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what causes liver disease in parrots?

Fatty Liver Disease in Parrots: Causes, Symptoms + Treatment

(Last Updated On: November 8, 2022)

Fatty liver disease (hepatic lipidosis) is caused by the build-up of fat around the liver, compromising the detoxification process.

The symptoms of fatty liver disease include fat deposits on the abdomen and chest, a fast-growing beak, and claws with black spots (areas of hemorrhage).

The liver is one of the few organs that can regenerate, so early diagnosis can lead to recovery.

What Is Fatty Liver Disease in Parrots?

Hepatic lipidosis is one of the most common nutritional diseases affecting parrots and other birds. Amazon parrots and Quaker parrots are especially prone to this condition.

Fatty liver disease occurs when fatty deposits accumulate around the liver.

The liver is essential for digestion, detoxification, and storing vitamins and minerals. The liver also produces proteins that prevent the blood from clotting and metabolizing carbohydrates.

With fatty liver disease, the fat accumulated in the bloodstream infiltrates the liver, decreasing functional liver tissue and stopping it from functioning optimally.

In many cases, the liver becomes enlarged and causes other health problems.

As a result, excess fat accumulates around the heart, compromising the organ’s function. Hepatic lipidosis can be severe and lead to sudden death as your parrot can no longer cope with normal stressors.

fatty liver disease signs in parrots

What Causes Fatty Liver Disease?

The following are the most common reasons why parrots develop this condition:

High Fat Diet

An unhealthy, unbalanced diet is one of the leading causes. Obesity is one of the main signs of fatty liver disease, to which a high-calorie, seed-based diet contributes.

Seeds, nuts, and pellets should only make up 50-70% of your parrot’s daily food intake because they don’t provide all the nutrition your parrot needs.

Overeating is a problem. A parrot that stands still on a perch near-constantly requires less food than a wild parrot. Though many owners don’t mean to, they overestimate the food their pets need.

Don’t leave an endless amount of food for your parrot to consume. It won’t be able to regulate its caloric intake and will overeat out of boredom.

Also, as its stomach expands, it’ll become used to the extra food. Some owners take this as a sign that they’re not feeding their parrots enough.

While less common, some juvenile parrots develop fatty liver disease. The disease usually occurs in birds over-fed or hand-fed for too long.

Most formulas used for hand-feeding are calorie-dense. And because baby parrots don’t move much, the calories are stored as fat.

Juvenile parrots must be weaned when 10-25 weeks old to avoid liver problems later in life.

Nutritional Deficiencies

The MSD Veterinary Manual claims that nutritional disease is common in pet birds, even though the situation has improved in the last decade.

Many owners choose store-bought seeds as the primary form of sustenance and fail to add fresh fruits, vegetables, and leaves to their parrots’ diet.

The most common reasons for malnutrition in parrots are a pure seed diet and a diet that allows parrots to choose what they want to eat.

This encourages selective eating, resulting in inadequate nutrient consumption. The liver has to work harder to remove excess nutrients from the body, putting this organ under strain.


Some parrots have a genetic predisposition to this disease. If one or both parents had this condition, the juvenile is more likely to develop the condition at some point.

The parrot must be fed a nutritious diet to keep it healthy. Also, if you’re getting a parrot for the first time, ask for a history of its parent’s health to determine if hereditary fatty liver disease is possible.

Lack of Exercise

Too little exercise leads to obesity, which is among the main causes of fatty liver disease. It’s hard to ensure parrots receive the right amount of activity.

Without exercise, the parrot will develop high cholesterol levels and triglycerides (a type of natural fat). A high level of triglycerides increases the risk of stroke and heart disease.

A healthy cholesterol level is 200; any higher puts the parrot at risk of fatty liver disease and diseases of the heart and kidneys, cutting its life expectancy.

Fatty Liver Disease Symptoms

Although fatty liver disease can be life-threatening, several symptoms are commonly observed in parrots with hepatic lipidosis, including:


Niles Animal Hospital explains how obesity is common in birds with fatty liver disease.

Not only will parrots appear overweight, but there may be larger pockets of fat on the chest and abdomen. The abdomen may appear distended, and the liver may be visible below the keel.

Overgrown Beak

Hepatic lipidosis can cause the parrot’s beak to grow faster than it usually would.

The beak may also become soft and misshapen, making it harder to eat and drink. A parrot’s claws may also grow too long in a short space of time.

Vets will notice this when the parrot is brought in for a beak trim and can advise on managing the overgrown beak and claws.

Black Spots

One of the main symptoms of fatty liver disease is the inability of a parrot’s blood to clot properly.

Due to the compromised liver function, black spots may appear on the parrot’s beak and nails, where hemorrhaging has occurred. These spots look like small, old bruises.

Enlarged Liver

An enlarged liver is hard to see with the naked eye. However, when a parrot’s feathers are moistened with a small drop of alcohol, the liver can be seen through the skin.

It may be that your parrot needs to diet, but x-rays and blood tests can determine if this is the case.


Due to the excess bilirubin in the system, parrots with fatty liver disease experience green diarrhea or urine, which is similar to jaundice in humans.

Parrots don’t experience jaundice due to the lack of pigment that creates the yellow, so the bilirubin is excreted through defecation or urination.

Feather Issues

The feathers will feel brittle and break off easily, exposing dry, patchy skin areas. Skin irritation may also cause the parrot to bite or pluck its feathers.


In the advanced stages of fatty liver disease, toxins build up in the bloodstream, causing disorientation or seizures. The central nervous system is severely affected by toxins and is starting to shut down.

Loss of Appetite

Sick parrots lose their appetite and reject their high-fat diet. This could be because it’s tired of eating fatty foods, or the foods may be causing pain as they’re digested.

This reduction in appetite will cause weight loss and lethargy. Parrots sometimes consume large amounts of water to counteract the lack of food in their body.

Labored Breathing

Some parrots develop sudden difficulties breathing and repeatedly open and close their mouths in the later stages. This gives the impression that the parrot is panting but struggling to breathe.

Ensure the parrot isn’t sitting in direct sunlight and has access to fresh water. You need your parrot to be comfortable during the recovery stages.

Diagnosis of Fatty Liver Disease

A vet will ask for details of the parrot’s medical history.

So, take note of all the symptoms you’ve observed so that nothing is left untreated. Provide a thorough analysis of your parrot’s eating regime and dietary preferences.

At this stage, the vet will be careful not to induce stress, as this can be fatal in severe cases of fatty liver disease. For this reason, the parrot may need to undergo gas anesthesia so the vet can perform a thorough medical exam. However, juvenile parrots are unlikely to require anesthesia.

As well as checking the parrot’s weight, they’ll feel around the abdomen for any large pockets of fat. An x-ray may also be required to ascertain the size of the liver.

Sometimes blood work is needed to check for infections, but the vet may recommend a less invasive course of action first, leaving blood work as a last resort.

How To Treat Fatty Liver Disease

A vet will provide a treatment program when a parrot is diagnosed with fatty liver disease. However, treatment will be similar across all affected parrots and usually starts with their diet.

According to Research Gate, the parrot must be treated as a whole to regenerate the liver.

In some cases, the parrot can’t be cured, but the disease can be managed to improve its quality of life. The following can help treat fatty liver disease:

fatty liver disease signs in parrots

Healthier Diet

Incorporate fresh fruits and vegetables into the diet as they detoxify the liver and intestines of toxins.

Sprouted seeds are also a valuable dietary option as they’re lower in fat than nuts and seeds. They can also encourage parrots to eat fruits and vegetables as the texture is similar.

Non-fresh peanuts contain mycotoxins (Aflatoxin), which can damage the liver. Parrots can eat some fresh, roasted peanuts but never feed them old peanuts as they could harbor mold.

The following foods assist with the detoxification process, so incorporate them into your parrot’s diet:

  • Walnuts
  • Broccoli
  • Citrus peel
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Asparagus
  • Garlic
  • Cabbage
  • Red peppers
  • Dark green leafy vegetables
  • Whole, unprocessed grains
  • Legumes
  • Turmeric

Nutritional Supplements

There’s a correlation between vitamin deficiency and the development of fatty liver disease. Choline, biotin, and methionine are essential for fat metabolism and fatty liver disease prevention.

Brewer’s yeast, legumes, and wholegrain cereals are high in choline. Fruit, brewer’s yeast, and brown yeast are excellent sources of biotin.

Methionine is an amino acid that isn’t available from plant sources but is found in fish and meat.

Increased Exercise

Wild parrots sometimes fly hundreds of miles each day. In captivity, they need opportunities to exercise and release energy. If they don’t expend enough energy, fat will accumulate.

Ropes and ladders encourage parrots to climb, while foot toys promote good exercise habits as parrots kick them across their cage, alleviating boredom while working the muscles.

Let your parrot enjoy some out-of-cage time, giving it space to spread its wings and fly.

Milk Thistle

Milk thistle (silymarin) is a waxy-lobed, thorny plant that grows wild in Europe that contains a range of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

When taken regularly, milk thistle has been shown to reduce the liver’s size to a healthier level. Suggested doses in parrots range from 100-150 mg/kg every 8-12 hours.

Dandelion Leaves

Dandelion leaves remove toxins from the body. Parrots enjoy the taste and will eat them with little encouragement. The leaves and roots are beneficial detoxifying herbs.

The leaves are also diuretic, removing excess bodily fluids without depleting potassium levels. They also relieve joint pain, reduce uric acid and cholesterol, and lower blood pressure levels.

Even if your parrot doesn’t have fatty liver disease, take steps to prevent it while it’s young.

Feed your parrot a healthy, low-fat diet and offer fruit and vegetables early in life. Also, ensure that your parrot exercises regularly to stay strong and healthy.