One of the most common illnesses in parrots, cardiac disease can be hard to diagnose without proper veterinary care and preventative care at home.
By understanding your parrot’s risk factors and being aware of the symptoms, you can act fast and save your parrot’s life! This article will discuss how parrots can develop heart disease and what you can do to help prevent it.
What are the causes of parrot cardiac disease?
Birds have a higher rate of heart disease than mammals due to several factors. Birds are genetically more prone to heart failure than humans or other animals because they do not have a natural way to replace dead cells in their bloodstream; instead they must undergo cell replication—which is both time consuming and energy intensive for an organ such as the bird’s heart. This leads us into another major factor behind avian cardiology: stressors that require large amounts of energy, such as exercise or even just flying around.
Due to how prone birds are to cardiovascular disease, it’s important for pet owners and breeders alike keep a watchful eye on their birds’ health. Some signs of heart failure include coughing, gasping for air, loss of appetite or lethargy; if you notice any these symptoms you should have your bird seen immediately by a vet who specializes in avian cardiology.
On top of genetic factors, there are two major causes of parrot cardiac disease. The first is a fat buildup in your bird’s bloodstream that can result from eating too much fat or due to an infection by a bacterium called Chlamydia psittaci.
What is the basic difference between a bird heart and a mammalian heart?
Birds have a four-chambered heart, unlike our mammalian four-chambered hearts. The right and left sides of their heart are separated by a partition called an interventricular septum, which makes it look like they have two separate hearts. Mammals are unique in that our ventricles on each side of our heart are connected.
How fast does a bird heart beat?
Birds’ hearts are proportionally larger than mammals’. As such, they produce more blood per unit of time than mammals, which helps them maintain proper body temperature and fly efficiently. Birds' circulatory systems take advantage of all their surface area (wings, tail feathers) in order to circulate warm blood throughout their bodies; their heart beats very quickly in order to ensure that warm blood and oxygen is delivered to all areas.
In humans, a normal resting heart rate is 60 to 100 beats per minute. The human heart rate is affected by several factors, including age, exercise, sleep quality, medications, body position (standing or sitting), blood pressure level and temperature.
Typically, a large parrot will have a heart rate of >250 beats/minute. Birds are warm-blooded creatures with an internal body temperature that is higher than their surrounding environment; as such, they tend to have faster heart rates than most mammals. But, just as important, a bird needs to deliver oxygen to every cell in the body to fly.
Large birds (like cockatoos) produce more power per pound than anything on earth. Their hearts must be able to pump enough blood throughout their bodies so they can flap their wings hard enough to stay aloft for hours on end (smaller birds, like cockatiels, may also need fast hearts because flying quickly means delivery more oxygen--but not nearly as much as larger birds). The fastest measured bird’s heart rate was 620 beats per minute in a whooping crane.
How can I support my pets heart health?
As we age, it’s natural to start to worry about our own health. But what do you do when your pet starts suffering from some of these symptoms? The best thing you can do to work with your avian veterinarian.
Next, keep a close eye on them and make sure they get plenty of exercise. If you notice any signs that they are not feeling well or their heart is not functioning properly, take them to see a veterinarian right away. You should especially be concerned if your parrot stops eating or becomes increasingly lethargic.
What kind of diet is good for avian heart health?
The most heart-healthy diet for parrots contains premium pellets, mixed with lots of raw plant-based foods, such as fruit and veggies. This type of diet is high in antioxidants and heart-healthy omega fatty acids that can reduce inflammation, promote a healthy immune system, and lower cholesterol levels. Meanwhile, certain foods—like cooked eggs and fish—may actually increase your bird’s risk of cardiovascular disease.
A fatty seed based diet also puts a bird at risk for heart disease. There is evidence that birds who eat large amounts of seeds, like parakeets, cockatiels, finches, lovebirds, budgies and more—can be more prone to atherosclerosis than other species of parrots. That is why are parrots who eat seeds at an increased risk of heart disease as well as liver disease.
What kind of exercise is good for avian heart health?
Exercise is one of the most important things you can do to keep your parrot in tip-top shape, but it’s also important to know what kind of exercise is good for avian heart health. Our pet birds have a tendency towards a sedentary lifestyle. Even small birds, such as finches or cockatiels , might seem active on their perches; however they tend to spend large portions of their day roosting instead of flying around.
Birds that have had a diet high in fat and cholesterol , such as fatty seed mixes, may be more likely to experience heart disease . Avian veterinarians report treating obese birds with heart disease on a regular basis. A sedentary lifestyle paired with a diet heavy in unhealthy fats is an immediate health risk for pet birds. However, by encouraging your parrot to exercise moderately, you can greatly reduce its risk of developing cardiac issues.
Start off by creating a variety of foraging stations throughout your birds cage and living area. This encourages your bird to climb around, exercise, and expend energy. Be sure to include a variety of foraging toys that encourage active play. You can even create simple toys by filling empty toilet paper or paper towel rolls with small treats such as unsalted nuts or dried fruits. The game will be more engaging if you place one of these foraging stations on each perch in your parrot’s cage.
Flying is by far the best exercise that you can offer your bird. Because of their ability to fly, parrots have naturally built-in workouts. A lot of people allow their bird to free fly around the house.
Others harness train their birds with an Aviator Bird Harness for longer and more sustained flight. If you choose to train your bird for free-flight, we suggest that you get professional help. You've got to build up certain skill sets like coming when called in order to prevent a fly-off.
heart disease is a serious condition, but there are ways to prevent it—and you should be aware of your parrot’s risk factors before it’s too late. Here are some things you can do today to help keep your pet healthy and safe. Follow these tips to heart!
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Avian Cardiovascular Disease: Characteristics, Causes, and Genomics (Kabule, Merry, Diaz, Miller, et al., Sept. 8, 2018).
Avian Cardiac Disease. (Hollwarth, 07, December 2020).
Heart Diseases In Birds; Diagnostic And Therapeutic Update (Pees, NAVC Conference 2013 Small Animal, Germany).
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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