Metabolic Bone Disease or Rickets in Birds

April 19, 2012

Metabolic bone disease in birds results in painful degenerative changes in the bones that result from nutritional imbalance and deficiencies. Imbalance of calcium, phosphorus, and Vitamin D3 can lead to soft or brittle beaks, claws and keel, bone fractures and enlarged parathyroid glands. These body changes lead to weakness, abnormal postures including torticollis, appetite loss, lethargy, pain, and if untreated, death. This metabolic bone disturbance is termed rickets in young birds, and metabolic bone disease (Synonym: nutritional hyperparathyroidism/osteoporosis) in older ones.

Lovebirds, it should be noted, are prone to complications from low calcium that relate to the reproductive system. Egg binding (internal retention), and oviduct prolapse (external extrusion of the reproductive tract) are a few of the possible signs of this problem. Unpaired finches and lovebirds, and sometimes, solo cockatiels are prone to excessive egg laying. This results in a chronic drain on system calcium stores. Egg binding can usually be diagnosed by palpation of the abdomen of the bird by your veterinarian, though sometimes if they are bound high in the abdomen, a radiograph (X-ray) may be required to confirm this problem. If an egg is bound internally, many signs can occur. This can be a critical situation for the bird if left untreated.

The usual diet offered to birds includes seeds, balanced formulated pellets, dried and fresh fruit, and fresh water. It should be noted that seed should be a treat, not the main staple because seeds are deficient in calcium, high in fat and phosphorus, and low in Vitamin D3. They have their role in the diet, but the birds need much more. Many owners and breeders provide a balanced nutritional supplement with key amino acids (such as lysine and methionine), vitamins, and sometimes probiotics are included in formulations to help keep the gut balance optimal.

Note that there can be a big difference between what you feed, and what the bird consumes. Some birds will favour certain seeds over other dietary components and this result in problems if foodstuffs are placed in the cage free choice. For this reason, especially in overweight birds, limited dawn and dusk feedings are recommended so that the consumption can be more closely monitored.

The natural supplements suggested below are in addition to other dietary components such as seeds, pellets, and perhaps a nutritional supplement:

Good natural sources of Vitamin A:

  • Dandelion leaves
  • Yams
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Carrots
  • Broccoli

Good natural sources of Vitamin D:

  • Cod liver oil (only very tiny amounts needed)

Good natural sources of Calcium:

  • Cheese (cultured*)
  • Yogurt (cultured*)

(*Non-cultured dairy products should be avoided due to lactose intolerance in birds)

  • Cuttlebone
  • Oyster shells
  • Bone meal
  • Spinach
  • Broccoli