Fatty Liver Disease

It isn’t just fat you have to worry about during the egg-laying estrogen cycle. High glycemic starches cause the pancreas to produce excess insulin, which causes the body to pack away fat, too. Get a good book on carbs and avoid those with a high glycemic index. (Off the top of my head: corn, potatoes, bananas, bread, pasta.) Push high fiber foods.

I like Milk Thistle for healing the liver. Thisilyn by Nature’s Way is a good product.

I’m glad to hear she is eating her veggies. Since she is so fat, you don’t have to worry about her refusing food. As long as she has water, a large bird can refuse food for a day or two before you have to worry. This isn’t true for smaller birds.

Brewers yeast will help her utilize the fat in her diet instead of storing it. Spirulina encourages weight loss. A teeny pinch of licorice root once every other day will help balance things out. Don’t use too much as it increases blood pressure if used in excess. gloria

Dr McCluggage, the holistic vet I consult by phone, has done wonders for my bird with a (natural?) thyroid supplement that pulls fat out of the liver. Also, she’s on Ultra Clear Plus to help her digestion & absorption of nutrients and an immune system enhancer, plus dandelion/milk thistle extracts. I worked with conventional vets for 5 years & Bocephus got worse every year, after only 2 months on the treatments Dr. McCluggage sent, she was improving.

The last time Bocephus was gaining weight & not feeling well, he had me juice carrots & dandelion leaves & give her as much as she wanted on a daily basis. I believe this was a tremendous help for her. Also, you can freeze it in ice cube trays & it still retains enough of it’s properties to be beneficial. If you don’t have a juicer, you can buy the juice at a health food store & freeze it (although fresh is always best). Dandelion extract can also be used, depending on the situation, but milk thistle is always good (you would want non-alcoholic extracts). Carrot and beets are both good for the liver. Your bird may even eat fresh dandelion, but mine won’t. I bird sit for a bird that has fairly normal droppings, yet when she eats a lot of carrot or even a little beet, her liver will release some bile & her urine will be dark, dark green.

The nutrients in juiced vegetables are more readily available to the body, drinking 8 ounces of juiced carrot is like eating almost a pound of whole carrots due to the different rates of absorption. Juicing would be a great way to get a lot of concentrated vegetables into your bird & it’s good for you, too. I would suggest adding some juiced vegetables to her diet & consulting with Dr. McCLuggage if you can. The landofvos.com site & Dr. McCluggage’s book (a wonderful resource!) both have juice recipes for liver help.

Once a bird is eating veggies, you could lightly sprinkle some barley green on them, that would give her a source of dark leafy greens (which my bird won’t eat). Have you tried lightly steaming the veggies? Then, what you need to do is make them your dinner & her dinner! And eat right next to her cage, share off your plate if you need to (but don’t add butter, etc). I think it would be a rare bird that wouldn’t enjoy warm (preferably steamed) sweet potato fed to them by hand. And gourd squash can be done the same way. I think raw, fresh veggies would be preferable (this is the way birds consume them in the wild) but starting out with steamed would be o.k. Try approaching this change, not as a bad thing, but join her in the change & tell her you are both in this boat together, if she will do it, you will do it with her! The pleasure of getting her well will probably outweigh having to eat veggies yourself for a while.

From what I’ve read, it’s best to consume fresh juice within 10 minutes of it being made and it sounds like you could do that for her. Usually juice bars charge quite a bit, but like I said, you can freeze it into ice cube trays (at least carrot will be o.k. if frozen) and you’d be surprised just how much better carrots taste when juiced! Then every night you could put 2-3 cubes of it in a dish or better yet, give it to her by hand in a pipette (or a straw with your finger over one end) once it melts. Carrots are not my birds favorite food, but carrot juice is something to make a fuss over! If she only takes a small amount, remember that the nutrients are very concentrated and more easily absorbed, so a little really equals a lot of veggies. You could even try different juices on her when you can buy them fresh. Hope some of this helps, Leanne

If the major diet of the bird is pasta, potatoes, and corn, you may want her checked for diabetes. Eliminate those foods from her diet (and yours so you can set a good example.)

