What is Obesity?

Obesity in avians can be just as debilitating as it is in mammals, and is much more widespread in captive and companion animals than it is in wild bird populations. Diets made up of only high-fat seeds, and sedentary lifestyles can contribute to a particular animal developing excess stores of fat, as can diseases such as thyroid disorders, and genetic predispositions. Some species, such as chickens, amazon parrots, budgerigars, cockatoos, and canaries, are more likely to develop obesity.

Obesity in birds can be debilitating, leading to disorders such as arthritis, fatty liver, diabetes, and dangerous respiratory distress, and the shortening of the animal’s lifespan.

Book First Walk Free!

Symptoms of Obesity in Birds

Obesity in most animals is defined as weight that is 15% more than the ideal and can be used as a general guideline for birds as well, and the breast of an overweight bird will extend out past the keel. Other symptoms that may indicate that your bird has developed too much fat can include:

  • Areas without feathers
  • Egg binding
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Extra fat along chest
  • Shortness of breath
  • Widened stance

Types

Obesity can be detrimental for birds in several ways, increasing the chances for the patient to develop diabetes, respiratory disorders, or chronic high blood pressure. The areas of the avian body most negatively impacted by obesity can include:

  • Cardiovascular system - Extra fat located around the heart force it to work extra hard to circulate the blood, and fatty deposits in the blood vessels can interfere with blood flow, triggering strokes or aneurysms
  • Joints - Birds with excessive amounts of fat may cause stress on the joints and cause them to become more prone to developing arthritis
  • Liver - Obese birds develop extra fatty deposits around the liver, leaving the animal more susceptible to stress and infections

Causes of Obesity in Birds

The base causes of obesity are the same for any animal; obesity occurs when the animal consumes more energy than it expends. This can be caused either by eating excessive amounts of foods that are too high in fats, like sunflower seeds or by a lack of opportunity to for the animal to get enough exercise to expend the calories it eats. Some species of bird, such as canaries, African greys, or blue-front amazons, are more prone to weight gain than others species, and certain disorders, such as thyroid dysfunction, may add to imbalances in weight.

Diagnosis of Obesity in Birds

The visit to the avian veterinarian to address obesity will typically begin with a general physical examination. The patient will be weighed and measured and then examined manually from head to toe as well as checked for the proper functioning of the eyes, ears, and cere, the animal will have its skeletal system and musculature evaluated. Additional fatty deposits may be palpable during this evaluation, and standard blood tests will be valuable in gauging the animal’s sugar and enzyme levels. 

If fatty deposits are causing significant weakening of the vital organs, then these tests may also help to uncover the impairment of the heart, liver, or kidneys by determining the levels of enzymes circulating in the blood as well as cholesterol levels. Tests that gauge the sugar levels and the functioning of the thyroid and pituitary glands may also be warranted. The veterinarian will also need to get information about the patient’s daily routine, including their diet and exercise levels to determine if the patient needs to start a diet and exercise routine in order to lose excess weight.

Treatment of Obesity in Birds

Once any underlying conditions have been addressed, such as thyroid disorders or pain that makes the bird reluctant to exercise, there are several steps you can take to help prevent or reverse obesity. These actions can include:

  • Changing to a lower fat staple diet - A diet of only seeds and nuts will provide dangerously high levels of fat for most birds, and homemade mixes or pellets specially formulated for psittacines may be better choices to maintain a healthy weight; it is crucial to introduce a new diet slowly because birds are naturally anxious, and a new diet that is introduced too quickly can cause a bird to starve itself to death.   
  • Increase the opportunity to be active - Make sure that there is ample room in any avian enclosures and with companion animals, try and encourage interactive play outside of their cage
  • Re-evaluate treats - Try replacing higher fat nuts and seeds or high-sugar contents fruits with high-fiber, low-sugar treats like vegetables

Recovery of Obesity in Birds

The prognosis for overweight birds is hugely variable, depending on the bird’s age, general health, and how long they have been carrying the excess fat. Where they carry the fat may also influence their overall length and quality of life. It is important to get the weight of the animal under control as soon as possible, as reducing the stress on vital organs that are being choked out by invasive fat should improve their functionality and will improve the chances that your bird will live a long and healthy life. It is a good idea to precisely weigh your bird on a regular basis in order to maintain a good health record of that specific animal.