Springfield Veterinary Clinic

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Liver Disorders in Birds

The liver is an important organ that is involved with digesting food, storing and filtering blood, and many other metabolic functions. Because it has so many functions, a healthy liver is critically important for the health of all avian species. Liver disease can occur in any avian species but is most common in cockatiels, budgies, Amazon parrots, lories, and mynah birds.

What causes liver disorders in birds?

Liver disorders can be caused by bacterial, fungal, viral, protozoan, and parasitic infections. Other causes of liver disease include tumors, metabolic disorders, circulatory disturbances, nutritional deficiencies or excesses, and a variety of toxicities such as heavy metal toxicity, mycotoxins (toxins from mold), plant toxins, and toxic chemicals.

"Diets that are composed of mainly seeds and peanuts are commonly associated with fatty liver disease in pet birds."

Diets that are composed of mainly seeds and peanuts are commonly associated with fatty liver disease in pet birds. This can lead to cirrhosis (scarring) or fibrosis (excessive tissue buildup) of the liver.

What are the clinical signs of liver disorders in birds?

If your bird is suffering from a liver disorder, you may see vague signs such as fluffed feathers, listlessness, depression, and/or anorexia (decrease in food consumption). Birds with advanced liver disease often exhibit wet droppings, yellow or green stained urates (they are white when normal), increased thirst, regurgitation, difficulty breathing, and/or a swollen, puffy abdomen.

Because the typical clinical signs are non-specific and descriptive of many different diseases, diagnostic tests are highly recommended. In any case, if your bird shows a sign of illness, seek veterinary care as soon as possible, as many signs do not appear until a problem has become advanced.

"...if your bird shows a sign of illness, seek veterinary care as soon as possible, as many signs do not appear until a problem has become advanced."

How are liver disorders in birds diagnosed?

A veterinarian familiar with birds will start with a complete history, obtain current body weight, and perform a thorough physical examination. Several tests can help your veterinarian determine the nature of your bird's condition.

  • A complete blood count (CBC) may reveal infection, dehydration, anemia, and the presence of toxins.
  • A blood chemistry test may be used to measure your bird’s liver enzymes to determine if liver disease is present.
  • Bile acid levels may be checked to assess how the liver is functioning.
  • Serology and specific DNA tests may be used to identify specific infectious diseases.
  • Radiographs (X-rays) may be used to assess the size, density, and position of the liver.
  • Although ultrasonography is limited in birds, it can be used to assess some abdominal organs including the liver but it also depends on the size of the patient.
  • With laparoscopy (use of a camera inside the body), the liver may be observed directly.
  • Liver biopsies assessed by a pathologist may be required to determine the condition of the liver at the cellular level to diagnose the state of the kidney and possibly the cause of the disease.

Unfortunately, some diseases in birds are not recognized by the owner in time and become fatal. In this instance, a diagnosis is made by performing a necropsy (a veterinary autopsy).

How are liver disorders in birds treated?

The range of treatments varies depending on the specific problem and may include modifying the diet, nutritional supplementation, increased exercise, and possibly hospitalization with supportive therapy (fluids and vitamins) plus antibiotic, antiviral, or antiparasitic medications as needed. Sometimes, the condition cannot be cured, only managed to improve the bird’s quality of life. The use of homeopathic or natural products may be beneficial to support an ailing liver but should only be used under the guidance of an avian veterinarian.

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