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Category: Health and Nutrition

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I have a 26 year old cockatiel and about 4 weeks ago I noticed white lumps on his legs under the skin and his toe joints and feet are also swollen, the vet thinks it is gout and has given me allopurinol 0.15ml to be given twice a day as well as a pain killer. He now sleeps a lot but is still eating. He cannot fly and it is difficult for him to walk. I have read that allopurinol is not good for birds and that black cherry juice can be given as an alternative, but I don`t know how much cherry juice to give. I
would be glad of your advice. thank you

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

Hi, Elizabeth -

These types of questions are best directed towards your attending veterinarian. From your description, it sounds like your bird is in trouble, and needs more help. It is true that in some species, specifically red tailed hawks, allopurinol was shown to actually cause kidney problems. For the most part, articular gout is often the result of underlying kidney functional disease issues, and you may want to ask your veterinarian about assessing kidney function to see if there are other diagnostic maneuvers or treatments that may have merit to consider. Articular gout, if present, is quite painful, and you may want to also speak with your veterinarian about using multimodal pain management strategies here. There is much less clear science about the merits or harm that a treatment plan centered on the use of cherry juice has to offer, and for the most part, my best recommendations would be to continue working with your attending veterinarian to work towards the best evidence-based medical approach for diagnosis and management of your bird's problem.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

I have an 18year old rescue Mexican Red Head. He has been showing a choking motion or trying to push something down his throat. My vet Dr. Hess in Bedford Hills, NY did an upper gi on her. She said she either has esophical (sp) cancer or a fungus. She now wants to take a biopsy which I'm hesitant to do as the bird has to be under anestesia(sp).

If it is cancer and they use chemo to treat it, what are the odds that this would "cure" her. Do you recommend the biopsy or could we treat the fungus first and if it doesn't cure it, then we know it is cancer and then go to chemo treatments?

Please let me know what you think asap. The doctor will be calling next week to make a decision.

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

Hi, Barbara -

The answers to your questions and concerns best come specifically from your attending veterinarian. On-line, and in the absence of having examined your bird, viewed your diagnostic images and other diagnostic findings, it is functionally impossible to guide you with any succinct recommendations.

Part of the reasoning behind a recommendation for obtaining a biopsy is specifically to confirm the nature of the disease process at the identified site. Should this be in the cervical esophagus, surgically obtained biopsies are comparatively easier as compared to lesions that are identified in the thoracic esophagus or glandular stomach. Cervical esophageal cancers are less commonly identified in the literature as compared to tumors lower in the gastrointestinal system, but if present, are more straight forward for potential for surgical removal. For the potential cancers that may be present, chemotherapeutic interventions and successful outcomes are uncommon, at best, in the literature. Oftentimes, with confirmed or strongly suspected cancer in that thoracic esophagus / glandular stomach area, treatments have been palliative with hopes only to comfortably extend quality of life. Your best prognostic hope is that the cause of the observed clinical signs is related to any other factor, excluding cancer.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

I have a male cockatiel who is suffering from chronic coccidiosis. I already treated him 2 years ago with tiamulin and he seemed to be healthy, but now the vet has found oocysts in feces again, so it was just a remission instead of curing. The vet told me to treat it with Baycox this time.

The problem is that my bird has problems with hepar and pancreas since the day I purchased him, and even the treatment with tiamulin nearly killed him while Baycox is even heavier. I'm afraid that such treatment will kill him much faster than coccidiosis itself, and there's a lot of feedback from bird breeders whose birds were poisoned Baycox.

Are there any alternative ways to treat this infection? Maybe there are some new medications that my vet aren't aware of? I already lost my companion female cockatiel 2 years ago, and I'm really scared to make another mistake with my male.

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

I am not sure what part of the world you live in, Nataly, but at least here in the USA, the more common species associated with Coccidiosis are not often encountered. There are other coccidioidal organism that can be more often seen, including but not limited to Toxoplasma and Cryptosporidium.

