African gray parrot portrait

Does Polly want a cracker? Maybe. But should Polly have a cracker? The answer is no. Polly, like many pet birds and other types of exotic pets, is prone to obesity. With little exercise and too much time to sit around and eat out of boredom, too many captive animals become overweight. With the extra pounds, these animals, like overweight people, can develop numerous health problems. The battle against the bulge has become the litany not only of physicians but also of veterinarians across the U.S., and it’s not a problem limited to pet dogs and cats. Species of all kinds can suffer from being fat, and as an exotic animal veterinarian, I constantly tell my patients’ owners to increase their pets’ exercise and limit their junk food consumption. As everyone tries to make good on their resolutions for a happier, healthier life in the New Year, let’s not forget our exotic friends. This week, we’ll look at the top five species I treat for obesity.

In my weeklong countdown, No. 1 for today are parrots!

The Feathered Shouldn’t be Fat

Many bird species, particularly Amazon parrots, African gray parrots, budgerigars and Quaker parrots, tend to gain weight, especially as they age. Their sedentary lifestyles; lack of purposeful activity; and consumption of high-fat, often all-seed diets lead them to overeat and gain weight. The problem is worse in birds as they reach their late teens and 20s and hard to correct unless their owners are willing to change their pets’ diets and encourage them to exercise. Like obese people, these obese birds are prone to developing significant, often life-threatening health problems, such as atherosclerosis (the deposition of cholesterol within major blood vessels exiting the heart that can obstruct blood flow, predisposing to heart attacks, and break off, blocking oxygen delivery to tissues and leading to strokes). In addition to circulatory issues, obese birds can develop joint problems, such as arthritis, from the stress of extra weight on the joints, and metabolic problems, such as fatty liver disease and diabetes.

To help combat obesity in their pets, bird owners must convert their pets to a predominantly pelleted diet, supplemented with some fresh produce and little to no seed, and increase their birds’ exercise level by allowing them to fly around the house or at least to walk around and flap if their wings are clipped. Weight loss in birds should be a slow and gradual process, and good eating and exercise habits must be maintained lifelong, or weight gain will recur, just as it does in people. It’s often hard to tell just by looking at birds if they have gained or lost weight as they can fluff up their feathers and look “big” even though they might be thin. Weighing birds on a scale that measures in one-gram increments is the best way to monitor weight gain or loss. For help with this and before starting any diet or exercise plan with your feathered friend, be sure to consult with your veterinarian first, so you know how to help your pet bird lose weight safely. 

Tomorrow: hefty hedgehogs!

More on Vetstreet: