Last Updated on by Catherine Tobsing
Birds get gout when there’s too much uric acid flowing through their veins.
Birds make this acid as a way to clean out all the yucky nitrogen stuff that builds up from eating protein.
And get this – they don’t pee it out like we do!
Instead, it turns into these white, powdery crystals that you might see around your bird’s poop.
But if those crystals build up too much in your feathered friend’s body, they can actually start attacking its insides – ouch!
That’s why some birds get painful joint swelling (that’s called articular gout) or organs start to break down (that’s visceral gout). It used to be that smaller birds like budgies and cockatiels were most likely to have this problem because they don’t drink as much water. But now we’re seeing gout more and more in bigger pet birds too – so everybody needs to keep an eye out!
What’s the deal with birds and uric acid? Like, how does that even work? I mean, I know they pee and poop out of the same hole (not very hygienic if you ask me), but why do they make this white paste stuff too? Turns out it’s called uric acid and it’s their way of getting rid of nitrogen waste.
Crazy, right? So next time your bird leaves that white mess all over your clothes, just remember – it’s just nature doing its thing.
Hey, did you know that even birds need protein? Yeah, it’s true. When they eat protein, their digestive system breaks it down into amino acids which their bodies use for feather growth, egg production, and repairing tissue.
Sometimes, those amino acids get burned off as energy (calories) instead. When that happens, the leftover nitrogen becomes ammonia which is toxic. That’s why birds and reptiles convert it into uric acid which is less dangerous. Then they pee out these salts called urates to get rid of it all.
Basically, all birds need protein in their diet.
When they eat it, their body breaks it down into amino acids (and uses it for all sorts of important stuff like growing and repairing tissues, and feathers. But sometimes there are extra amino acids that don’t get used up, so the bird’s liver turns them into energy (calories).
The problem is this leaves behind some toxic ammonia that needs to be gotten rid of.
That’s where uric acid comes in – it’s a less-toxic form of ammonia that birds can pee out as crystal salts called urates.
That makes sense, right? Oh, and by the way – did you know that gout in birds isn’t quite the same thing as gout in people? Yeah, crazy stuff.
So, when humans get gout, it’s usually because of a genetic problem or eating too much junk like booze, sugar, and meat.
Even if your blood is full of uric acid, most people don’t get hit with gout. The same kind of painful crystals that mess up birds also causes trouble for us.
And just like in birds, uric acid comes from breaking down purines. Normal folks only make a little uric acid – but birds put out tons of the stuff!
They get it from their chow and their own recycling system. If a bird gets the gouties, it’s because its kidneys aren’t working right and can’t flush the extra uric acid fast enough.
If that happens, they’re gonna have crystals forming all over their insides!
How Many Ways Can Birds Get Gout?
There are two types of gout – visceral gout and articular gout.
Usually, though, it’s a combo of the two.
Pet birds with visceral gout, get most of their pesky urate crystals around their guts and organs. But those with the articular kind, get more crystals around their joints and tendons. No matter what kind they have though, these darn crystals cause massive inflammation and major discomfort.
Now here’s the rub: nobody really knows exactly what causes pet birds to get gout (although some vets and bird brainiacs might have thoughts on it).
The wild relatives of your fave feathered friend don’t seem to struggle with this issue out in nature, so it’s probably something we’re doing wrong in captivity. Whether it’s their diet or living arrangements or both – that’s up for debate. But either way, let’s try to keep our little buddies happy and healthy!
Usually, It’s the Diet
Your bird’s body has evolved over tens of millions of years to chow down on food sources that are native to its land.
For most pet hookbills (those parrot-type birds), this means they should be digging into fresh fruits, nuts, and shoots that grow in the wild.
These diets have more fiber but less protein and fats compared to what we typically feed our feathered friends.
They’re also loaded with antioxidants from their varied list of ingredient plants, which change depending on the season. We don’t know all of the nutrients these foods contained though.
Most savvy parrot owners know that fruit is a great addition to their bird’s diet. But watch out – store-bought fruits can have a ton of fructose sugar, which might lead to gout in humans. To err on the side of caution, you might want to choose fruits that are low in fructose instead. Here’s a nifty chart that will help you do just that!
These birds are out here working hard to get their grub on!
They need some serious energy to keep up with flight and climbing around the birdcage.
Less of a problem with a clipped wing bird who, on the other hand, is chilling all day on its perch and has totally different needs.
Even if you give them a well-balanced diet, they might still be picky and only eat what they feel like.
Wild parrots didn’t have that problem–they could fly around and find whatever fruit was in season that day. I grew up in a city with wild Amazon parrots, and watching them chow down was always lit. But your pet bird’s diet is probably just some bulk processed grains and seeds that don’t really measure up compared to what it would eat in nature. So let’s make sure we’re taking care of our feathered friends!
If your feathered friend is eating a grain or seed-based diet, they could be at risk for health issues like gout.
It’s because these diets are often missing key vitamins and have too much oil content.
Did you know that wild parrots don’t eat the same seeds we feed our pets? Commercial Bird food blends are based on what is readily available for consistency.
That’s right, those sunflower and safflower seeds were made for cooking oil, not bird food. “Fortified” seed mixes are no better – they just have some added vitamins stuck to the husk of the seed that birds discard anyways. (Hagen Tropimix seeds are pre-hulled and do not have that proble.
If you want your bird to be healthy, go for a diet that includes pellets along with seeds and fruit like Higgins Safflower Gold which is what we feed our flock of 11.
Okay, so here’s the deal with bird food: I think those pelleted diets we’re feeding our pets have way too much protein.
Like, seriously, it’s way over the top.
This dude named Robert Stroud actually tested this out on his canaries back in the day and found that a high-protein diet messed them up with gout as they got older.
And let’s be real, no one has even bothered to look into how diet affects birds’ lifespans.
But studies on other animals have shown that too much protein (and calories) equals a shorter life. So why should parrots get a free pass?
More on pet birds and gout in future Windy City Parrot Blog Posts
Written by Mitch Rezman
Approved by Catherine Tobsing