First up, you may ask your veterinarian to confirm the species of coccidian that may be present, in order to help best choose what forms of treatment may or may not be most appropriate. Not all coccidioidal infections are treated the same way. Also, you have mentioned that there are problems with liver and pancreas - and you may want to ask your veterinarian about options to diagnose what those problems may specifically be, as their contribution to the bigger picture may also have merit to address.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

How can I determine whether my 21 year old orange-winged amazon that has been diagnosed with a inoperable cancer tumor, is in pain?

What are the signs he would exhibit, even the subtle ones?

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

Hi, Caroll -

The bulk of your answer should be able to be provided by your diagnosing veterinarian, and is dependent on the type of tumor, its location and what tissues / organ systems are involved, what secondary health issues are present, and perhaps most importantly, how your bird feels and behaves. Many of our indicators for pain that we see in birds are based on their behavior. Simplistically, one would seek the kinds of behaviors you may imagine yourself show if you have a painful migraine headache. These may include social withdrawal (you don't want to interact with your friends and family), decreased activity (you just don't feel like it), decreased appetite, decreased comfort behaviors (you no longer care how you dress or look - you just don't feel like it).

Many aspects of disease (not all) include chronic pain, and pain can be pharmacologically treated in birds with monomodal, bimodal or even trimodal forms of intervention in many cases. The patient's response to your treatment at least in part can be used to monitor effectiveness of your pain intervention strategy, in that the above behaviors that were noted should be able to be reduced if you are maintaining the balance well., Some forms of inoperable cancers can be treated in other means to reduce and sometimes resolve them too - and you may want to ask your doctor about more details and options that could be present, should they apply in your bird's case.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

Please can you advise me about worming?

I have an aviary of budgies with three 'tiels in the mix. I usually worm with 'solubenol'. However I recently noticed that it contains the same active ingredient as my chicken wormer (flubendazole). Is there any reason why I can't use 'Flubenvet' for my aviary birds? If so - what should the ratio be?

Also - still on the subject of worming. Should I consider worming my two pet parrots occasionally as they do spend a little time in an outside aviary on nice days. The floor is concrete slabs not earth.

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

Hi, Helen -

Your questions are fair, but specifically should be answered by the attending veterinarian who is familiar with your flock, their associated risks (or lack thereof) for intestinal parasitism. In part, dependent on what is known or not known in regards to your budgerigars and cockatiels (and pet parrots) in regard to their medical conditions or what preventative health maneuvers may be most appropriate, your veterinarian is best positioned to provide evidence-based recommendations that meet the needs of the birds in question. From the outside, I am unable to validate the need for treatment for intestinal parasites, what kind(s) of parasites may or may not be present, the epidemiologic risks of recurrent parasitism, or balance treatment choices optimally with the husbandry and overall health status of your flock.

There are potential health risks for yourself with empirical deworming of your chickens; drug residues can be passed through the eggs and can potentially adversely effect human health. It is for this reason that the use of those products in commercial layers is typically forbidden in most countries. Although these practices (empirical deworming) are commonly done and the availability of many of those products over the counter is also common, this does not negate some risk. My advice in that regard would also be to discuss with your attending veterinarian if there is a true need for the use of those drugs in your chickens,

filed under: Health and Nutrition

I have a male seven year old galah cockatoo. He is hand reared and I've had him from a baby.He has lots of enrichment opportunities including access to an outside aviary, I've done the online living and learning with parrots course and feed him a good diet. I've noticed just over a week that every now and again when preening that he will really tug hard at a feather. Sometimes he will pull out a pin feather, this could be twice a day. I think he's going through a moult, I've been providing him with shredding toys that he will happily play with as my big fear is the start of a plucking problem. I know how prone these human imprinted birds, especially toos, can be to this problem. He doesn't appear to have any bold patches.We did have a holiday of five days about five weeks ago also I took on a rescue bird five months ago so a few changes and when we were away we had people coming in to see the birds regularly not ideal at all. If a bird is plucking how quickly does it progress? I am ignoring him when he tugs at a feather.I'm hoping its just an itchy moult.

