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January 4, 2015 – Owning a companion bird is no small task. One of the many pets that “owned” me was an adorable cockatiel named Frosty. She was 3 years old when I adopted her. Unfortunately, inbreeding for her unusual white and black coloring contributed to her many health problems. When I met her, she was housed in a cage designed for a much smaller bird, leaving her inadequate room to move around. She was obese, could not fly and could barely walk. 

Each year thousands of birds are sold as pets to first-time bird owners who are unaware of the commitment and special care needed to keep these animals happy and healthy. Like the previous owners of my cockatiel, these owners can become overwhelmed by the effort and expense needed to care for these often long-lived exotic pets. Cockatiels can live between 15 and 20 years, with larger parrots living decades longer.

The Foundation has been helping bird owners and veterinarians take care of these unique pets since 1990. Over the past 25 years, we’ve funded nearly $2 million in avian health studies around the world. These studies have improved the health and welfare of our avian companions and birds in the wild.

Not too long ago, knowledge about the special care needs of these exotic pets was limited. Today, thanks in part to Morris Animal Foundation studies, avian scientists and veterinarians know that nutritional deficiencies are among the most common health problems seen in companion birds. 

Early Foundation-funded studies focused on topics such as diet and kidney function in cockatiels. Recent studies analyzed the different diets of wild birds, and the findings are now being used to better meet the dietary needs of companion birds, especially large parrots. 

Birds don’t display the same outward signs of distress that many domesticated companion animals do. Pet birds will often mask signs of illness until they are extremely sick and can’t fake wellness any longer.

I nearly lost my cockatiel twice because of this stoicism, but prompt emergency care by a trained avian veterinarian (always on a Sunday) saved her both times.  

Common signs that a bird is sick include: 

  • Change in appetite, especially loss of appetite (Birds have high metabolic rates, so they can get in trouble quickly if they miss even one meal.)
  • Sitting at the bottom of the cage
  • Difficulty balancing
  • Change in color and consistency of droppings
  • Ruffled or fluffy feathers

Morris Animal Foundation will continue to help our feathered friends enjoy long, healthy lives. Current Foundation-funded avian health studies include examining optimal ways for diagnosing proventricular dilatation disease, a fatal gastrointestinal disease in parrots, and improving treatments for aspergillosis, a common infectious disease in birds undergoing rehabilitation.

Join us in improving the health and welfare of birds. Make a donation today to support avian health research. 

By: Jean Vore