Large, beautiful and sociable, the macaws are the typical bird one thinks of when they hear the name “parrot”. They have large beaks, long tails, and can be found in a variety of colors. Originating from South America, macaws include about 19 different species, some of which are extinct or critically endangered. Many different hybrids exist as well in the pet trade and some even in the wild. Zazu, our hospital mascot, is a hybrid known as a Catalina macaw.
What is it and what causes it?
Atherosclerosis is the accumulation of plaques (fats, cholesterol, and inflammatory cells) within the arteries. The buildup of these plaques can limit the amount of blood flow throughout the body. Unfortunately, the cause of atherosclerosis is still poorly understood. Suggested risk factors include fatty diet (seed based), increased cholesterol, inactivity, infectious/inflammatory conditions and stress.
Converting a bird to a better diet can be one of the best things an owner can do to provide a healthy life for their pet bird. The act of converting a bird though can sometimes be challenging. Birds that have been eating one type of diet for years may be reluctant to switch over to a healthier one. Especially if they have been eating a high fat diet like seeds. There are many tips and tricks for diet conversion. What worked well for one bird may not work well for another. Some birds will transition rapidly within a few days, while others can take months. Some owners become frustrated with diet conversion if they aren’t seeing results quickly and end up allowing the bird to just eat whatever it wants. This would be like allowing a child to eat pizza for dinner all the time instead of a more balanced meal. Birds may be stubborn, but being persistent and patient will eventually get you the results you are looking for. One of the most important things an owner needs to know about diet conversion is to not give up!
Everyone knows that eating a good diet is one of the best things we can do to stay healthy and the same is true for our pet birds. The question that we must then ask is “What is the best diet for our birds?” Of course this will vary for the species in question but there is an unfortunate misconception out there that seeds are all a pet bird needs to stay healthy. This has led to many pet birds developing nutritional disorders and therefore, seed alone diets have been implicated as a problem. It is true that in the wild, seeds are consumed by many species of birds but that is not all they eat. Parrots in the wild will eat various types of seeds, nuts, fruits, beans, flowers, and even foliage from plants. The varieties of seeds that are foraged for in the wild are numerous and different studies have shown birds to consume greater than 20 different seed types. In captivity many of our seeds mixes only have 5-7 different types of seeds.
Parrots and other birds are intelligent, curious and naturally active in the wild. The typical wild bird spends most of its day searching for food and being alert for predators. When it is not looking for food, it may be searching for a mate or helping take care of a nest, protecting its home from rivals, socializing with other birds, or preening its feathers, among other activities. As pets, birds no longer have to search for food, worry about predators, defend their home from rivals, or do many of the other things necessary to survive in the wild. Without these things to do, some parrots and other birds begin to engage in abnormal behaviors such as feather-plucking and chewing at their skin, pacing around their cages, back-flipping, eating their own stool, prolonged abnormal screaming, etc.
Screaming is the second most common problem noted by parrot owners. Normal parrot vocalizations include alarm calls and contact calls. Alarm calls occur when the parrot is feeling as if it is in danger or distress. Contact calls are vocalizations used to identify where other members of the bird’s flock are at any given time. Both of these types of calls are normal. It is also normal for some parrot species to call and scream for 15 to 20 minutes several times a day, especially in the morning, and may be a way that wild parrots tell other parrots from another flock to stay away. When a parrot begins to repeatedly vocalize for prolonged periods of time this is considered to be abnormal and may indicate stress or boredom. Studies on parrot behavior have shown that one cause of problematic screaming may be a lack of physical interaction between social partners (i.e., other birds or its human companions).
PDS, which is short for Proventricular Dilatation Syndrome, causes regurgitation, weight loss, and death in macaws and other parrots. This condition has recently been linked with a poorly understood virus known as bornavirus. Bornavirus has been linked with feather-plucking, toe-tapping, and other conditions in parrots.
You need to plan ahead before you bring a bird into your home. Part of that planning should include a same-day wellness visit to a reputable veterinarian since there is no way to be sure a bird is completely healthy just by looking at it. After a physical examination, the veterinarian may discuss screening your new bird with laboratory tests. Simple tests can be done at the hospital, such as looking at droppings and oral secretions for abnormal bacteria using a Gram stain or checking the droppings for parasites. However, additional tests are often needed particular for birds that have been around many other birds. The importance of this additional testing cannot be ignored -- one study using protein electrophoresis, a kind of blood test, revealed that 30% of seemingly healthy birds had undetected infectious or inflammatory disease. Specific tests for psittacosis (also known as parrot fever or chlamydophilosis), Pacheco's virus, and psittacine beak and feather disease may be important especially if you have other birds at home. If the Gram stain suggests abnormal bacteria are present then microbiological cultures and sensitivities should be performed so that the right antibiotic can be chosed to treat the infection. Your new bird can have its sex determined by saliva, blood, or feather samples to confirm that you got what you paid for or to learn what you got. When you are budgeting for a new bird, make sure you remember to include money for a thorough health check!
Behavioral disorders are a frequent issue identified in companion parrots and one study revealed that 36% of owners felt their bird had a behavioral problem. Feather destructive behavior, more commonly known as feather-picking or feather-plucking, was the most common behavior problem seen by veterinarians and the fourth most common behavioral problem identified by owners. This issue can result from both medical and behavioral causes.