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

Hi, Nicole -

There are a myriad of reasons why a bird, Galah included, may or may not be damaging its feathers. Your hopes that there may be a normal moulting process are entirely possible as well. If you have not already done so, I would strongly suggest that you have a good physical examination done by your veterinarian to assess if there is indeed, feather damage occurring, or if there is reason to suspect a dermatitis or other issue that could require medical address.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

Hi EB, I have been a WPT member for well over 20 years and have an urgent question: My Panama Amazon was recently ill and very nearly died. She had stopped eating and had to be fed with a tube. She was in the care of our Avian Vet who, like myself, did not realize that she is obese. The Avian specialist who read her blood results and her xRay said it was probably her liver due to obesity. (She weighed 520 grams). I was told to feed her ANYTHING she would eat and eventually, she did begin eating again. She has been raised on a diet of Harrison's pellets plus fruits and vegetables. She is 17 years old. I found that the weight for a Panama Amazon is normally 480 grams. I ordered an avian scale and began feeding her a diet of phytonutrients as recommended by David McCluggage, DVM (on the web) who maintains that amazons should NOT be fed mostly pellets. I was shocked when the scale arrived and she weighed 615 grams! She has been on this super healthy diet for a month now, with only one or two pellets a day and one "NutraBerry" seed treat.

But, AND HERE IS MY DILEMMA/QUESTION: She has NOT lost weight. She weighs around 630 grams. She does get some exercise as she is outdoors in a large macaw cage during the day. I don't know how I can get her to exercise more. I try with interactive toys, etc. She chews a lot and sings opera!! I am terrified she will become ill again if she doesn't lose weight.

PLEASE ADVISE: I can't find any answers online after endless searching. Thank you so very much for taking the time to ready this lengthy question/explanation. I am so very, very grateful!


Answered by E.B. Cravens:

Dear Linda, I hope that your Panama (You did not mention a name) is stable and eating properly. In cases such as these I would prescribe a full sprouts diet plus added items.

Now this need not be fully sprouted seeds, but can be germinated seeds--that is, twenty-four to forty-eight hours of soaking with many rinses during the day, and then feed the following. Take her off the pellets and foods she has been eating but add a certain amount of dried seed to the sprouts mix, such as canary seed, red proso millet, hemp. Our favorite sprouting seeds are mung beans, safflower, organic buckwheat from the health food store, and organic sunflower from the health food store. Also good quality spray millet will sprout overnight...Do not worry about the sunflower being too fattening as when sprouted and fed in mixed amounts with other grains, it has many more benifts for the parrot.

In addition, birds that overeat are often seeking micro ingredients in their diet that they are not receiving through processed foods and veggies and fruits. I would recommend a supplement from China Prairie Co. (online in Northern California) called Micracine Enhance which is both an avian probiotic and a montmorillonite clay base. It will provide trace minerals and digestive aids. There are of course other vitamin mineral supplements that are good and you could use if you prefer.

Now if you are dealing with fatty liver, you should begin to mix up herbal milk thistle into a tea and substitute it for the water in your parrot's bowl at leat four times a week if not regularly. It does not taste bad to parrots and it will slowly begin to heal damaged liver tissue. We also like to give sprinklings of spirulina on food to birds with immune problems fighting any health problem. Especially if they are not big vegetable eaters.

Vegetable stems are the best, chard, carrot, beet, watercress, celery, etc. You can grate them to release juices on the foodstuffs if your bird throws the pieces out of the bowl.

Fruit pips are a wonderful way to get natural and not fattening items into an amazon diet. papaya, pomegranate, melon, kiwi, guava, fig, passion fruit, anything that has ripe seeds in it that are raw. Snap peas and beans are great. If you make feeding an adventure and supplement it with an almond, walnut or two, your amazon will not go hungry and will soon transform her dietary choices into a greener, less habitual fattening diet. It may take up to three months. Drop the nutriberries as they are sweetened. If your bird likes smoothies or protein shakes, that is a good way to supplement feed as liquid foods absorb quickly and free up the liver to begin to cleanse itself. I have had amazons that like to think they were lories!!!

Be well and good luck,
EB Cravens

filed under: Health and Nutrition

I recently took my sun conure who lives in the same cage with four cockatiels to the vet. The bird never laid and an egg and it is almost 15 years old. I got the bird DNA sexed. The vet said that the bird had elevated calcium levels and stated let's hope it is having eggy thoughts. Well it's a she. Will she lay eggs?