Here is what you guys should eat: Instead of pasta – spaghetti squash with tomato sauce and a sprinkle of parmesan and mozzarella. Instead of potatos – one of the nice vegetable mixes that contains zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots. Instead of corn – a mixture of cooked beans – green beans, pinto beans, navy beans, and peas…sprinkle lightly with fake bacon.

There are some nice salad greens that can be disappointing if you eat just one kind. Mix them together for a combination of flavors. Aragula, raddacio, kale, spinach, and romaine. You’ll taste bitter, hot, and sweet. Good for the digestion. Also give your girl collard greens, turnip greens, beet greens, and mustard greens.

Also give her green beans and peas raw. Give her some celery, kiwi, cantaloup, apricot, apple, cherry without the pit, squash – acorn, butternut, buttercup, etc. Include the pulp and seeds.

There are tons of food you can feed her compared to what you can’t. Alicia has some recipes on her website that can give you ideas.

Flavor your foods with herbs instead of sauces made of dairy products. It does take getting used to but once your taste buds change, you will enjoy them and so will your bird. Another alternative would be to make dairy sauces using soft tofu. Your bird also might enjoy little squares of hard tofu. gloria

I have juiced for quite some time, and I never throw the pulp away  – our birds eat it. We scrub all fruits and veggies before juicing, and  since there is lots of nutrition in the peels and just below the peels, I  give the pulp to my birds – as a treat, on top of their other foods. My  obese 13 yr old BF Amazon, who had huge lipomas on her back, abdomen, thighs  and vent, and who had been on a diet of mostly pellets for years, is now on a  fresh fruit & veggie diet, with fresh juices, and extra pulp, with only a  small portion of pellet. She has lost about 90% of her fat deposits, her  feather quality is great, and she is more active and vocal than she has been  in years. Genny

If fatty liver disease is a real possibility, you could get a blood test for bile acids. This will tell you if the liver is functioning correctly. If it comes back within normal limits the bird could still have fatty liver disease, the liver is just compensating, but this is the best test for catching it. The symptoms you describe do sound like hepatic lipidosis. What do the birds droppings look like?

Here’s my story of FLD & sinus problems: My FLD bird had sinus infections accompanied by yeast. Before I discovered holistic bird care, I spent many, many long months with my conventional vet doing sinus cultures & treating with numerous antibiotics & antifungals. None of which were good for the bird’s liver. It was like a vicious circle with no improvement in sight, she was going steadily down hill.

Then I consulted Dr. McCluggage, he sent holistic treatments that did wonders for the liver disease & simultaneously the sinus problems disappeared. They were just a side issue of the fatty liver disease. All the antibiotics and antifungals did was make my bird worse. They wiped out all the good bacteria so the bad stuff kept taking turns over growing & getting treated with more antibiotics/antifungals. Dr. McCluggage was also a microbiologist before he became a vet. When he looked at all the sinus culture results, he said the offending bacteria were all supposed to be there in the bird’s normal flora. All I know is my conventional vet always found SOMETHING to treat for, yet never made her any better! She felt worse & worse.

Dr McCluggage has lots of experience dealing with liver problems, a fatty liver disease problem was the first thing he ever treated holistically over 12 years ago and he’s been using holistic methods with birds ever since. Maybe your vet could consult with him on how to handle this or you could consult with him directly.

Here’s an article about him with contact information: http://www.landofvos.com/articles/holvet.html and an excerpt from that article that I have found to be very true: “He says that chronic diseases rarely are successfully cured using conventional allopathic methods. Alternative modalities, including acupuncture, herbal medicine, homeopathy, and nutrition show promise for increasing the success rate in treating these chronic conditions. ”

The majority of conventional vets I consulted over the years pretty much agreed that too much protein was bad when you have Fatty Liver Disease. However, Dr. McCluggage’s book states that egg yolk is healing to the liver. I serve it to my FLD bird once or twice per week, but Dr. McCluggage didn’t have a problem with me serving it several times per week, almost daily. His wife (who works at his practice) said that they don’t really worry about the amount of protein for liver disease birds. Also, Sam Vaughn, DVM, Avian Certified, and Dr. Greg Harrison, DVM, Avian Certified, both put liver disease birds on the Harrison’s High Potency formula which has more protein than the regular formula.

