Gout is the abnormal deposit of uric acid crystals in the body. Uric acid is produced by the liver and excreted through the kidneys. The uric acid, when not properly removed from the bloodstream, will begin to crystallize and collect in various places in the bird’s body. It is not toxic or harmful in itself, but the buildup of crystals can severely damage tissues.
Gout is rare in canaries and finches, but birds in the parrot family are more frequently affected. The disease is most often seen in older budgies, cockatiels, and parrots that have been fed an unbalanced diet (protein levels above 20 to 25%). Also contributing to this condition are diets that are too high in calcium or vitamin D3 or too low in vitamin A. Gout that affects the joints of birds tends to be severely painful. If pain control cannot be accomplished, euthanasia may be considered to prevent suffering. Surgical removal of the crystal deposits is not practical in most cases because they are often located close to blood vessels and the chance of fatal bleeding is high. Additionally, unless the underlying condition can be corrected or controlled, new crystal deposits will appear very rapidly. Your veterinarian may prescribe medications given by mouth that are helpful in the control of gout and the associated pain in some cases.
Gout crystals may also affect internal organs; this type of gout is rarely diagnosed before death of the bird. The membranes on the surface of various organs and the tubules of the kidney are the location of uric acid crystal deposits. Death is often the only sign noted.
The genetic, nutritional, and environmental factors that predispose a bird to gout are not fully understood. However, uric acid levels should be determined in birds with gout, and birds with elevated levels should be placed on a low-protein diet.