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

Hi Heather,

Although it is true that many hens that are mobilizing calcium in preparation for potential egg laying will show elevations in total blood calcium levels, these changes are not necessarily a predictive set for all that egg laying will occur, and there can be variations in interpretation what "elevated" numbers may be. Minor elevations over a published set of "normal" values may lack in significance over a 2-3 fold increase in those levels, for example. Not all hens will lay eggs, not all observed elevations in serum calcium levels will indicate impending egg laying activity.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

URGENT - I have been a WPT member for well over 20 years and have an urgent question: My Panama Amazon was recently ill and very nearly died. She had stopped eating and had to be fed with a tube. She was in the care of our Avian Vet who, like myself, did not realize that she is obese. The Avian specialist who read her blood results and her xRay said it was probably her liver due to obesity. (She weighed 520 grams). I was told to feed her ANYTHING she would eat and eventually, she did begin eating again. She has been raised on a diet of Harrison's pellets plus fruits and vegetables. She is 17 years old. I found that the weight for a Panama Amazon is normally 480 grams. I ordered an avian scale and began feeding her a diet of phytonutrients as recommended by David McCluggage, DVM (on the web) who maintains that amazons should NOT be fed mostly pellets. I was shocked when the scale arrived and she weighed 615 grams! She has been on this super healthy diet for a month now, with only one or two pellets a day and one "NutraBerry" seed treat. But, AND HERE IS MY DILEMA/QUESTION: She has NOT lost weight. She weighs around 630 grams. She does get some exercise as she is outdoors in a large macaw cage during the day. I don't know how I can get her to exercise more. I try with interactive toys, etc. She chews a lot and sings opera!! I am terrified she will become ill again if she doesn't lose weight. PLEASE ADVISE: I can't find any answers online after endless searching. Thank you so very much for taking the time to ready this lengthy question/explanation. I am so very, very grateful!

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

Hi, Linda -

First qualifiers - since I have not examined your bird, I cannot factually corroborate or deny your working premise and diagnosis of obesity and true need for your bird to lose weight. This call should be made with the examining veterinarian you are currently working with. There is considerable variation in body weight for this species - just as there is in human beings! A large bodied and well-muscled bird may weigh easily as much as the numbers you report, and others may be quite obese at those same numbers. Be careful of managing a number (weight) instead of the true bird before you. Ideal weight should be somewhat individually defined, based on the presence of good pectoral muscle mass and an absence of visible or identifiable subcutaneous fat over the abdomen and lateral flanks. This requires the periodic physical examinations of you and your veterinarian. Many Amazon parrots can be maintained in excellent health on a predominately pelletized diet - this data has been around for quite some time.

So, I am somewhat unable to make factual recommendations that will be most appropriate for you and your bird - if clinical obesity is known to be present, work with your veterinarian to reduce caloric intake and increase foraging and caloric burn activities via enrichment of other behaviors. Make sure that weight management is not being based on mere deprivation of calories, but by enrichment. If your bird has gained weight (muscle) but lost fat - you actually may be in a good position at present time. It all depends on the hand's on evaluation and assessments of you and your attending veterinarian.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

I have a mexican red head (green cheeked amazon) that I rescued about 10 years ago. She seems to have gotten an infection (white stuff inside her mouth) and was losing her red feathers on her head)Vet said she had a vitamin a deficiency and so gave her an a/b vitamin shot. He also sent out a culture of the white stuff and then gave me an antibiotic to put in her water daily for 30 days. Last year she got the same thing and we did the same things except the antibiotic was used for 2 weeks. I'm worried that this will be a recurring thing or we aren't treating it properly. Maybe I should get a second opinion. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

Hi, Barbara -

It is true that vitamin A deficiency can certainly set the stage for the kinds of symptoms you describe. Should this be the primary situation in your bird's case, unless the general nutritional plane of your bird has been corrected and other underlying contributing conditions identified and removed, those secondary or even tertiary infection problems often can and do repeatedly return. Additionally, some infections require much more direct treatments than water-based antibiotic treatments.

