By Diane Burroughs
It's not just us people who need to watch their weight. Do you know if your bird is the right weight? If you answered yes, you might want to think again. We'll show you what it means to have a fat bird, how to tell if your bird is overweight, and then go over some of the treatments you can use to help get your bird at a healthy weight. We'll also give you tips on recognizing when your bird isn't getting enough food or nutrition, which can lead to underweight conditions.
If you own a bird, there are certain aspects of its diet that you must consider in order to keep it healthy. One of these is ensuring that your bird’s diet is rich in raw, plant based foods. This ensures that your bird gets all of its dietary needs met while simultaneously providing your bird with a large array of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients from different plants it would not be able to access if fed solely on commercial seeds or pellets.
The avian anatomy is geared toward facilitating flight. Birds have hollow bones, extremely lightweight skeletons, and small stomachs relative to their body size that make flying much easier. Without such light weight constructions, flight would be difficult if not impossible. Their bones are thin walls of hard tissue with air sacs inside.
Fat birds have more difficulty flying, climbing and exercising than their normal weight counterparts. The added weight is also hard on their joints and some of their organs. Underweight birds may become weak and have reduced physical stamina.
If your bird becomes overweight or underweight, it can be difficult to tell without taking its measurements or checking its body condition score (BCS). This chart can help you tell if your bird is a healthy weight, under weight, or over weight.
To weigh your parrot, you need a scale that weighs in grams. Since birds are so lightweight anyway, weighing in grams offers a lot more accuracy.A standard kitchen or postal scale will work great. These are available for about $25 on Amazon. The most accurate scales will be digital. Google your exact species to find the ideal weight range for your bird. For instance, a Green Cheek Conure may range between 60 -75 grams while a Sun Conure may weigh between 95 - 120 grams.
Weekly weight monitoring is recommended because just a 10% change for an adult bird can mean something is wrong. Monitor your parrots weight on a weekly basis. This will allow you to spot changes in their body condition early on, before it becomes too late.
It is hard to tell if your bird is the right weight just by looking at it. Instead, you'll need to feel its breast bone. The breast bone on your bird should feel prominent but not sharp. If you're unable to feel its presence, your bird may be overweight or underweight.
Teach your bird to allow you to handle it and lay it on its back in your palm or on you forearm. It might take two people to handle a nervous large bird like this. Check out this blog post on how to towel a bird so that it can't flap its wings and try to get away.
Once your bird is on it's back with its breast bone up, gently use your finger tips to feel the middle of its breast bone. A healthy bird will have a noticeable breast bone that is not sharp but prominent. If you can't feel any bones, then your parrot may be overweight. If the breast bone feels sharp to the touch the bird is considered to be underweight.
A healthy bird needs fit breast muscles to fly. So it is important that your parrot has enough muscle but not too much fat on its body, especially around its breast area. It should be able to move freely in flight without feeling tight or constricted. The way to achieve that is by eating a proper diet and exercising regularly. Eating an excessive amount of fatty food is probably one of the biggest causes of obesity in pet birds, along with lack of exercise.
If you have to apply pressure to feel the breast bone that is an indication that your bird is overweight. But, if you can't even feel the breast bone, your bird would be considered obese. Sometimes, you can even see the fat moving around when you are attempting to assess your birds weight range.
Just like with people, you can improve your birds health status by improving the diet and improving opportunities to exercise.If your bird is mildly overweight, you can probably support your bird at home. If your birds weight problem is moderate to severe, working with your avian vet is advised. Birds tend to be fragile creatures with unique body systems so you won't want to take a chance that something could go wrong as you're trying to get it to its ideal weight.
Birds are predominantly plant eater, so it is important that they receive a diet with a rich range of uncooked plant-based foods like vegetables, low sugar fruits, herbs, flowers, and more. Uncooked, plant-based foods are packed with vitamins and minerals and fiber.
A bird seed diet is typically made up of just that: seeds. The problem with most commercial seeds is that they are void of nutrition, filled with unhealthy fatty oils. These oils have high calorie counts (around 130-180 calories/100g) and low nutritional value. So when your bird eats these foods in excess, he’s consuming many more calories than necessary from an unbalanced diet—and increasing his chances for obesity and related diseases.
Imagine if you ate a diet of potato chips and donuts. Sure, it would taste good - but at what cost. Birds are no different than humans in that they need a variety of nutrients to stay healthy and thrive. Birds can easily become overweight or obese from eating too much seed over time.
Birds also need lots of exercise. They have a very high metabolism. They're like a lean, well- operating machine. Without proper exercise, birds can get fat just like humans.
