Weight reduction requires a multi-step plan that includes commitment from the pet owner, metabolically controlled food for weight maintenance or reduction, an appropriate feeding method, an exercise plan, communication with the pet owner, and patient monitoring.
In humans and small animals, the combination of feeding reduced-calorie foods, providing regular exercise, and using behavior modification to change eating patterns bring about the best chance of achieving and maintaining weight loss (Toll 2010). A key nutritional factor for weight loss and the prevention of weight gain is to feed calorie-restricted diets. These diets should reduce energy density (e.g., calories per gram) while providing normal levels of other nutrients required for balanced nutrition. If a maintenance diet is fed at a reduced rate, energy is reduced, but so too are all the other nutrients, so that the diet I no longer in balance. Nutri-An Cakes provide an energy-restricted diet for psittacine birds with a normal complement of the other nutrients to maintain a nutritional balance.
Commitment from the pet owner
The first problem is for the owner to understand that their beloved companion bird is overweight. Palpation of the pectoral muscle mass and showing the owner the fat over the muscle, having them feel the fat in the coelom and/or showing them the fat obstructing the view of the jugular vein are all helpful for them to understand that their bird is overweight. Information on why this is a serious medical problem should then be discussed. Birds that are overweight have been shown to have hepatic lipidosis, reduced immune function, cholesterol plaques in the great vessels of the heart, lipomas, greater problems with osteoarthritis, and a greater likelihood of seizures. Once owners understand and are willing to be a major player in controlling their bird’s weight, their next step is to commit to a weight loss program. One motivational factor is to resolve a problem caused or exacerbated by obesity. This should be part of the plan tailored for their bird.
Metabolically controlled food
Nutri-An Cakes for Foraging and Weight Maintenance (FW) is a therapeutic diet designed for avian patients that need nutritional enrichment and/or weight reduction. Nutri-An Cakes FW provide high quality protein from a variety of sources but at normal levels for companion parrot species, making it useful for a number of medical conditions:
- Molting or other skin conditions
- Egg laying
- Renal disease
- Problems affecting the liver where highly digestible protein may help function
In addition, Nutri-An Cakes FW contain balanced omega 3:6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) that reduce pro-inflammatory mediators affecting the function of a number of organs. This diet may be helpful as a complement to conditions where non-steroidal drugs are used to reduce inflammation.
The lower energy content of Nutri-An Cakes FW makes it an excellent food for weight maintenance or reduction:
- 2826 ME kcal/kg in the parakeet, cockatiel, lovebird and conure cakes
- 2858 ME kcal/kg in the parrot, macaw and cockatoo cakes
Appropriate feeding methods/exercise plan
Snyder et al documented that Puerto Rican Amazon parrots (Amazona vittata) spend approximately 4-6 hours per day foraging and they routinely travel several miles between sites. It is presumed that other psittacine species spend similar amounts of time searching for and acquiring food as part of their daily behavioral repertoire. In contrast, companion birds such as orange-winged Amazons (Amazona amazonica) in our homes, spend approximately 30-72 minutes per day eating a pelleted diet (Oviatt 1997) without traveling, manipulating food items, or attempting to balance their own diet (Meehan 2003).
These data suggest that birds need to forage for their food items and expend additional energy in the food acquisition process or as an exercise routine to mimic their normal behavioral repertoire. This is certainly the goal in birds that are obese as increased physical and mental activity enhances weight loss. A foraging plan and exercise program should be part of the weight loss plan. It is important to start with basic steps and information that is tailored to the avian patient. For example, Amazon parrots are good paper shredders but often do not handle complex plastic toys that require manipulation that are easy for cockatoos to manipulate. Another problem is that complexity needs to be increased based on the learning curve of the patient as owners often stop at the first level.
Please refer to Table 1 below for appropriate amounts of Nutri-An Cakes to be fed per day. These cakes should be fed as part of the foraging program developed for this avian patient. Since birds spend a large portion of their day acquiring food, other food items that do not enhance weight gain can be provided. These items are listed in Table 2.
|Table 1. Daily food intake for weight reduction* using Nutri-An Cakes|
|Body weight (grams)||Small Nutri-An Cakes||Large Nutri-An Cakes|
* Food not consumed or waste risks the patient not receiving sufficient calories. Calculations assume that birds live in cages indoors and have an average amount of activity. Body weight should be monitored daily and food amounts adjusted accordingly.
|Table 2. Some foods may be offered with Nutri-An Cakes (right), while others are best to avoid during weight loss (left)|
|Foods to avoid||Foods that may be offered with Nutri-An Cakes|
The exercise plan may vary with the species and the physical condition of the bird. A cardiac work-up to include echocardiography may be indicated. Wing flapping on a swing or by hand with a gradual increase in time provides one of the best options for expenditure of calories. Controlled flying, if possible, is one of the best forms of exercise as it requires between 11-20 times the basal metabolic rate in birds.
Communication with the client/patient monitoring
Customizing the weight loss program is important for avian patients as there is great variation between species than with breeds of dogs and cats.
- The plan should be in writing with an explanation of goals with dates included.
- Monitoring is an important factor in weight loss. Owners should acquire a food scale and weigh their birds at the same time each day and put their weights on a provided chart.
- It is great to have a check-off list for elements of the exercise program as well.
- In dogs, the use of an appropriate feeding plan and monthly hospital weight rechecks with subsequent weight maintenance periods was sufficient to achieve good results in dogs (Toll 2010). It is important to compliment and encourage the owner at these visits to maintain their commitment to weight management.
Echols MS. Foraging as a means of behavior modification. LafeberVet web site. Available at https://lafeber.com/vet/foraging-as-a-means-of-behavior-modification. Accessed June 20, 2011.
Meehan CL, Millam JR, Mench JA. Foraging opportunity and increased physical complexity both prevent and reduce psychogenic feather picking by young Amazon parrots. Appl Anim Behav Sci 80:71-85, 2003.
Oviatt LA, Millam JR. Breeding behavior of captive orange-winged Amazon parrots. Exotic Bird Rep 9:6-7, 1997.
Snyder NFR, Wiley JW, Kepler CB. The Parrots of Luquilla: Natural History and Conservation of the Puerto Rican Parrot. Los Angeles CA: The Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology; 1987.
Toll PW, Yamka RM, Schoenherr WD, Hand MS. Obesity. In: Hand MS, Thatcher CD, Remillard RL et al (eds). Small Animal Clinical Nutrition, 5th ed. Topeka KS: Mark Morris Institute; 2010. Pp. 501-542.