Liver Disorders in Birds

By Rick Axelson, DVM

Medical Conditions

December 11, 2008

liver_disorders_in_birds-1The liver is an important organ that is involved with digesting food, storing and filtering the blood, and with many other metabolic functions. Because it has so many functions, a healthy liver is extremely important. Unfortunately, both acute and chronic liver disease is very common in birds.

There are many causes of liver problems. Liver problems can be caused by bacterial, fungal, viral, protozoan and parasitic infections. Other causes of liver disease include tumors, metabolic disorders, circulatory disturbances, nutritional deficiencies or excesses and toxic insults such as mycotoxins (toxins from moulds), plant toxins and chemicals.

What should I look for?

Liver disease is more common in cockatiels, budgies, Amazon parrots and mynah birds. You may see many different signs such as a fluffed, listless bird, depression, anorexia, wet droppings, yellow or green stained urates, (the urates are normally white), increased thirst, regurgitation, difficulty breathing and/or a swollen, puffy abdomen. A veterinarian familiar with birds will start with a complete history, weight and a physical examination.

"Liver disease is more common in cockatiels, budgies, Amazon parrots and mynah birds."

Since the typical clinical signs are non-specific and descriptive of many different diseases, diagnostic tests are advised.

What tests can be done?

liver_disorders_in_birds-2Clearly, a liver problem cannot be treated unless a diagnosis has been made. A number of tests can help your veterinarian determine the nature of your bird's problem. Each test provides another piece of the puzzle and often many tests are needed to give more clarity.

A Complete Blood Count (CBC) gives important information about infections, dehydration, toxins and anemia. Blood chemistry tests are used to measure liver enzymes to screen the liver and determine if it is affected by disease. X-rays may be used to assess the size and position of the liver. Although ultrasonography is limited in birds, it can be used to assess abdominal organs such as the liver. Serology and specific DNA tests may be used to identify specific infectious organisms. With laparoscopy, the liver may be observed directly. Liver biopsies may be required to assess the condition of the liver at the cellular level, using the skills of a pathologist to establish a definitive diagnosis. Sadly, some diseases are found too late or are fatal, and diagnosis is made with an autopsy (necropsy).

Are there treatments for liver problems?

Specific treatments are implemented based on the findings of the tests performed and the diagnosis made. The range of treatments varies depending on the specific problem and may include modifying the diet, nutritional supplementation, increased exercise, and possibly hospitalization with supportive therapy (fluids and vitamins) plus antibiotics, antiviral, or antiparasitic medications if indicated. Sometimes the condition cannot be "cured", only managed and supported to improve the quality of life. The use of homeopathic or natural products may be beneficial to help support an ailing liver.

"Sometimes the condition cannot be "cured", only managed and supported to improve the quality of life."

Follow the advice of your avian veterinarian.

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