Holy Liver Values, Batman! How We Lowered Our Eclectus’ Cholesterol Through Diet

Last year in July, I took my flock to the vet; she noticed the big ones’ nails and beaks were a touch overgrown, but this was especially true for Louie the eclectus. The vet recommended we get our parrots’ bloodwork done, because contrary to my earlier/misinformed belief, any bird who has a concrete perch in his cage (concrete, not sandpaper) shouldn’t have a problem keeping his beak in trim shape. You’ll need to clip their wings and MAYBE their nails, but if their beaks are growing long, there’s often a liver issue.

Those blood tests revealed that Louie had crazy-high liver values and high cholesterol. Vi’s was on the low side of high, but still generally okay (Amazons are tougher than Ekkies when it comes to diet), but also needed to be reduced.

How that was possible, I had no idea – seeds were given only for treats (though, admittedly, he did get a few every day), we cooked for him weekly and gave him a variety of fruit/vegetables in mashes served every day to ensure he ate as much healthy stuff as possible, and the pellets we used as his base diet were TOPS organic pelletsIMG_8593

With how careful we were with his diet, how was this even a thing?

Our vet wasn’t sure if the high cholesterol and liver values in eclectus parrots is just how their species is or not; the avian science surrounding Eclectus parrots is so new, and she’s seen so many ekkies with values similar to Louie’s from other responsible bird owners that she speculated it could just be the species’ normal.

Still, better safe than sorry. Eclectus’ lifespans are currently unknown in captivity (though current speculation runs anywhere from 30 years to 75 years old from my quick Google search). I once read somewhere that people used to believe these birds’ lifespans were 8-10 years (until vets started really studying the effect diet can have on these special little birds). With Louie hovering around the 9 year age mark, I didn’t want to take any chances.

The vet recommended we look at the nutrition content on the back of the TOPS pellets; whatever percentage of crude fat was in his TOPS pellets (the bag we bought had its percentage at 6% crude oils and fats) , we needed to find another pellet with the lowest possible crude fat number. Sure, it was a low number, but she was convinced that lower was out there. Seed had to be completely removed from his diet; as much as he loved sunflower seeds, we’d need to find some alternative.

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Nutriberries are a parrot’s best friend.

So, off to the pet store we went; we examined several different options and the lowest fat percentage we could find was in ZuPreem natural pellets (NEVER feed an eclectus the colored pellets – the coloring they use is super bad for them) – the crude fat percentage was 4% instead of 6%. I’d also been doing some reading on Lafeber’s Nutriberries; their claim is that it’s all the health of a pellet, but with a few seeds thrown in. I looked at the back of one of their containers – 6% fat. As treats, nutriberries beat the hell out of feeding almonds and sunflower seeds (considering their fat content), and Louie LOVES nutriberries.

Could I replace the small daily snacks of seeds with one or two nutriberries instead and keep my little buddy happy?

We hesitantly and slowly switched Louie from TOPS to ZuPreem (mixing them together until we were sure he was eating both of them, then removing the TOPS a little bit at a time). My main hesitation with feeding ZuPreem was that it contains corn; Louie is allergic to it (it makes him toe-tap), so we carefully looked for any signs of his uncomfortable syndrome returning. It, thankfully, did not!

Now, the question: Could only a 2% difference in the fat in pellets and replacing seed with a couple of nutriberries really make such a big difference?

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Brat broke out of his cage; this is where we always find him when that happens.

We waited a little less than a year to give it time to work. The only “seed” Louie was allowed was an almond in its shell (so he had to work for it and usually didn’t) once or twice. Otherwise, we bribed him with nutriberries, which he really enjoys.

And then, eight months after the wonky bloodwork, we got our answer.

Yes, yes, that 2% decrease in fat + nutriberries instead of seeds could make a HUGE difference.

I got the call this morning: “Hi, this is Dr. B, I wanted to let you know that everybody’s bloodwork looks REALLY GOOD this time! Vi’s looks the best, her liver value is now normal… and, Louie’s liver value is almost normal. It’s definitely significantly decreased and his cholesterol is normal. Continue with the diet for both of them; we’ll do repeat bloodwork in a year!”


 

Louie’s current diet looks like this:

-Free-fed ZuPreem Pellets

Fruit OR Vegetable Mashes Served Every Day (like 3/4ths of a cup, always more than he can eat), alternating between veggies or fruit every other day (take whatever bird-friendly fruit or vegetables you have lying around, add some greens like romaine lettuce, throw them in the food processor or blender, then pour over/mix in a grain base – most of these mixes have corn in them, so we just pick it out because that still makes Louie toe-tap, even if his pellet doesn’t.)

1-3 Nutriberries a day (sometimes more if he’s been awesome and deserves it) and the occasional dried fruit as treats.

-RARELY (less than once a week) he gets bites of human food, such as toast, a tiny bit of pizza crust, egg whites (never the yolk because again, fat and cholesterol content) – Louie likes carbs, lol.

NONE: Seed, french fries, fried-anything.

Could we do better? Possibly; there’s always a “perfect” to strive for. However, we’re clearly doing something right, and as two people with full-time careers, I’m pretty darn happy with his progress.

Eat like a bird!

…Birds eat a ton, actually; the old idea that people who “eat like a bird” eat next to nothing is odd. And they fling it everywhere, but I will be omitting that portion.

Today, I resolve to eat more like my birds–when I give them healthy snacks (carrots, raspberries, strawberries), I need to eat some, too. Seriously… time to start making healthy snacks for BOTH fids and myself, rather than just my flock.

Project “Take Care of Myself” is a-go!

An open letter to my new parrot.

Dear New Parrot,

Wow, this must be a scary transition, huh? Everything you have ever known has totally shifted; baby or adult, this is a new chapter in your life, so I suspect you must be feeling really uneasy. You probably miss your person, no matter how poorly that person treated you–you probably don’t know if we’ll provide for your needs, if you’ll ever taste your favorite foods again, or if we’re even nice. 

So here are a few promises to you:

  1. I solemnly swear to respect your body language so that you’ll trust me when it’s really important; if you back away, I’ll let you leave. If you tell me to back off with that big beak, I will. I want to earn your trust so you don’t feel the need to bite to communicate.
  2. You will have tasty, fresh food every day. Fruits, veggies, noodles and beans–whatever is bird friendly is yours. Food is one of my favorite parts of life; where is the fun in eating nothing but dried pellets every day? If I’m eating something that you can taste, I promise to offer you some, too.
  3. I won’t show my anger when you destroy some part of my furniture. I know you don’t mean to–it’s my responsibility to make sure you have plenty of interesting things to chew on so that you have a better outlet. I’m prepared–I know there will be some splinters. It’s okay. You’re worth it.
  4. I will not mind the mess you make; my husband puts up with me (and I’m messier than you, dear parrot!), so I’ll bite the bullet and clean up after you, too, as long as you keep me company while I do so. =)
  5. I will not react (and I will forgive you) when that inevitable bite happens. I’ll try my hardest not to provoke it, but I know that it’s coming–it’ll be okay. No one ever died from a bird bite, although there is apparently now a medical code for someone who has been bitten by a macaw parrot–not an amazon, but a macaw. Go figure.

These are just a few preliminary promises; here is to many happy years together!