You do not see many overweight birds in the wild. In fact, you might not see any. The need to constantly move around to forage and find food burns off lots of extra calories. The addition of even a few extra ounces may make the difference between being agile enough to escape from a predator and getting caught. Most birds that you see in their natural environment are an appropriate weight for their species otherwise they will not last for long.
Unfortunately, this is not always the case for many pet birds. According to vetstreet.com, parrots are one of the most common pet species that are treated for obesity problems. This issue becomes more prevalent as birds age and is mostly seen in birds that are in their late teens or twenties. While obesity can affect any bird, the species that seem especially prone to it are Amazon parrots, African gray parrots, budgerigars, Quaker parrots, and rose-breasted cockatoos.
What Causes Obesity in Pet Birds?
The answer to this question can be summed up in one word: Captivity. The associated lifestyle changes that separate a wild bird from one that is captive are the overriding factors behind one becoming obese and the other maintaining a healthy weight. Behavior that would be part of their everyday existence and burn off excess calories is often not an option for our pets.
Weight is gained by taking on more calories than can be burned off by exercise. The two specific causes of obesity in our pet birds are:
- Diet – The type of food that you provide for your pet bird has a direct bearing on the likelihood of it having weight problems as it ages. Seeds, in particular, sunflower and safflower seeds, are very high in fat. They are also predominant in many commercially available seed mixtures marketed for pet birds. A diet rich in these seeds can have a detrimental effect on your bird’s weight. To see a full list of what birds can eat click here.
- Lack of exercise – The second primary reason for obesity in pet birds is the lack of exercise that they experience due to their captivity. This problem is exacerbated when we clip their wings to prevent them from flying. According to theveterinaryexpert.com, a flying parrot expends 20 times more energy that one simply standing on its perch. The failure to provide adequate exercise options for our pet birds can lead to them developing weight problems.
What Are the Signs of Obesity in Birds?
There are a number signs to look for that may indicate your bird is overweight. They are:
- Check the keel bone – This is in the middle of the breast, with the bird’s breasts on either side of the bone. Obese birds will have cleavage, as the keel bone will not be the most prominent feature of the bird’s breast.
- Wider than usual stance – You may notice that your bird develops a wider than usual stance when it perches. This is to help maintain its balance and attempt to ease the strain of the excess weight on its feet and legs.
- Shortness of breath – If you notice your bird is out of breath after a short period of activity, this may be a sign your pet is suffering from obesity.
You can obtain a scale and measure your bird’s weight in grams to have a baseline to watch in the future, as seen in the image below which if you click on is available.
Below is a video demonstrating how to weigh your parrot.
Can Obesity Cause Other Health Problems?
Obese pet birds are at risk for many other health-related issues. Though obesity itself is now considered a problem on its own, according to vcahospitals.com, these are the other diseases and conditions an obese bird is liable to experience:
- Heart disease
- Hepatic lipidosis, also known as “Fatty Liver Disease”
- Higher levels of stress
- Fatty tumors
- Increased anesthetic risk
The list of problems associated with an obese pet bird should alert you to the fact that it is very bad for your bird to become overweight. Since you are responsible for its well-being and have a huge impact on what it can and cannot do on an everyday basis, it is up to you to help your bird maintain a healthy weight.
What Can be Done to Prevent Obesity in my Pet Birds?
Since the two primary causes of obesity in pet birds are diet and lack of exercise, it make sense that those are the areas that need to be addressed for your bird to maintain a healthy weight. We will look at both and how in some ways the two factors are linked in the way that you arrange your bird’s cage.
- Changing diet – If your bird’s current diet consists of a large percentage of fatty seeds, the first step you should take is to slowly introduce a pellet based diet to your pet. This needs to be done in stages to acclimate your bird to accept the new food. Over time you want your bird’s diet to consist of approximately 40% pellets, 50% fresh fruit and vegetables, and 10% nuts and seeds. If you can reach this goal you have tackled to the problem of obesity from the standpoint of your pet’s diet.
- Provide more exercise opportunities – While changing your bird’s diet is simply a matter of providing more healthy food, offering additional exercise options can be more challenging. Working within the parameters of the space that you have available, you should be able to come up with something that will help your bird burn off those extra calories. Some ideas to consider are:
- Stop clipping your bird’s wings and let it fly for a time each day. If you have space or a room where you can do this, your bird will love it and be healthier because of it.
- Rearrange their food and water bowls so they need to move around the cage. A number of bowls with varying foods placed at different heights can somewhat encourage their natural foraging behavior. Foraging toys that demand work to obtain a treat can also be used to promote exercise. A larger cage should also be considered. Below is a video showing two cockatiels using a foraging toy and getting plenty of exercise.
- Obtain a bird playground or play gym to promote exercise when out of the cage. This can be combined with training and bonding time with its human family members and lead to a more healthy and well-balanced bird in many respects.
It is up to us, the pet bird owners to help our avian friends to maintain good health. Keeping them from becoming obese is a big step in the right direction.