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Diet Basics

Developed by Sandra Witt


As a living body we (man and animal) derive energy from the food we eat, and this energy fuels the bodily functions.  Each food provides a different level of energy. The goal is to fuel the body with the goal of only taking in what is expended. This has been preached to most of us by our own general physicians. Eat greens and MOVE.


The reason is because unused energy is stored by the body around the liver as fat. This is a simple description of hepatic lipidosis or fatty liver disease. 


Fatty Liver Disease

In fatty liver disease, large amounts of fat are deposited in and around the liver so liver function is impared. This disease affects all parrots and is the result of feeding a high-fat diet where fat is the major source of calories or energy. To prevent liver disease, you must feed your bird a diet that matches his activity level. That diet must provide a balance of vitamins and nutrients needed to support healthy body functions.


There are many possible causes of hepatic lipidosis in birds. These include:

  • High fat content in diet (all-seed diet)

  • Too frequent feedings, or eating too much at each feeding

  • Nutritional deficiencies such as biotin, methionine, and choline

  • Thyroid disease

  • Toxins such as lead, arsenic, carbon tetrachloride, chloroform, phosphorous, aflatoxins, and ethionine

  • Hereditary factors

  • Diabetes mellitus


Birds with fatty liver disease generally have a sudden loss of appetite and are lethargic and depressed. Many are overweight and the liver is enlarged due to the additional storage of fat. This can result in a distended abdomen and difficulty breathing. They may have diarrhea and abnormal droppings (green in color), poor feather quality, and if the liver function is greatly decreased, birds may develop central nervous system signs such as seizures, loss of balance, and muscle tremors.


Budgies may have overgrown or soft beaks. Some birds with fatty liver disease will develop only a few signs of illness before they die suddenly. This is why it is so important to vet your bird regularly with a certified Avian vet. The results of a physical examination, blood tests, and x-ray to view internal organs are the first steps in diagnosing liver disease.


Treating fatty liver disease is more that treating the organ itself, recovery must include a diet change. The addition of food that helps the liver recover and regenerate includes things like  green leafy veggies, turmeric, brassica veggies (broccoli, cauliflower. bok choy, and sprouts) and MUST include the immediate removal of all high fat foods such as seeds, seed treats, peanuts, and even nuts will likely need to be cut back or removed.

Birds in their native habitat are required to fly great distances  just to find a morsel of food or a safe spot to rest. They are always on HIGH alert watching for predators. They must  have a reserve of energy so if the flight/fight decision is FLIGHT they are up and gone, in a seconds notice. This means that a bird in the wild NEEDS a higher fat content diet, as it is used  by their normal daily activities.


Now let's look at the other side of this, companion birds live in a comfy, predator free environment. Their food is served to them by the human of choice daily and there is little or no competing for it. No flying far and wide to find a teaspoon of grains or seeds,  just hop up to the cup and eat all they want.  The only exercise most parrots get is hopping  to the food cup a few times a day.


Some companion birds  are flighted, but even they don’t have the opportunity to fly long distances. This flight is needed to burn significant amounts energy. Other companion birds are not flighted at all due to clipping, so they may never learning to fly, or there may be other medical issues that prevent birds from taking flight. These are the climbers, walkers or passengers that  get taxied about on the arm of their human from cage to play perch.


Since many of our birds don’t have the opportunity to burn high levels of energy guess what will happen if their diet is high energy? But, beside the physical issues, there are also behavioral issues that we need to discuss. With a high energy diets a bird will do all that is environmentally possible to utilize the energy he has stored. This, on occasion, will manifest as aggression and or hormonal behaviors.  These haggard parrot owners reach out to us on our forum for advice and help  handling their bird without being bitten. These issues are often a result of a high-energy/high-fat diet. Upon changing the diet to a low energy many behavioral issues are improved rather quickly.



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