Weight Management in Birds

Weight management in birds is more challenging than in other pets like dogs and cats as birds are tactful hiders of any illness and any change in weight is a sign of illness. It is difficult to tell that they have lost/gained weight by merely looking at them since they can fluff up their feathers and look bigger while they actually might be thin. It is important to know your bird’s ideal weight (which depends on its breed and age) and measure it regularly (around thrice a week). An ideal time is to weigh your bird before the first feed.

A variation of 3% from an ideal weight is a sign of illness while 5% variation could be considered as life-threatening. You can also refer to the Keel Scoring Chart indicated below to understand the body condition score of your pet bird. Consult an avian vet as soon as any variation is observed to get a full checkup done on your birdie.

In addition to the physical changes, you also need to look out for behavioral changes, like open-mouthed breathing, or if wings are dropping, or if its tail is bobbing, etc. These too are signs of illness. Early detection can lead to early treatment and save the life of your little birdie.

Probable causes of Weight Loss in birds:

Weight loss in birds might be visible on carefully looking at their breastbone commonly called a keel bone. If there seems to be no layer of muscle or fat on each side of the breastbone, your pet is losing his weight. Other symptoms include dry itchy skin, long nails, overgrown beaks, dull-faded feathers, feather picking, depression, gastrointestinal stasis, sneezing, sinusitis, lethargy, seizures, ataxia, increased thirst, excessive urination, dehydration and green or bloody diarrhea.

Major reasons of weight loss in birds can be attributed to inadequate diet (like a seed only diet), excessive exercise, nutrient deficiency (the most common deficiency is due to lack of protein, calcium and Vitamin A and D3.), swallowing of toy particles causing difficulty in eating or any of the below mentioned underlying diseases-

  • Bacterial/Viral/Fungal infection like PDD (proventricular dilatation disease), Hepatitis, Canary Pox, Tuberculosis, Aspergillosis, Roundworms, Skin Mites, Coccidia, Myialges Nudus etc.
  • Pancreas issues
  • Goiter
  • Heavy Metal Poisoning 
  • Metabolic diseases
  • Tumors
  • Beak problems

Probable causes of Weight Gain in birds:

Key symptoms that your bird is gaining weight include his keel bone becoming non-prominent, or his stance becoming wider than usual, exercise intolerance, egg binding, or shortness of breath.

Most of the birds like Parrots, Sulphur Crested Cockatoos, Galahs, Budgerigars, Corellas, and Cockatiels are prone to gain weight as they age because of genetics.  Other major reasons being a sedentary lifestyle, little or no exercise while being captive, and consumption of a high fats diet. Also, single pet birds can become compulsive eaters due to lack of sex or attention.  It can also be related to health problems as mentioned below:

  • Fatty liver syndrome (hepatic lipidosis) 
  • Fatty Tumors (Lipomas and Xanthomas)
  • Lipomatosis (abnormal fat deposits under the skin)
  • Metabolic problems, heart or liver problems (resulting in fluid build-up)
  • Arthritis
  • Atherosclerosis (Cholesterol deposition in blood vessels)
  • Diabetes

How to maintain Healthy Weight of your bird:

Once you identify the reasons for weight gain/loss, follow your vet’s advice to change his diet or provide medications to your bird to get him back to a healthy and ideal condition. Be careful while making changes to the diet as birds are very much prone to nutritional deficiencies. 

To make your feathery friend lose weight, one needs to reduce the high-fat seed intake and choose a pelleted diet, supplemented with fresh fruits and vegetables. Along with that, also introduce some exercise level outside their cage, probably in a covered balcony. One can add cage toys and enrichments that can increase stimulation. 

In case your pet is underweight, provide him a high-calorie diet intake. Foods like peanuts (which most of the birds love), sunflower seeds, millets, etc.  prove to be a good source of proteins and fats, helping them to gain calories. Try not to overfeed. Provide your bird a pelleted diet with a mix of all required nutrients since they are known to be picky eaters. 

All dietary changes and changes to the exercise regime should be done gradually and in consultation with your vet. It is paramount to control the weight of your bird as early as possible to maintain the regular functionality of their vitals. This will improve the chances that your bird will live a long and healthy life.