Yet, this contradicts what Dr. Harrison wrote (co-authored) in Avian Medicine, Principles and Applications which mentions too much protein effecting the brain and nervous system in liver compromised patients. My FLD bird was on Harrisons High Potency and it certainly didn’t kill her, it helped her blood start clotting again. However, she didn’t make any significant improvement until under Dr. McCluggage’s care, back on Harrison’s regular formula with fruit, veggies, and his supplements that helped her to absorb a greater percentage of the nutrients in her food. Dr. McCluggage’s way makes much more sense to me. A major part of the supplements he put her on was Ultra Clear Sustain and then started mixing in Ultra Clear Plus (http://www.thewayup.com/products/0280.htm and http://www.thewayup.com/products/0215.htm), to these powders he added many other beneficial things, not all of which he shared with me. Leanne

I was questioning Dr. McCluggage yesterday about his diet of 60% seed/grain, 25% veggies & 25% legumes, because I felt like the overall protein was kinda high (I was comparing it to what I’ve been learning about human nutrition). I thought veggies should make up a greater percentage. He said he feels that a lower protein diet (meaning higher in carbs) contributes to fatty liver disease, because birds use protein more efficiently than carbs so it doesn’t get stored in the body. He has a 45 year old Amazon that almost died from FLD on about twice the protein level recommended in his diet & she’s doing better than she ever has.

However, I thought someone (forgive me for not remembering who, I’m on too many lists) recently posted that a conventional vet felt protein should be lower, at least during breeding season, because it contributed to FLD.

Anyone have any thoughts or comments about protein in the avian diet or the %s Dr. McCluggage uses? Leanne

I strongly suspect that *anything* that’s a one-size-fits-all, is at best  an “average,”–in that the reality is there are some birds–and potentially  some species of birds (eclectus and cockatiels, for example)–for which such a  diet is too much protein, and some for which it’s too little.

Come to think of it, we’ve discussed a number of the extremes.

I think we’re still feeling our way along on such matters. I suspect that as  we observe our own birds and discuss things, we’re refining a lot of those  variations ourselves  Dianne

Hi Leanne, I agree with Dr. McCluggage’s assessment of protein for sedentary birds. However, I’m basing that on what I’ve read about human metabolism. Carbohydrates metabolize faster than protein, thus are more readily available as energy. This is very useful for athletes who need ready energy to perform their task. What isn’t used is stored as fat.

Protein, on the other hand, is metabolized more slowly. Amino acids not used to form complete proteins are excreted. This can be a problem for kidneys that are damaged because kidneys are responsible for ridding the body of unused amino acids in the form of urates (for birds).

Although the popular consensus is that protein should be low because it damages the kidneys, other experts believe that a high protein diet does not damage healthy kidneys.

If someone is feeding a pellet high in protein, and their birds show signs of kidney damage (polyuria) etc, then the assumption is that it was the high protein in the pellets that damaged the kidneys. Maybe it wasn’t the protein level, maybe it was the calcium/D3 levels that initially damaged the kidneys which were then unable to handle the protein load. This is the scenario I believe is happening with our birds and it sounds as though Dr. McCluggage is thinking along those lines, too gloria

Is a lower protein diet necessarily higher in carbs?

Most manufactured high protein diets also have a higher fat level. However isn’t possible to put together a high protein, low fat diet?

One of our amazons nearly died from FLD last year. Currently she is on approximately 60% pellet (12% protein, 4% fat) and 40% fruit/veggies. She gets no nuts or seeds. Carolyn

You are absolutely right. Ignoring all the little bits like vitamins and minerals foods are made of protein, carbohydrates (starches and sugars) and fats (oils). Protein and carbs have a similar energy level but fats have about two and a half times more energy.

So a seed like millet with say 10% protein and very little fat has a similar protein energy:ratio to a seed like sunflower with 25% protein and 40% fat. They are both “low protein” high energy feeds.

