8 Most Common Disorders of Psittacines – Owner Perception vs. Reality*
1) PERCEPTION: Scruffy, lethargic “sick” bird
Reality: Malnutrition leads to issues, such as:
• Malformed and mal-colored feathers
• Fatty liver. Liver detoxification ability is reduced, causing lethargy and a poor appetite
• Weak immune system
• Susceptibility to common environmental bacteria
• Enteritis, loose stool, passing whole seeds
2) PERCEPTION: Self-mutilation
Reality: This condition has many varied causes that affect multiple organ systems.
• Malnutrition is frequently involved at some level and may be pansystemic, including disorders of the reproductive system.
3) PERCEPTION: Trauma
Reality: Malnutrition leads to increased risk for injury.
• Malnourished birds are more fragile and thus more susceptible to injury (i.e., long beak and nails, persistent pin feathers).
• The actual injury is usually related to husbandry issues, such as flight, toys, other pets, or wildlife or owner roughness.
4) PERCEPTION: Breathing difficulties
Reality: Malnutrition and poor husbandry lead to:
• Loss of columnar epithelium, goblet cells and increased stratified squamous epithelium in the entire respiratory system.
• Increased cellular debris (liths) in the respiratory system, including nares.
5) PERCEPTION: Behavior issues
Reality: Malnutrition leads to aggression.
• High-fat and carbohydrate-rich diets lead to aggression from overactive hormones, resulting in biting, screaming and other inappropriate behaviors.
• Getting the bird to follow the correct diet is the first step to proper behavior.
6) PERCEPTION: Tumors and growths
Reality: Malnutrition leads to general susceptibility to growths.
• Early growths are often lipomas.
• Later, these are often complicated by xanthomas.
• Associated muscles may weaken and droop.
• These tumors are often difficult to suture.
• Correct diet with preconditioning
7) PERCEPTION: Overgrowth of beak and nails
Reality: Malnutrition leads to increased unnatural growth.
• Major sign of underlying illness
• Hyperkeratosis adds layers of keratin
• Fatty liver causes vessels in beak and nails to proliferate like founder in horses
• Wild birds do not need beak/nails trimmed
8) PERCEPTION: Heavy metal toxins
Reality: Malnutrition drives unnatural appetite.
• Pica (malnutrition symptom) is the driving force for over-consumption or seeking metals like lead and zinc.
• Obvious exposure is self-explanatory.
The easy solution?
Prevent malnutrition by properly feeding Harrison’s Bird
*The 8 most common disorders is based on a survey of predominately avian veterinarians (Feb 2012). The ranking does not reflect the incidence of disease, but rather the “ease” in which an owner recognizes a problem and seeks assistance. The results are from hundreds of histopathology reports. Illness in birds generally becomes pansystemic rapidly, involving the liver, kidney, intestines, heart, lungs, skin and reproductive system (especially females).
*Adapted from a 2012 presentation at Iowa State University – College of Veterinary Medicine by Greg J. Harrison, DVM, Dipl Emeritus ABVP- Avian Practice, Dip ECZM (Avian) (retired)