I would recommend that you have your bird examined after your course of treatment is concluded, and make sure that diet and underlying health of your bird is optimally supported and maintained.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

I have a question about my Congo African Grey Charlie. I re-homed Charlie as his owner didn't have the time to commit to him. He came to me as a nervous bird with Feather plucking issues. I worked hard over several months to vary his diet, introducing grains and pulses and fresh veg. Providing lots of foraging opportunities and eventually the feather plucking resolved and Charlie became a friendly outgoing bird. Then one day I noticed him having difficulty going to the toilet. He kept throwing his foot back to scratch his vent it seemed. I inspected him and noticed a small injury around his vent so I took him to the avian vet. The vet explained that he had either bitten or scratched the skin round part of his vent. We decided I would wash with salt water and apply homeopathic healing balm and see if that helped. It has helped and is healing well and he has stopped throwing his leg back and scratching. However he seems to have developed a 'twitch' almost which causes him to stick his leg out straight in front of him and sort of wave. This is accompanied by a tail wag from side to side rapidly and a quick flick of his wings. He has never done this until his injury and it only happens when he is still on his perch. If he is active and foraging there seems to be no 'twitch'. I am concerned as to what this might be as his vent is healing well, almost completely and he is going to the toilet as normal. Any light shed on this would be greatly appreciated.

Many Thanks,

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

Hi, Daniel,
It is challenging to clearly visualize what you may be seeing, unfortunately. Here are a few suggestions, however. I would recommend that you video record the behavior, and present this as well as your bird for a repeat examination to your veterinarian. Presuming that there may be pain and discomfort present (from whatever the primary cause may be), you may want to enquire about the use of anti-inflammatory treatments or pain management for your bird. You may also want to inquire about the possibility of a problem within the cloaca itself, which in some circumstances could require additional maneuvers for visualization of this area.

Good on you for enriching this bird's life, adding to its behavioral inventory and doing such a good level of stewardship!

filed under: Health and Nutrition

A friend of mine has a Congo African Grey who is exhibiting symptoms of excessive thirst and excessive urinating. The vet investigating this is currently running labwork on the bird to check for things like diabetes, etc. So far, the vet has not come up with anything definitive but suggests that the dyes in pellets such as Pretty Bird could cause these symptoms. Have you ever heard anything like this before? Thanks for your time.

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

Hi, Cindi -

There are a number of investigations that need to be considered with this set of clinical signs. It is good that basic blood testing is being performed as a start. Although this is far from a perfect thing, it is a really good initial component. There are behavioral reasons (psychogenic), and other medical reasons including some viral infections, cardiovascular disease, and malnutrition to name a few. Toxicoses from the artificial dyes used in a formulated product of any brand, to the best of my knowledge, are not a documented event - and exist only in anecdote and belief out there. I am sure that the veterinarian involved will pursue the levels and types of additional diagnostic testing needed to help dramatically narrow down, if not determine a cause of these clinical signs, with time.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

I have a Timneh African Grey who is almost 9 years old. I got him at 3 months and weaned him and he has always been a sweet, non-aggressive animal.

After any stressful experience, for example, the last visit to the avian vet 3 months ago for a beak, wing, and nail trim, he stops eating the Harrison's pellets that he has always loved and drops weight to the point where he loses 15 or more grams. At that point I hand feed him Harrison's juvenile formula with a syringe and he eats just fine. He doesn't want to eat any brand of pellet or prepared bird food, including Nutriberries. He will eat a bite or two of carrots and broccoli but is still thin. My vet wanted him to gain weight when she saw him 3 months ago and he weighed 296 grams. I just hate to see him refuse to eat so I have been giving in and hand feeding him. Last night before I hand fed him he weighed 291 grams. I know he is able to eat because I've seen him eat one or two Harrison's Coarse Pellets. The vet doesn't think he is sick but I have an appointment with her again in 3 weeks.

I believe I have tried everything, from soaking his food in organic apple juice, cooking pasta, eggs, beans, etc., and the stress is getting to ME! I just wonder if a parrot will actually starve himself to death if he has a variety of foods available yet prefers formula? I've been too afraid to take that chance. Thanks for any suggestions you can give me!

Answered by Phoebe Green Linden:

Dear Linda,

Hello and thank you for writing World Parrot Trust about your 9 year old Timneh Grey. It sounds like you really care for him, which is great!

