Pet birds are susceptible to hypocalcemia, or low calcium levels.
Pet birds live very different lives from their wild cousins. Pet birds often live indoors and eat food not available in the wild. Without proper care, pet birds can develop serious vitamin and nutritional deficiencies. One such deficiency, hypocalcemia, occurs when pet birds have insufficient calcium in their blood.
Hypocalcemia in birds occurs for a number of reasons, according to Pet MD. Pet birds need natural sunlight to absorb vitamin D, which the bird converts into calcium, but many pet birds spend their lives completely indoors. Glandular problems can also cause hypocalcemia. Female birds who are chronic egg layers have a high risk of hypocalcemia, according to the Parrot and Conure World website, as creating an egg depletes calcium reserves.
Symptoms of hypocalcemia in birds include physical weakness, tremor or shivering, and seizures. On the Birds ‘n’ Ways website, Dr. Linda Pesek, DVM, reports that during a seizure a bird may fall off its perch, flap uncontrollably, and stiffen its body. The bird may call out, and may lose consciousness. Dr. Pesek also notes that multiple health conditions cause seizures in pet birds, not just a lack of calcium. Seek help from an avian veterinarian for any pet bird suffering from seizures.
Hypocalcemia in birds results in brittle bones, according to Parrot and Conure World. Hypocalcemia increases the risk of bone fractures in pet birds. A lack of calcium also interferes with muscle contractions. Female birds producing eggs can become egg-bound, which occurs if the uterine muscles cannot contract strongly enough to lay the egg. Egg binding is a veterinary emergency. The condition can be fatal, especially if the egg breaks within the bird.
Pet MD reports two treatment options for birds with hypocalcemia. Calcium supplements help restore depleted calcium reserves. Exposure to natural sunlight is also important; a few hours of sunlight daily provides birds with much needed vitamin D. Sunlight filtered through windows is not enough. Full spectrum light bulbs provide an alternative to sunlight in locations where safety or weather makes it impossible to take pet birds outside. Chronic egg layers should receive a balanced diet to help prevent hypocalcemia.
Preventing hypocalcemia, for the most part, resembles treatment for low calcium levels. A balanced diet with calcium supplements and exposure to natural light lowers the risk of hypocalcemia in most pet birds. Chronic egg layers require special care. Parrot and Conure World recommends reusing the hen’s exposure to light to ten hours a day, as long daylight hours stimulate breeding behavior in many pet birds. Keep the bird away from confined spaces that could be seen as potential nests, and avoid stroking the bird’s back, which can sexually stimulate the bird.