Zoo Med 2008: Psittacine Medicine (2008)

Gretchen E Kaufman, DVM with double yellow head Amazon on arm
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OCW Zoological Medicine 2008
Psittacine Medicine (2008)
G. Kaufman, DVM
Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University

1. Learning Objectives and Review

This section pulls together the main diseases and health issues of psittacines, representing the major group of birds seen in pet bird veterinary practice. Color coded topics indicate learning objectives that the student should become familiar with. Cases will be presented in class to illustrate these topics.

Please review the parrot conservation section from the Introduction to Zoological Medicine course to better understand the context for these wild birds.

2. Introduction

2.1. Psittacine Taxonomy

Most pet birds fall into the Psittaciforme group general known as parrots and including: amazon parrots, macaws, conures, cockatoos, cockatiels, budgerigars, love birds, etc. A great review of psittacine taxonomy previously published by Dr. Brian Speer can be found in the Appendix.

The Parrot Lexicon is also a great reference with pictures as is the University of Michigan site.

See additional images in Psittacine Folder

Don’t forget to test yourself with the Pet Bird Species Identification

2.2. Anatomic Features

Psittacines are highly adapted to survival their wild environment. Specific characteristics include

  • Hooked beak for manipulating food

  • Hard/strong keratinized beak for cracking open food objects: nuts and seeds

  • Amazing feet!

  • Crop

  • Most are sexually monomorphic

    • Parakeets have different colors oft eh cere (males have blue, females have a brown cere)



3. Husbandry

Please review the materials presented in Clinical Skills regarding husbandry, restraint and general care of pet birds. There are many pitfalls in husbandry that result in clinical disease, including:

  • Poor caging materials – metal cages utilizing galvanized wire or soldered joints containing zinc may produce life threatening zinc toxicosis

  • Sand paper covered perches – originally designed to keep nails short, end up producing abrasions on feet and can result in pododermititis

  • Free-flighted birds accessing :

    • lead paint (lead toxicosis)

    • poisonous household plants (rare)

    • smashing into windows etc. causing trauma

    • flying into boiling water on a stove

Thermal burns after flying into a pot of boiling water

Thermal burns after flying into a pot of boiling water

4. Nutrition and Nutritional Disorders

4.1. Review of Basic Pet Bird Nutrition

Also review the Exotic and Wild Animal Nutrition notes presented in the 1st Year Feeds and Feeding course for basic information on avian nutrition.

4.1.1. Seed based diets vs. pelleted diets

  • Seed diets are deficient in: calcium, vitamin A, iodine, and some essential amino acids

  • Feeding a pelleted diet is the surest method of delivering an adequate diet to a pet bird, but palatability and boredom may be problematic

  • The optimal diet should include a combination of all: seeds, pellets, and fresh foods.

  • For a good illustrated discussion about seeds in the diet please take a look at the Zupreem client education handout on nutrition. (Note: The Exotic service does not specially recommend Zupreem pellets over other pellets)

  • Supplementary foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables are healthy and well accepted by many birds. Supplemental calcium sources are highly recommended (cuttlebone, oyster shell, etc.)

  • Foods to avoid are: chocolate, alcohol, high fat foods, avocado, and girt or gravel supplements. ANY PROCESSED HUMAN FOOD!!

  • A good basic nutritional plan is to have the bird on pellets to 80% and other fresh veggies or fruits to 20%

4.2. Important Nutritional Diseases of Psittacines

4.2.1. Vitamin A deficiency

Hypovitaminosis A is undoubtedly the most common nutritional deficiency seen in pet birds. It is usually the result of an all or mostly seed diet without fresh fruits and vegetables. As stated previously, seeds are nearly devoid of Vitamin A.

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