I'm glad he's getting regular check-ups from an avian vet. There is no substitute for regular check-ups and your relationship with an avian vet is great insurance so that if an emergency occurs, s/he has a record of your parrot's normal condition. However, I respectfully question the amount of grooming that's being done on him.

First, the beak. In Clinical Avian Medicine, Vol. 1, Harrison and Lightfoot, 2006 (pg 14), the good doctor writes: "Beak trimming is not necessary in birds unless the beak is overgrown due to underlying health problems or malocclusion." Therefore, unless your parrot's beak is growing unnaturally long or into an unusual shape, you can and should eliminate the beak trims. Beak trimming is not part of standard grooming because it's unnecessary, potentially painful and usually traumatic. It should never be performed for cosmetic reasons. There are ways other than trimming to ensure your parrot's beak stays healthy and those we'll review below.

The rhinotheca, "the final protective/germinal layer" of the upper beak is thin "and can easily be ground through or burned." (p15) You wouldn't necessarily see a burn because the dark beak would cover it, but your parrot would feel it, and that would hurt a lot because what's inside the thin outer covering is super-sensitive blood- and nerve ending-infused tissue. Pain is amplified by these nerve endings. Think of crunching down on hard foods (like pellets) with a broken tooth, or a toothache in all your teeth at once - the pain shoots right to your head - and that's correlative with a beak that's been trimmed.

His beak will need to heal completely (which may take 3 months) before you see him rubbing it to clean/groom it himself, which he will do when you follow the tips below regarding perches.

Next, the wings. Unless you are taking your parrot outside without first putting him into a carrier, or keeping him inside but your household has unavoidable hazards, I'd recommend a moratorium on the wing trims, too. After nine years of trimmed wings, due to muscular atrophy and resultant enhanced caution, your parrot probably wouldn't fly even if his wings grew out completely. Linda, try letting his wings grow in, which they will over time, and you might discover a parrot who flaps more, plays more and is generally more confident than before, even if he never actually flies. From your note, you seem like a very conscientious caregiver - one with great attention to detail - so if you apply that same keen discernment to his flight capabilities, you may discover that wing trims can be either greatly diminished or eliminated altogether.

A diminished wing trim might be one where only 1 - 2" of the first 3 or 4 primary flight feathers are removed. This is the trim I formerly used on young fledglings so they wouldn't zoom around the confines of the house before they gained coordination. As years went by, I made the house increasingly flight-friendly and completely eliminated all wing trims. In your case, you can carefully watch your Timneh and see if he even uses his longer wings. If he's going to fly, he'll most likely give you plenty of notice beforehand by flapping while holding on to a perch, hanging upside down and flapping and generally testing his balance and coordination in ways that clipped parrots do not. Of course, if you let his wings grow out and whether or not you ever see him fly, if his feathers grow back, he will be capable of flight, especially if he's startled. So inside the house, give him plenty of places where he knows it's safe to land and practice "fake flying" with him to safe place A from safe place B. Additionally, you'll always want to keep him in a carrier or put him in an aviary when he goes outside.

Now, for the nails. Nail trims can also be very painful and it's not uncommon for parrots to become depressed after a nail trim, even if only one of the nails bleeds or it's cauterized by a dremmel/drill during the trim. Think about your fingernails and toenails - all of them at once - being trimmed all the way to the quick and then being forced to use those painful digits for everything - eating, sleeping, walking, and standing. Now imagine those same nails being cut into the quick to the point of bleeding and having the bleeding stopped by burning and yeow - you'd want to be hand-fed, too.

Here at our home, our companion parrots rarely need their nails trimmed so I'm surprised when some guests complain about sharp nails. But I realize - with us, our parrots are totally relaxed, so their nails aren't digging in, but with other people, not quite. So when I hand a parrot to someone, I ask if they can feel the nails and if they say yes, I take the parrot back because I don't want the bird to be uncomfortable. (Plus our parrots can fly away if they want to.)So, practice holding him and rotating your arm or hand or shrugging your shoulder ever so slightly to learn which angles allow him to relax the most when he's on you. The more you practice being relaxed together, the less his nails will bother you.

