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Liver Disease in Birds posted - 14/Mar/2017

Liver disease, specifically ‘hepatic lipidosis’ – also known as fatty liver disease, is a common finding in obese birds which have been fed a seed diet for a prolonged period of time.

A complete seed diet is high in fat and results in the deposition of fat molecules into the liver causing it to become abnormally enlarged. As a result, liver function is compromised causing a variety of systemic problems including:

  • Anaemia (reduced number of RBC)
  • Respiratory distress
  • Diarrhoea
  • Overgrowth of the beak and nails
  • Bruising or bleeding of the skin

The liver is normally responsible for energy production, foreign agent filtration and the production of blood clotting factors, among other roles.

Clinical signs to look for in a bird with liver disease:

  • Respiratory distress
  • Depression/lethargy
  • Feather discolouration
  • Green/yellow urates in droppings
  • Excessive beak and nail growth
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Obesity

What to do if you suspect liver disease in your bird?

The first step is a visit to your JCU Veterinarian. A physical examination will be performed and your veterinarian will likely need to conduct some form of further testing.

Liver disease can be diagnosed through a variety of diagnostic tests including:

  • Blood and serum biochemistry testing
  • Radiographs
  • Ultrasound
  • Endoscopy +/- biopsy

The next step after diagnosis

Nutritional management is a cornerstone to the treatment of fatty liver disease. Birds on complete seed diets must be transitioned slowly over months to a formulated diet, normally pellets. Vegetables also need to be freely available to your bird and should make up a large component of the bird’s diet.

The initial transition from seed to pellets and vegetables can be difficult. There are a number of methods which can be attempted to encourage your bird to make a healthier choice.

  1. Mix wet pellets with the bird’s normal seed mix and allow to dry. This method makes the bird eat through the dried pellet outer layer to access the seeds on the inside. This give the bird a taste of the pellets and allows them to discover that pellets aren’t so bad after all!
  2. Incorporate pellets and vegetables into foraging toys. This will create a sense of interest and encourage the bird to try and gain access to the ‘new’ and ‘exciting’ food.
  3. Present vegetables such as kale, spinach, silver beet and other leafy greens, in various different ways i.e. grates, shredded, whole etc.
  4. Provide sprouting greens – birds who are reluctant to try vegetables will often be more interested in sprouts.
  5. Green grasses and seed heads can be provided for entertainment and nibbling are often happily accepted.

After providing nutritional support, your JCU Vet may also offer medications to encourage new liver regeneration. These medications must be given according to your veterinarian’s directions and in conjunction with nutritional support the best possible outcome.


The quicker fatty liver disease is detected, the better the outcome is like to be. It is often a finding in critically ill birds, who may have been on complete seed diets for the majority of their life.


Written by Kelly Mackenzie, JCU Vet Student
Approved by the JCU Veterinary team

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