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Pet Owner Version

Heart and Blood Vessel Disorders of Pet Birds


Teresa L. Lightfoot

, DVM, DABVP (Avian), Avian and Exotics Department, Florida Veterinary Specialists

Reviewed/Revised Jan 2020 | Modified Oct 2022

Some older birds develop signs of chronic heart disease, such as an inability to move or fly without discomfort and shortness of breath or other breathing difficulties. As birds live longer and diagnostic techniques improve, cardiac disease is being diagnosed more often. The ability to diagnose some forms of avian heart disease, using the same techniques as in people (x-rays, electrocardiograms, and echocardiograms) has progressed rapidly over the past decade. Once the type of heart disease has been diagnosed, your avian veterinarian may be able to prescribe medications to limit the effects of the condition.

Heart disease has been associated with atherosclerosis (coronary artery disease) in pet birds. Psittacine birds, especially Amazon parrots, macaws, and African grey parrots, are particularly susceptible. Potential risk factors include a sedentary lifestyle, a high-fat diet, and high blood cholesterol levels. Signs of heart disease in birds can mimic breathing problems. Birds with heart disease may appear weak, depressed or lethargic and have an increased rate of breathing and increased effort.

Parasites such as protozoa or the larvae of certain worms are occasionally found in the blood of various pet bird species. This problem has become less common since importation of exotic pet birds was halted in the 1980s. Most of these bloodborne parasites do not cause any disease or signs of illness unless a bird is already ill or stressed. If signs do occur, they may include general listlessness, diarrhea, and loss of appetite. A veterinarian can diagnose most types of blood parasites by microscopic examination of a blood sample.

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