Additionally, sharp nails help parrots with their confidence. In the wild - and your guy is probably only one generation away from the wild, with all those innate wisdoms still inside him - if they can really hang on during a storm, or in strong winds on flexing branches, they survive. Their nails are sharp for reasons that make sense to them.

That said, mitigating nail trims for captive African Greys is usually simple because they like to dig. Our Congo Greys in the aviary (4 adults each at least 30 years old) are incessant diggers. They've never needed their nails trimmed because those tips are blunt from digging in the fresh dirt we provide. There is nothing cuter than to see them, beaks down, red tails up, feet going a mile a minute, flinging dirt in long arcs behind them. Happily, there are ways to replicate this enrichment in the house that aren't so messy. Your guy may like to dig in an open-faced woven rattan basket that's stuffed with paper towels, or in brown paper bags stuffed inside each other - some natural-material container that sits flat on a surface for him to tear into using beak and toes will do the trick.

If he doesn't already have them, be sure your guy has natural fresh perches covered with bark in his cage and on his play gyms. After eating, he'll rub his beak on the surface and clean it himself. Similarly, he'll keep the tips of his nails blunt by walking on natural perches. Outside the cage, give him a natural wood platform to walk on for playtime and chewing. Vertical wood branches lashed to the walls of the cage using tie wraps are great natural beak cleaners. When they get soiled, refresh them by scrubbing with a wire brush and warm water, and then rinse them well. Perches should never be allowed to get slick - keep them rough-to-the-touch with regular wire-brushing and he'll learn to groom himself. Some parrots groom their beaks and nails on twisted cotton rope perches which you might also try. In any case, the more grooming tools you provide him - and calm compliments when you see him using them - the more likely his chances of good personal hygiene.

Now, in the case of a truly mal-formed beak, or if he absolutely cannot be trusted with any wing growth whatsoever and you cannot change those circumstances even with your best efforts, or if his nails are so sharp that you're left bleeding from contact with him, I'm going to recommend that you choose only one or at the most two most essential grooming options to be performed in the least degree possible at one time. Minimize the grooming. Dramatically.

Even with the greatly reduced grooming, ask your vet for MetaCam, a liquid analgesic (pain reliever) that we keep on hand in case of emergency. After a vet visit, or after anything where he might be feeling pain (like after a clumsy landing if he tries to fly), give him a drop. Our older arthritic Galah cockatoo eats it right off the kitchen counter and our other birds relish it (when needed) on a bit of cracker or toast.

Also, you may want to use some of the training tips that are wonderfully explained by other WPT experts to get him to increasingly accept your gentle manipulation of his toes and wings. Over time with consistent training, the two of you may establish a non-traumatic grooming routine so that his annual vet visits become a "Well Bird Check-Up," not a cause for stress.

Finally, in the case of unavoidable stress, yes, give him a little hand-feeding formula. After all, you hand-fed him so he'd trust you, and he does, which is great! I don't know if he'd actually starve himself to death, but he could definitely dehydrate and become fatally ill as a result of that, so it's far better to error on the side of caution and hand-feed him when he becomes anorexic. As a stop-gap measure, to be used when needed, a bit of hand-feeding formula now and then is fine, especially if it stimulates his appetite and makes you both feel better! Trust your instincts, Linda - they seem to be sound and you have his best interests at heart.

Thank you for your support of World Parrot Trust and for the opportunity to respond to this good and very valid question.

All best,
Phoebe Linden
Santa Barbara Bird Farm

filed under: Health and Nutrition

I adopted a 16 year old Cameroon African Grey and I would like to learn how to encourage him to eat something other than seeds. He won't eat pellets, cooked grains or vegetables, all fruit except grapes & he even refuses to eat AviCakes or Healthy Bits - a picky eater?

Answered by E.B. Cravens:

Dear Donna,

Thank you for your question. Red-tailed grey parrots can be some of the pickiest eaters one can keep, especially if the bird was formerly living wild and free.

That said, it is best to begin modifying a parrot's diet by making changes within the realm of foods that the bird does like to eat eat. As African greys are rather high on the list of medium sized psittacines that need an extra amount of fat and oil in the diet, usually nutmeats fit into this process rather well.

