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Common Illnesses In African Grey Parrots

Most parrots are susceptible to certain illnesses and behavioural problems and African Greys are on the list.  Some of the behavioural problems that can affect these intelligent birds can have physical side effects and vice versa.  Therefore, it is always important to keep an eye on your bird for any signs of physical or behavioural changes that may be masking something more serious.

Hypocalcaemia & Vitamin D deficiency

One condition common to African Greys is hypocalcaemia, a syndrome associated with low calcium levels.  It is the commonest cause of seizures and central nervous disease in the breed so it is important to be aware of it.  Symptoms include a lack of coordination and imbalances such as falling off perches, hypersensitivity to noises or movement and convulsions and seizures.

The best way to deal with the condition is to seek a vet immediately where calcium supplements will be given and often have a near instant affect.  But prevention is always better than cure so experts recommend supplementing the bird’s diet with calcium and vitamin D to help stop the illnesses occurring. 

Access to natural sunlight is also important because glass windows are designed t filter out UVA and UVB rays but these are nature’s way of providing vitamin D.  The birds take in this vitamin by preening their feathers in the sunlight.  Symptoms of a vitamin D deficiency include a weakened immune system, soft bones, splayed legs, abnormal beak development as well as problems such as becoming egg bound, laying soft shelled eggs and dying chicks in female birds.

These deficiencies can also be a side effect a malfunctioning gland that produces Vitamin D3 in an oil that spread across the feathers and is made into active D3 when hit with UV light.

Feather problems

There are a variety of feather related problems that can affect African Greys.  One of them is if the bird doesn’t have any red feathers across its body apart from the normal tail feathers but begins to grow red feathers.  This can be a sign of damaged feather follicles, often as a result of feather plucking or can be due to medication that the bird is already taking.  It can even be a symptom of malnutrition, liver problems or kidney issues.  On the good side, however, it can be a naturally occurring genetic mutation in a young bird, especially if the red feathers develop slowly.

Feather plucking in itself can either be a symptom of a problem or the problem itself.  If it is connected with a behavioural problem, it can a sign of boredom, stress, loneliness or even the location of the cage.  Food sensitivities and allergies can also cause a bird to pluck its feathers and deficiencies such as calcium, manganese and zinc can also lead to loss of feathers as well as itchy skin and brittle feathers.

Feather plucking can also be a sign of an illness.  For example, if a bird is in pain, it may bite at the area causing it or pull the feathers, say around a joint if suffering from arthritis.  It can also be a sign of illnesses such as psittacosis, aspergillosis or even heavy metal poisoning.  The latter is where the bars of the cage or something else that the bird chews is allowing heavy metals into their system and this can be very poisonous. 

Another illness related to feathers is Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD) that is a circovirus infecting and killing the cells of the feathers and beak.  It also impairs the immune system and can be fatal.  It originally started infection cockatoos but is now found among many parrot species including the African Grey and affects the immune system in such a way that it is often secondary infections that are the cause of death.  However many birds that contract PBFD will fight it off with their own immune system though seeking a vet is always best.


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Weight loss

Weight loss again is a symptom usually of an underlying problem that may be something as simple as a dietary imbalance or allergy to something much more series such as PDD.

Proventricular Dilatation Disease (PDD) is a inflammatory wasting disease, also known as Macaw Wasting Disease that can actually affect any of the parrot family.  It was formerly a fatal disease but new developments have meant that treatments have been found that can have a big impact if the illness is caught early enough.  It is a disease that can be carried by many birds without suffering from it and there are not many actual symptoms.  However, things such as weight loss can be a sign.

Liver disease

Liver disease in birds is a process where the liver tissue is replaced with fat and as it progresses can cause physical symptoms.  Female birds are more often affected than males, believed to be due to the hormonal activities connected with reproduction and juvenile birds may also have the condition when they have been hand-fed.

Symptoms that may indicate the illness include difficulty in breathing as the liver takes up more space inside the body than it should, the abdomen becomes distended and the droppings change colour or consistency.  Feather changes have also been noted, such as the growth of red feathers in African Greys and dry, itchy skin patches can develop.  The end stage of the disease if untreated can lead to seizures or problems with blood clotting when, for instance, a feather pulls out.

Conclusion

As with any pet, noticing early signs of a potential illness is the best way to get your African Grey the help he or she needs and getting them through the illness.  And while these may sound terrible illnesses, many can be recovered from if treated properly while many birds will go through their life encountering nothing worse than a bad moult once in a while or a bit of an upset stomach, just like we humans do.  Vigilance is key and hopefully if something bad does strike them, the right help will solve the problem.


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