Arthritis causes discomfort in a bird, however, with medication and some changes in its cage set-up, a pet bird can still enjoy quality of life.
Diagnosing an Arthritic Bird:
- Toes may show some sort of disfigurement, may be swollen, may point in unnatural direction (toes that pointed forwards, now point to the back)
- Birds don’t understand pain and when their joints ache, they may angrily snap at them, pretending to bite them … at that stage, owners are likely to be able to observe swollen joints
- May develop pressure sores on the feet
- Bird may not be able to grip the perch as easily
- Birds may have problems moving around the cage
- Birds are not as agile, appear clumsy, easily lose balance
Medications and Treatments
Your vet may recommend any or all of the below; or a different protocol, depending on your bird’s condition and specific needs:
Apple cider vinegar: When the pH balance in the body tissues is too alkaline, crystallization in the joints may form (i.e. arthritis). According to “Arthritis and Folk Medicine,” by D.C. Jarvis, MD), apple cider vinegar helps maintain the optimum pH balance, so minerals do not crystallize.
For human treatment it was recommended to take a glass of warm water, two spoons of Braggs apple cider vinegar, and two spoons raw honey – and to drink this every day. Farmers often fed this to their older cows by mixing it into their winter feed. It’s said to be an excellent treatment for arthritis.
PLEASE NOTE: HEATED vinegar emits toxic fumes similar to carbon dioxide. Bird owners have lost their pets by adding vinegar to their dishwashing cycle, or used it to clean coffee machines.
Aloa Vera: Many HUMAN arthritis sufferers have found that their aches and pains respond well to an oral regimen of 4 tablespoons of Aloe Vera gel daily. Of course, the dosage for pets needs to be readjusted for them. Aloe Vera may be the least expensive and one of the most effective supplement in existence. Massaging painful joints with aloe juice also helps reduce the pain.
- Fresh gel from the leaves are superior to Aloe Vera gel bought commercially. Bird owners report that they cut off small sections of the Aloe Vera leave and feed it to their pet birds. As soon as you cut off a section, the clear gel will come oozing out. The plant is easy to grow in most areas. It needs, however, to be grown organically — without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides.
- *NOTE: Even though Aloe Vera is helpful for many birds, some rare birds may have a reaction to Aloe Vera. Spray one of your fngers and touch your bird’s foot. Leave for 24 hours and see if an reaction occurs
Cinnamon: The following is research pertaining to HUMAN arthritis treatment – however, it may help your pet. DISCUSS WITH YOUR HOLISTIC VET: “Take one part honey to two parts of lukewarm water and add a small teaspoon of cinnamon powder (Ref. Health Benefits of Honey / Home and Healthy Website) make a paste and massage it on the itching part of the body slowly. It is noticed that the pain recedes within a minute or two.
Arthritis patients may take daily, morning and night, one cup of hot water with two spoons of honey and one small teaspoon of cinnamon powder.
If taken regularly even chronic arthritis can be cured. In a recent research conducted at the Copenhagen University, it was found that when the doctors treated their patients with a mixture of one tablespoon Honey and half teaspoon cinnamon powder before breakfast, they found that within a week out of the 200 people so treated practically 73 patients were totally relieved of pain and within a month, mostly all the patients who could not walk or move around because of arthritis started walking without pain.”
Herbal Anti-Inflammatories ... Grape Seeds / Grape Seed Extract … Pumpkin Seeds … Yogurt … Dandelion
Cayenne: An overall digestive aid containing liberal amounts of Vitamins A, C, B-complex, calcium, phosphorous and iron. It is anti-inflammatory and helps arthritic conditions. Parrots love the taste of cayenne and will try new and unfamiliar foods, such as sprouts, when you sprinkle on this healthful herb.
Infected Pressure Sores and Swellings. May require antibiotics and /or anti-inflammatories to bring down the swelling and relieve the arthritis. Dexamethasone is sometimes prescribed, but this medication is not recommended for long-term use as it is a steroid.
Birds on that medication may develop other health problems. Other vets opt for aspirin and owners are reporting that their pets’ mobility improved and that their pets seem more comfortable.
The challenge is administering it. Some people add it to the water, but the problem then is to know how much the bird actually ingested or the taste may actually prevent birds from drinking waterand the intake of fluids is crucial.
Another method would be to add it to apple sauce or some other soft food item that can be fed via feeding syringe. Baby Cereal might work, or actually Kaytee handfeeding formula, with some peanut butter.
Birds usually LOVE peanut butter and it does help underweight birds gain weight. It is important to discuss with the vet the proper dosage.
The dosage is very small. One single aspirin tablet can last a long time. Only your vet will be able to advise you on the correct dosage. Crush the aspirin, mix it in and feed to the bird.
Open Sores: Apply Hibitane cream – an antibacterial and antifungal – to open sores. You can probably get it from any vet, as it is also prescribed for cats and dogs too. Do not use human medicated ointments / lotions as they will be too concentrated for a bird.
Nutrition may not be a cure, but eating right can make a difference, as it may reduce systemic inflammation, obese birds will experience added joint stress and good nutrition may protect against nutritional side effects of medications.