Almonds, brazil nuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, macadamias and such are all fine foods to expand a picky grey's daily nutritional regime. As most Africans species are not noted for overeating habits (unless they are fully deficient in some nutrients and try very hard on a mono-diet to acquire those things...)one does not usually have to worry about ending up with a fat parrot. Still within reason, try to keep the bird from consuming too much of one item; excess fat can affect liver, heart, kidneys, etc.

Other items we have fed to picky Africans include boiled peanuts, boiled pine nuts, boiled edamame soybeans which are green and often loved by the birds. Germinating mung beans, buckwheat, safflower, and sunflower for 24 to 48 hours makes a great way to reduce the fat content once the seed has "popped," and increase the micro-ingredients not found in the dry seed. Millet sprays may also be germinated and are accepted by some picky eaters.

Getting your grey to eat veggies (fruits, too, though they are less important as nourishment) can be problematic. Start by emphasizing texture. That means crunchy stems only, no wilted leaves, of watercress, carrot tops, beet greens, parsley, and a variety of herbs or flower tops from safe garden plants--just google safe flowers for parrots and you will get a whole list. We also cut green shoots and buds off of our outdoor vegetables and fruit trees for the birds to nibble.

As parrots go through "phases" of eating greenstuffs depending upon season, weather, hormones, and bodily needs, one has to keep up the crunchy green offerings steadily, watching what the pet prefers or will sample.

Large chunks can be easily thrown out onto the floor, keep things smaller at first so it is more work to rid the bowl of the green. Some picky pets are not real fond of items in the cabbage and broccoli and collards families.In many cases we have just grated beetroot or carrot or turnip or sweet potato or greens onto the bird's dish and allowed the released juices to get into the items that the bird is consuming. There are also some wonderful whole food powders such as alfalfa, barley grass, wheatgrass, spirulina and the like which can be sparingly sprinkled on food items and ingested that way. If your parrot will not touch a mineral block or cuttlebone, just scrape the powder onto his food.

One of our favorite ways of getting fresh fare into our hookbill's tummies is to choose fruits with pips. Pomegranate, passionfruit, papaya, guava, fig, even melon, pear, apple, pumpkin, etc. We will scoop out the seeds--sometimes washing them well to get rid of sticky pulp-- and feed them to our flock.

One last point. In the choice of oil seeds, sunflower seeds are much preferable to safflower seeds for an addicted parrot to consume. Also, persons with warm temperatures in the local climate can find palm fruits in red (like a grey's tail!) or orange which many parrots adore...

Good luck, Donna. Don't give up, get imaginative and remember, VARIETY is your friend in psittacine feeding.

Cheers, EB

filed under: Health and Nutrition

My Question:
I would be asking my Avian Vet; however, she died in a tragic car accident last month! I am at a loss of ideas on what to do and who to call.

I have a 3 year old cockatiel and a ~2.5 year old White Bellied Caique. I board them fairly often when I have to go on trips. I was wondering if it would be necessary to worry about vaccination for certain things. The only reason I worry is because the boarding is at a pet store. Its a reputable store and they have a good staff and I've never had any bad experiences from there but they don't require any health certificates before accepting boarders. The boarders are kept in a separate area from their store stock birds for sale. They are kept in a multi-compartment battery of cages in a room in the back. They appear to keep them all clean but they are kept in close proximity to other birds. My birds always come back happy and temporarily make different sounds from the other birds.

Do you think this arrangement would warrant vaccination against some of the more common avian ailments?/ viruses?


Answered by Ellen K. Cook, D.V.M.:

Hi Jelly,

I am sorry to hear of your loss; good avian veterinarians are few and hard to find. You may want to check the AAV website to see if you can locate another veterinarian before you have an issue with one of your birds.

You ask a very good question. Unfortunately, there is not a clear answer. There is definitely a risk of contagious disease with the situation you describe for boarding your birds. Vaccination would not prevent most diseases and is of very limited value. Good hygiene standards and air circulation would be most important in preventing spread of disease.

If I were the store owner, I would require health certificates for my own protection and peace of mind. I suggest expressing your concerns with the store owner or manager. Good luck!

filed under: Health and Nutrition

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