Generally, with an otherwise healthy bird, we recommend that you switch your bird over to a fresh, uncooked plant-based diet supplemented with a high quality pellet like Harrison's, Roudybush, or TOPS.
The key is to reduce calories without significantly reducing nutrients; thus, all foods high in fat (including nuts) should be avoided. When switching from seeds and pellets to vegetables and fruits, be sure not to give too many types of fruits or vegetables at once, so your bird can get used to new flavors. If you want them to lose weight faster try adding more leafy greens like lettuce.
Need some tips on how to convert your bird to loving a healthy, plant-based diet? Check out this video:
You should also provide your bird plenty of opportunities for exercise. Birds are naturally very active creatures that need room to flap their wings in order to stay fit. It’s especially important for larger birds such as cockatoos or macaws.
Since birds have completely adapted for flight, you’ll need to make sure that your bird gets plenty of exercise. This can be accomplished by playing with them outside of the cage as much as possible or giving them plenty of interactive toys inside. During the day, if possible, leave the cage door open and park a foraging tree nearby where you build foraging stations for your bird to explore.
You may have heard of harness training. This is a great tool for both you and your bird! Harness training gives your bird more opportunity to get exercise, freedom to explore new places and, helps them lose weight by burning calories.
The easiest way to help your parrot loose weight is to increase his consumption of raw, uncooked plant matter. Adding more fresh veggies, fruits, sprouts, etc. will give your bird more bulk in his diet while still delivering essential nutrients that will help your bird thrive.
If you’re having trouble getting your bird to eat vegetables, try making them into treats by chopping them up into small pieces or mixing them with their current diet. If your parrot is already overweight, start slowly by adding just one new vegetable per day for two weeks. Birds love to eat what you're eating, so if you want your bird to be healthy, eat a rich range of nutritious plant-based foods in front of it.
He will be more likely to try eating these foods if he sees you enjoying them! Be patient with your pet parrot while he learns; don’t give up!
Just like feeling for the breast bone reveals whether your bird is overweight, the same is true for a bird that is underweight. Feel your bird’s breast bone. If it feels sharp or prominent, your parrot is underweight. If there is very little breast muscle and minimal fat to cover the bones, your bird is very thin and severely underweight.
Being underweight can contribute to a host of health issues. Birds that are not getting proper nutrition can have nutrient deficiencies, weak bones, high levels of stress, reduced fertility rates, infertility or trouble reproducing (particularly in birds that are intended for breeding), and reduced immune function.
That’s why weight loss is even more dangerous for them than it is for humans. Birds have very high metabolism rates, meaning that they burn calories faster than other pets with lower metabolisms. Underweight birds can also become weak and stop eating. If your bird becomes too weak, she may refuse to eat at all; you will need to seek medical care from an avian veterinarian because your pet could be at risk of dying.
While it is important to monitor your bird’s weight on a regular basis, best practice is to weigh your pet weekly. This will ensure that you can catch any sudden changes in weight, which could be an indicator of illness or other health problems. Monitoring your bird’s weight on a weekly basis will also allow you to document her progress over time.
If your bird is underweight, you will want to get her back up to her proper weight as soon as possible. This can take several days or weeks depending on how long she has been underweight. You should always have fresh hand-feeding formula on hand to feed your bird if it is refusing to eat. This will ensure that your bird does not lose too much weight during treatment. Formula helps maintain optimal body weight because it includes many of your bird’s dietary needs in one easy-to-eat meal.
Sick birds need a blend of high potency vitamins, minerals, amino acids, electrolytes and protein to gain back strength and recover. To help your bird increase its appetite, try using a syringe to feed your bird liquid foods like bird electrolytes, fruit juice or baby food. Get in contact with your avian vet for dietary recommendations. Some bird food manufacturers have prescription- grade avian diets for weight gain.
In Conclusion... part of being a good pet parent is to monitor your birds weight. Fat birds experience a number of health problems, and so do underweight birds. Work with your avian vet to find the "sweet spot" for your bird,
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Diane Burroughs, LCSW is a licensed psychotherapist trained in ABA therapy techniques. She specializes in avian anxiety disorders and is certified in Nutrition For Mental Health. Diane has written a number of bird behavior books and she offers behavior consultations. She's developed a range of UnRuffledRx Science-backed Parrot Wellness Supplies.
Diane's products have been featured in the Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery and at Exoticscon, a conference for exotic pet veterinarians. Her bird collars & supplements are stocked in avian vet clinics and bird stores throughout the US. With over 30 years in the field of behavior, Diane has created thousands of successful individualized behavior plans that help pets thrive.
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