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What to Know About Heart Disease in Birds

Most of us think of our fellow humans when we hear the term heart disease, but many animal species are also susceptible to cardiovascular problems that can put their lives at risk.


Heart Disease in Birds, birds in a tree

Birds are no exception. It’s difficult to determine the prevalence of heart disease in birds considering that most are never examined for it, but the more we learn about it, the more veterinarians and researchers are realizing that avian heart disease is not unusual. Understanding the signs and symptoms of heart disease in birds can help you ensure your own pet stays healthy and lives a long life.


What Makes Avian Hearts Unique?

Bird hearts have many similarities to their mammalian counterparts, but also differ in certain ways that influence the development, diagnosis and treatment of heart disease:


  1. Avian hearts are proportionally larger than in humans, accounting for up to 4% of a bird’s body weight. (In humans, the heart is less than 0.5% of our body weight.)

  2. Birds have a higher heart rate than mammals, needed to efficiently fuel high-energy movement like flight.

  3. The difference in heart rate between a bird at rest vs. a bird in flight is often hundreds of beats per minute, a much greater range of heart activity than humans experience.


Signs Your Bird May Have Heart Problems

You’ll need a professional avian vet to diagnose if your bird has heart disease or is in danger of suffering a heart attack. However, you may be able to spot signs of trouble. Here are some symptoms that may indicate your pet bird is experiencing heart problems:

  • Lethargy or weakness

  • Skin discoloration around the eyes

  • A swollen abdomen

  • Exercise intolerance


Have you noticed your bird engaging in less physical activity than usual, struggling to breath or becoming easily exhausted? These may all be signs that something is amiss. A blue tint around the eyes could be an indication of reduced blood flow and a distended abdomen should be examined by your exotic pet vet immediately.



Diagnosing Heart Disease in Birds

Determining if your pet has suffered from a heart attack or any other cardiovascular issue is not as easy as diagnosing human patients. Birds with heart problems generally experience additional ailments simultaneously, making it difficult to pinpoint heart disease as a contributing factor to the symptoms.


Long Island Bird & Exotics Veterinary Clinic uses the advanced imaging of ultrasound and CT scans to assist in obtaining the most accurate diagnosis and decisions regarding treatment.



Treatment and Prevention of Heart Disease

Treatment of heart disease in birds can be as tricky as diagnosis. Most studies of avian heart disease have focused on domestic fowl and pigeons, resulting in some gaps in understanding when it comes to other bird species and how best to treat their heart problems. Medications that work for one species may not be effective for another, making the treatment of heart disease in birds a highly specialized area of veterinary medicine.



Avoiding Avian Heart Disease

The most effective tool in the fight against avian heart disease is prevention, with proper diet and regular exercise being the key ingredients to health. Above all, feed your bird a healthy diet. Skip fatty foods that are high in cholesterol, and make sure your feathered friend gets sufficient time outside of a cage to spread its wings and keep its heart in good shape.


Have more questions about how to care for your pet bird? Check out our extensive pet care guides:


If you have any questions or concerns about how to prevent heart disease in your pet bird, or if you notice any troubling symptoms, contact your exotic pet veterinarian for the best possible care and advice.


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