • Seizure disorder
  • Neurologic disorder
  • Reproductive issues
  • Collapse
  • Death 

Types

In cases of birds with low blood calcium, the body begins to get the calcium from where it can.  If it cannot find the calcium it needs from the diet, the body begins to reabsorb its bones, especially in young developing birds.  In adults, low calcium can lead to seizures and neurologic signs as well as egg binding as a secondary result of bone fractures or decreased muscle function.

The endocrine and metabolic systems are the main sites of the disease process.  The musculoskeletal, nervous, and reproductive systems are also affected as well. 

Causes of Low Blood Calcium in Birds

In most cases of low blood calcium in birds, the culprit is nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism.  Low blood calcium leads to the enlargement of parathyroid glands and elevated PTH.  There is no genetic predisposition related to low blood calcium levels.  It is primarily caused by low dietary calcium and low vitamin D.  

Other causes of this condition can include high phosphorous levels, chronic egg laying, little to no sunlight or specialized UVB light, and even gastrointestinal diseases that lead to maldigestion and malabsorption.

Diagnosis of Low Blood Calcium in Birds

Low blood calcium can be diagnosed with straightforward testing.  The veterinarian will need to check the levels of total and ionized calcium in symptomatic birds.  In older birds, she may want to perform additional blood work such as a complete blood count (CBC) and chemistry panel to differentiate from other possible causes and rule out other diseases that could be causing similar symptoms.  

Imaging will also be suggested to evaluate for any trauma, any break or fracture your bird has experienced and the density of the bones in general.  Radiographs can help with this process or even a more detailed imaging system such as computed tomography (CT).  Your veterinarian will also want to check for any bruising associated with the trauma.  If your bird is experiencing seizures, she will need to perform a series of neurologic tests to rule out possible nerve injury or brain trauma.

Of course, she will need to collect information from you regarding when the symptoms developed, if he was doing anything at the time that may have caused an injury, and if the condition has progressed.

Treatment of Low Blood Calcium in Birds

In young birds experiencing low blood calcium, they generally do well with outpatient care.  Modifications to his diet should be made accordingly and he should begin to recover given better nutrition.  In more severe cases, he may need surgery in order to reset any broken bones or restore limb function.  You may also need to modify his cage slightly to accommodate his condition until he gets stronger and healthier.    

Older birds may need to be hospitalized in order to receive the care they need.  If your bird is seizuring, he needs to be hospitalized until they resolve and until he is able to eat and drink without assistance.  Adult birds with low blood calcium levels will also need their diets to be adjusted accordingly.  He may even need additional supplementation to assure he is getting the nutrients he needs.  

If egg binding, dystocia, or chronic egg laying in a female is an issue, it will be addressed by ensuring proper calcium in the diet as well as monitoring and possibly adjusting hormone levels.  This is a secondary condition that has its own treatments and therapies specifically for it.

Both juvenile and adult patients may need supportive therapies as they recover.  The veterinarian will want to ensure your bird does not get dehydrated and therefore may administer fluid therapy.  You will also need to keep him on cage rest so he does not overexert himself and injure himself even more.  Medications may be administered as the veterinarian sees fit.

Recovery of Low Blood Calcium in Birds

With dietary adjustment as your primary focus, as well as getting him some much needed sunlight, your bird’s recovery process should start out smoothly.  If calcium levels are returned to normal and his symptoms resolve, prognosis of recovery is good.  However, if he develops persisting neurologic signs for an extended period of time, these signs may never completely resolve even if the blood calcium level returns to normal.