Kidney Disorders in Birds

By Gregory Rich, DVM; Rick Axelson, DVM

Kidneys are paired organs in the abdomen that filter the waste products of metabolism from the blood for excretion from the body. They are also important in maintaining water and electrolyte balance in the body. Kidney disease is relatively common in birds, especially budgies, and may present as an acute or chronic problem.

What causes kidney disorders in birds?

There are many causes of kidney disorders including infections (bacterial, viral, fungal, and parasitic), tumors (common in budgies), heavy metal toxicity, vitamin D toxicity, and other nutritional excesses, metabolic disorders (such as gout), and blockages or obstructions.

What are the clinical signs of a kidney disorder?

Some clinical signs are very characteristic of kidney disease, such as polyuria (excess wetness around the fecal material). Your bird may show non-specific signs such as fluffed feathers, listlessness, depression, anorexia (decreased food consumption), weakness, not flying, weight loss, increased thirst, lameness, swollen joints, difficulty breathing, and/or a swollen, puffy abdomen.

"Some clinical signs are very characteristic of kidney disease, such as polyuria (excess wetness around the fecal material)."

In any case, if your bird shows a sign of illness, time is of the essence in hopes of the best outcome from treatment.

How are kidney disorders in birds diagnosed?

Your veterinarian will start with a complete history, obtain your bird’s body weight, and perform a physical examination. There are many tests that can help your veterinarian determine the nature of your bird's problem. Each test provides another piece of the puzzle and many tests are sometimes needed to give more clarity.

A complete blood count (CBC) provides information about infections, dehydration, toxins, and anemia. Blood chemistry tests are used to measure uric acid levels and certain electrolytes. Uric acid is excreted by the kidneys and levels are elevated when the kidneys are not functioning properly. Uric acid, calcium, and phosphorus levels will help establish whether the kidneys are functioning appropriately. Sometimes, a urinalysis is performed. Serology and specific DNA tests are often performed to identify specific infectious diseases.

X-rays may be used to assess the size, position, texture, and density of the kidneys. Although ultrasonography is limited in birds, it can be used to assess abdominal organs including the kidney. Normal kidneys are difficult to view with most ultrasound probes but it also depends on the size of the patient.

With laparoscopy (use of a camera inside the body), the kidneys may be observed directly. Endoscopic kidney biopsies assessed by a pathologist may be required to determine the condition of the kidney at the cellular level to possibly diagnose the disorder.

"Unfortunately, some diseases in birds are not recognized by the owner in time and become fatal."

Unfortunately, some diseases in birds are not recognized by the owner in time and become fatal. In this instance, a diagnosis is made by performing a necropsy (a veterinary autopsy).

How are kidney disorders in birds treated?

The range of treatments varies depending on the specific problem and may include feeding a diet lower in protein, nutritional supplementation, force-feeding, and possibly hospitalization with supportive or symptomatic therapy (fluids and vitamins) plus antibiotic, antiviral, or antiparasitic medications if indicated. In cases of metal toxicity, specific anti-toxin therapy will be prescribed. Sometimes the condition cannot be "cured", only managed to improve your bird’s quality of life. The use of homeopathic or natural products may be beneficial to help manage an ailing kidney.

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