To get high protein, low energy you need things like peas and beans or LEAN meats. Even eggs are not really “high protein” by my definition because most of the white is water and the yolk is very high in fats. Malcolm Green

Yes, but without fat to satisfy the appetite, there will be an over consumption of other nutrients (protein, calcium/D3) because the bird will keep eating. A high protein/high fat diet will not cause weight gain unless carbs are also involved. The carb/fat combination is deadly for causing weight gain.

High blood sugar levels stimulate the pancreas to produce insulin, which is a hormone the body uses to take sugar out of the bloodstream and store it as fat. That is why you should not give your birds refined grains (like pasta and bread), or starchy foods (like potatoes) which have a high glycemic index.

Foods with a high glycemic index cause blood sugar levels to rise rapidly. Complex carbohydrates,(whole veggies, fruits, seeds) on the other hand, release sugar more slowly into the blood stream so the body can use them as needed instead of storing the excess.

Extreme diets should not normally be considered for our birds except for therapeutic reasons (as Dr. McCluggage is using on the Amazon Leanne mentioned). Under the supervision of someone knowledeable about how nutrition works in the body, extreme diets can be used safely and adjusted as needed. gloria

I would like to agree with Gloria’s point that high protein levels are unlikely to be damaging thought he amino acid balance is important if the percentages get towards the high end.

What really matters is the ratio between protein and energy. Too much energy leads to obesity which is a killer. Here is an article on that subject: http://www.birdcareco.com/English/Articles/Weight/weight.html

Leanne raised the the advice of a conventional vet who recommended low protein diets especially during the breeding season. This is totally the wrong advice. Because babies are very small they require relatively little energy to maintain themselves. However they need loads of protein to grow their bodies. So baby animals eat very high protein diets. The bigger they get the lower the protein energy ratio they need. Adult birds feeding chicks will control the energy protein ratio they feed their babies so they always grow at close to optimum rates. Pellet only diets prevent the birds from taking this level of control.

This is why we recommend seed and fresh food diets supplemented with extra protein in part of the diet. This gives control to both the breeder and the parents and chick growth rates under these regimes (with the right vits/mins and herbals) are much better than without the extra protein. The best results are achieved with animal protein (it is perfectly balanced) and amino acids to balance the plant protein in the diet and provide the essential building blocks for feather growth. It is not unusual for babies on this sort of diet to fledge 30% quicker, go through their first moult 30% earlier and moult in half the time!

There really is no such thing as a low protein, low energy food. When looking at foods you must look at the dry matter content (in other words ignore the water). You will find that all foods are made up of protein, fat and carbohydrates in varying ratios.

Captive birds have very different protein:energy requirements to wild birds. Not too many captive African greys fly 50 miles a day do they? So captive birds should eat foods with a higher protein:energy ratio than their wild cousins. This can be achieved by a number of methods:

1. Feed lots of peas and beans 2. Feed animal protein (egg white, dairy protein, lean meat – beware most animal proteins are also associated with lots of fats) 3. Supplement with limiting amino acids to enable the bird to use all the plant protein it eats not just 60% of it.

We use a combination of all of these in our various products and they work very well to prevent obesity.

bear in mind that birds will become amino acid deficient well before they run out of protein. Particularly in the molt. We can shorten the moult even of meat eating birds of prey by six weeks using amino acids. And it works just the same on parrots, finches etc.  Malcolm Green

I just want to add to Malcolm’s comments, there are many other possible causes of fatty liver disease. Aflatoxins (a fungus that is common on peanuts & corn) can cause fatty liver disease. Certain drugs are considered hepatotoxic, meaning they can harm the liver. All drugs have to be processed by the liver and can harm it, especially if drugs are overused in general. Genetics can play a big role in liver disease. Exercise has to be one of the most important factors also, it is very important and is something captive birds get far too little of. The efficiency and health of the digestive system at a particular point in time can effect how well all nutrients are used.

And there are probably other factors, but these easily came to mind. In most situations, it is probably a combination of things that contribute to the problem. Since nutrition plays such a tremendous role in over all health, amino acids are probably one of the most important factors when dealing with fatty liver in captive birds.

For my bird, I have tried to address all of the possible causes mentioned above. And I have just ordered some of Malcolm’s products, so I’ll report back on any changes I see in my birds that may be due to his supplements. Leanne