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.

My Littlest Budgie has a Liver Infection

Beau today: beat-up, a little worse for the wear, but alive. He’s a fighter!

A little more than two weeks ago, little Beau lost 2 grams of weight; he’s really tiny (originally weighing in at 28 grams) to begin with, so any drop was concerning. It didn’t come back over the next two or three days.

On day three, he seemed a touch unsteady, was rather sleepy, and lost interest in his toys.

We weren’t sure what was going on, but ultimately decided not to take a chance and brought him into the vet.

He’s been fighting for his life ever since.

Little Beau has a liver infection combined with an avian yeast infestation—that’s likely why he was so tiny to begin with. Our English budgie (Winston) loves tiny little blue budgies, so we picked the tiniest one of all; he was full of energy, had a bright yellow beak, and seemed healthy as can be.

Turns out that bright yellow beak was a sign of jaundice. He’s had this liver infection for awhile, probably as long as we’ve had him. The vet says that the avian yeast is present in many nests, and that normally it just results in some skinnier budgies. It’s only when other infections weaken their immune systems that it can spread and lead to massive malnourishment, which is our current concern.

Jaundice Budgie Beak
Beau and Winston in November.

Every day since, we’ve pumped him full of three different medicines (baytril for the liver infection, nystatin for the yeast, milk thistle to help his liver heal) twice a day and prayed he’d survive the night.

He’s not out of the woods yet, but we think his liver infection is clearing and he’s on new, stronger meds for his yeast (and so is his girlfriend, since it’s contagious).

Moral of the story? Weigh your bird daily—if he suddenly stops maintaining his weight, take him into the vet. It may save his life.

Beau is still fighting and is far from healthy. We’re going to give him the best shot we can at life; though he is little, he is so loved by us and his lady-friend.

He originally cost $15 to bring home from a local bird shop; his current vet bill is hovering around $600 with his numerous meds, the frequent checkups, the myriad tests. Though he is little, he is worth it. 

Budiges at Hospital
Praying he pulls through; the vet says he’s stronger today, his droppings look more normal (no more green color that indicates his liver isn’t working right), and he’s able to perch more steadily.

Update: Beau held on as long as he could and seemed to be getting better, but he succumbed to his illness two months after being diagnosed. :/ Still, he had a wonderful life and his girlfriend loved him dearly.

Broken Blood Feathers: What To Do

If your parrot is bleeding, that’s a bit of an emergency.

Yes, even if it’s just from a tiny little feather.

Think about how tiny a parakeet is; now think about how much blood a single droplet is in relation to how big that bird is, and how much that would equal if it were the same size as you.

Yeah, that’s a lot of blood.

macawBirds are not super good coagulators; what this means is that, once they start bleeding, it takes a very long time for them to stop. Especially in our littlest friends like parakeets and cockatiels, it’s really important to stop that bleeding before they lose too much.

Tools Needed:

Tweezers (in some cases), gauze pad, styptic powder (if you don’t have this on hand and your bird is bleeding right now, corn starch will work in a pinch), and courage (sold separately).

Step One:

Before handling your little bird, it’s super important to wash your hands. 

Step Two:

Take a minute to meditate and think of the giant glass of wine you owe yourself after this. This will not be fun.

Step Three:

Figure out where the bleeding is coming from. Blood feathers on the wings should be treated differently than ones on the tail or body.

If the broken blood feather is on the tail or body…

A. Snag a towel and gently wrap your feathered friend up in it.

B. Note which direction the feather is facing–using tweezers, firmly and quickly pull the feather. Do this as straight as possible, the direction the feather grows,

C. If bleeding continues from where the feather was pulled, use the gauze to press firmly but gently on the wound. This is sometimes enough to stop the bleeding. If not, pack the follicle with Styptic powder, and continue pressure until the bleeding stops.

If the broken blood feather is on the wing…

Wing feathers are tricky. Pulling them is a risk and can sometimes do more harm than good.

A. Identify which feather is bleeding.

If it’s the first wing feather at the tip of their wing, just use pressure to stop the bleeding. Do not use styptic powder/corn starch and under no circumstances should you pull that feather.

The first feather of a bird’s wings are connected directly to a bone in their wings. Using styptic powder can stunt future growth of that feather, and pulling it can cause serious damage to your birdy friend. 

If it’s any other feather, use styptic powder to pack the wound, apply pressure with gauze for at least a minute or until the bleeding stops.

If you decide you need to pull the broken wing feather…

A. Make sure it’s not the first wing feather. Again, do NOT pull the first feather on a bird’s wing under any circumstances.

B. Get a partner to gently wrap the bird in a towel and hold him or her still for you.

C. Use one hand to extend the wing, and use the tweezers to get a solid grip on the feather. You only want to have to tug on this once, and it’s going to be the worst sound you’ve ever heard your bird make.

D. Tug, fast and firmly, in the direction the feather grows.

E. Immediately use your gauze to apply pressure to the feather follicle. Hold for at least a minute.

F. If bleeding doesn’t stop after a minute, use Styptic powder.

If a blood feather continues bleeding for more than fifteen minutes, bring your bird to an avian vet ASAP. That’s an emergency.

Source: Emergency First Aid Guide for Birds Quick Reference by Jennifer L. Warshaw