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.

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?

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.

Allergies Don’t Disappear: Mild Toe-Tapping

Oh, the holidays–friendship, cheer, the season of giving…

What more could a bird want than a bit of pizza crust?

Unfortunately, Louie acquired a mild case of toe-tapping to go with it. 😦

I gave Louie a tiny bit of pizza crust (standard practice when we feel like spoiling our birds.)

This particular pizza crust came from Old Chicagos, where they apparently add cornmeal to their tasty, tasty dough. And any type of corn product will set him off tapping.

This time, at least, I got a video. Ekkie toe-tapping:

Louie’s feet started that dreaded spasm approximately fifteen minutes after receiving a tiny piece of crust (no bigger than the size of a dime.) It only lasted maybe half an hour,

Louie has finished dancing! Toe-Tapping Part 2.

Take a bow, Louie! Your dancing (i.e. terrible toe-tapping) is done.


By the time we took Louie to the vet, he had stopped tap-dancing. In twenty-four hours, he went from almost violent, uncontrolled spasms to… nothing.



He was a lovely little patient at the vet; his coloring is growing in vibrantly in shades of glowing emerald, so much so that another woman asked if we wanted to breed him. Nope, no thanks; he likes feet, not other birds anyway. Dr. LB was impressed with his weight, how healthy he is, how he recovered from his bacterial infection a few months ago, how happy he is. No sign of toe-tapping.

His verdict? Food allergies. Dr. LB claimed that this is a “syndrome”, otherwise known as “Well, we have no clue what causes this, but it’s apparently a thing.”

According to the best avian vet in Denver, the toe-tapping is usually caused by one of the following:

  1. Spirulina – Ekkies do really, really poorly on this nutrient compared to other parrots.

  2. Wheat – Often in pellets.

  3. Corn – AKA a semi-weekly part of Louie’s diet. We solved this by switching to TOPS organic pellets, which are green and corn-free (though not wheat-free.)

We removed the corn (and all corn products) entirely from his diet: boom. Fixed.

Twenty-four hours later, the toe-tapping eliminated. He tapped yesterday morning a bit and the morning before, but there was nothing today.

Moral of the story:

Some parrots (ekkies especially) toe-tap behaviorally, some do so because they’ve lost feeling in their feet (really important to look into it), and some just have allergies, like Louie.

Vet check-ups are essential to know the difference.

Luigi is tap-dancing, and it is horrible. Toe-Tapping Part 1.

The internet is full–FULL–of misinformation. And frustration.

Last night, out of the blue, quite suddenly and violently, my baby boy eclectus started toe-tapping.

Dreaded, dreaded toe-tapping: the allergen of the ekkie world. The curse we all hope never to see, that we dread, that we read tales of ekkies chewing their toes off to stop.

Now, I’m a member of many a bird forum. I volunteer at a local bird shop. I’m a crazy internet-researcher-English-teacher and know to take everything I read with a grain of salt, but I know my ekkies; but the more I research, the more I talk to my vet, and the more I talk to general bird people of the world, the more I realize that very, very few people actually know what in God’s name they’re talking about.

With absolutely no warning, my baby boy started clutching one foot convulsively. His entire foot would seize up, curl up–I always thought that toe-tapping would start slowly and grow progressively worse, but nope. It came on suddenly. Violently.

Louie was toe-tapping.

And still, happy-go-lucky Louie energetically tried to woo our feet (let’s just say he has a foot fetish…) perhaps with more vigor than ever before. Go figure. He encounters the scourge of the ekkie world, and there’s our boy trying his hardest to romance our various appendages.

Hubby and I worried awake all night: “Click-click-click-click…”

Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” has nothing on Louie’s toe-tap.

The internet was full of (what I hope is) hyperbolic paranoia. Or at least, that’s what I’m telling myself, because sick birds terrify me.

The internet’s theories:

Was it the fact that he’d gorged on ekkie-designed pellets yesterday? (His veggie lunch apparently disappointed him.) Some ekkies do horribly imbibing on any sort of pellet–has he succumbed?!

Is he low on calcium?

Perhaps it’s the weather change! It is now officially autumn, after all!

Is it hormonal? Is he getting enough vitamin D? What about vitamin A?

Too much protein! That must be it! Cut out all forms!

…Etc. Hyperbole? God, I hope so.

This morning, it was better. Not great, but better. Whereas last night he was practically convulsing, this morning he was merely tapping. When he’d walk on the floor, he’d lose his balance; this morning, he clicked across the floor, happy as could be. No spasm.

So we called the vet to figure out what to do; naturally, they never call me back until I have to teach for five classes in a row, but their voice message left me even more confused.

“His toe-tapping could be behavioral, or it could be him attempting to regain feeling in his foot.”

Oh good. It could be nothing–or, it could be something severe enough to cut off circulation in his bloody foot?!

#ReasonsYouShouldCallYourVet #TheInternetIsNotAnAvianVet

Hubby called. We have an appointment tomorrow at four fifteen with the vet; our avian vet is known as the absolute best in the area. He’s also one of two, but at the same time, all the bird people I know praise Dr. LB like he’s their own personal Jesus. Tomorrow, we will find out what was wrong with Louie. Tomorrow, we will run panels. Tomorrow, we will pray for answers.

Tomorrow is another day. Part two will follow, complete with ekkie videos.