My opinion is that arthritis is a sign of malnutrition – but this has not been scientifically proven. But every vet will recommend good nutrition as part of the treatment regimen.
Also of interest to both human and animal patients: “Professor Caterson explains that the omega 3 and 6 fatty acids in Cod Liver Oil work by switching off the aggrecan- and collagen-degrading enzymes that break down joint cartilage. This, in effect, slows the progress of cartilage destruction that occurs in arthritis, reduces inflammation and thus lessens pain.
He goes on to say, “Two years ago, research teams led by Professor John Harwood and myself at Cardiff University reported findings suggesting that the Omega-3 fatty acids in Cod Liver Oil can reduce cartilage degradation and inflammation in arthritic disease.
Our most recent work shows that by exposing human osteoarthritic cartilage to Cod Liver Oil in the laboratory for just 24 hours we can turn off, or reverse, the action of the degradative enzymes and inflammatory factors affecting the tissue”. (Please discuss applicability to birds with your vet!)
Heat / Warmth: Older / arthritic birds are usually sensitive to the cold. A heat source is recommended. It’s best to have the heat source in one area of the cage. This way, a bird can select the colder or warmer side regulating his own needs at the time.
A heat lamp may be appreciated by the arthritic / older bird;
Heated perches have shown great relief for ailing or older birds as the painful joints are directly eased by the warmth of the perch.
Suggested Modifications to Cage and Surroundings:
- Remove any metal grates from the bottom of the cage. Broken legs in clumsy birds have resulted from these grates.
- Keep your bird’s toenails trimmed. Long nails can get caught causing the bird to fall and potentially injure itself.
- Perches: Provide a variety of perch widths and shapes throughout your bird’s lifetime. This helps to exercise all the muscles in your bird’s feet, encourages good circulation, and may help to prevent arthritis from developing in the first place. Once your bird has been diagnosed with arthritis, it may have difficulty perching and flat perches / surfaces may have to be provided. Placing two perches side-by-side is one option if flat perches can’t be found. Alternatively, a bird ladder can be covered to turn it into a flat surface for the bird to move around on.
- Re-arrange toys and other items in the cage to make the cage more accessible for your bird. Watch your bird carefully as he/she moves around the cage. An arthritic bird usually prefers climbing to flying or hopping. This bird may not be able to squeeze through small areas or climb over things. Observe your pet and rearrange the cage to allow him or her to more easily move around his/her cage. Horizontal cage bars are preferable to vertical ones.
- Make hard walking surfaces softer. Arthritic birds tend to get sores on their legs.
- Old clothing, such as jeans, work well. Thick material should be chosen that provides sufficient cushioning. Old carpeting is another option; a thin foam sheet or fleece sheet cut to the size of the cage floor. Cover with newspaper to keep clean. The area around the cage should also be covered to allow for cushioned falls. Pads are available at the drug store that are specifically made for people suffering from calluses and bunions. These pads work great for parrots / birds as well. They come in sheets that are about 2 mm thick. One side has adhesive, and the other side is soft and fuzzy. Make sure that your parrot doesn’t chew on it; if he or she does, you need to remove it and choose something else. Other than padding the cage floor, you can also cover all surfaces your parrot usually stands on, including perches. Since arthritic birds tend to be clumsy, you may want to cover any sharp or hard surfaces.
Differences between Visceral Gout and Articular Gout in Birds
Visceral gout (Visceral urate deposition)
Soft tissues around the joints may or may not be involved. Surfaces of muscles, synovial sheaths of tendons and joints are involved in severe cases.
2. Nephrotoxicity: calcium, mycotoxins, (ochratoxins, oosporein, aflatoxins, etc.), certain antibiotics, heavy metals (lead), ethylene glycol, ethoxyquin etc.
3. Infectious agents: nephrotropic IBV and avian nephritis virus (chickens), polyomavirus, PMV-1 (pigeons), Salmonella sp., Yersinia sp., Chlamydia psittaci, Eimeria truncata, microsporidia, cryptosporidia, Aspergillus sp., etc.
4. Vitamin A deficiency (please refer to the below)
6. Neoplasia (lymphoma, primary renal tumors)
7. Immune mediated glomerulonephritis
Soft tissues around the joints are always involved, especially feet. Other joints of the legs, wing, spine, and bottom beak (mandible) are also commonly involved.
b. High protein in the diet.
Ref: Shivaprasad, H. L. An overview of anatomy, physiology and pathology of urinary system in birds, AAV Proceedings, pp. 201-205, 199
Other Relevant Web Resources
- Index of Bird Diseases
- Symptoms and Potential Causes
- Bird Health Care
- Glossary of Avian Medical Terms
- Medications Used in Avian and Exotic Medicine and Pharmaceutical Terms
- How to administer oral medications to a bird
Vitamin A Deficiencies:
Vitamin A promotes appetite, digestion, and also increases resistance to infection and to some parasites. Please refer to “Bird Nutrition” for food items rich in Vitamin A.
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Information contained on this website is provided as general reference only. For application to specific circumstances, professional advice should be sought.