Caring For Older Birds

Just like any other pet, your pet bird may need special accommodations as it ages, from changes in diet to more accessible perches in their cage.

In this video, avian expert Dr. Laurie Hess shares the changes she has made to keep her 24-year-old blue-headed pionus happy and healthy:


Hi, I’m Dr. Laurie Hess and I’m here today with my pet bird, Dale. He is a blue-headed pionus and he’s 24 years old. And I actually got Dale – I adopted him when he was just a little fuzzy baby. And he and I are here today to talk to you a little bit about a subject that we don’t often talk about, that we don’t actually often even think about when we talk about birds which is accommodations we need to make in our older birds lives – accommodations we might need to make as our birds become senior citizens like Dale here.

Now, you know, these are things that, again, most pet owners, people who have dogs or cats, think about senior dogs, senior cats, things that we have to do in our homes to maybe make it easier for those pets to move around – things that will make their lives easier. Maybe it’s a ramp for your dog to run up and down or some steps for your cats to jump up on when they’re jumping up high on the bed or the couch.

But for birds, we often just kind of leave their environments the same as they age and that’s not something that, you know, really should be left that way. It’s something that we should address. So what am I talking about? Well, as birds age, they get arthritis just like we do. Maybe they’re not as mobile as they used to be so we need to adjust their perches.

You can see Dale’s cage has lots of perches and there’s lots of connections between perches so that he can easily go from his bird food bowl to his water bowl all the way to another bowl across the cage. I do have multiple stations for food setup so that he can eat his bird food in one location, his pellets, his bird food pellets in one location here. He has another location for vegetables. He has another location for treats at the other side of the cage. And that way I can easily, you know, move things in and out. I don’t have to reach in. I don’t have to just kind of startle him or upset him at all. 

He does like to watch television. He can’t see it but on the opposite side of the room over there, there is a big TV that he loves to watch. It’s really a big part of his day and his life since he’s home alone during the day when I’m at the animal hospital and I’ve set up the balls on this side of the cage so that he can face the TV and snack and eat comfortably and watch, you know, TV as he likes to.

On the other side of the cage is a window. And when he gets tired of watching TV, he likes to turn around and go up on the porch just sort of in the back of the cage to look outside. Another thing that I recommend for older birds is that you have some kind of ladder. You can see that in the cage here, we have a ladder that goes all the way down to the bottom. So if he wants to walk around on the bottom of the cage and he doesn’t want to have to grip and climb across the bars, he can walk across the bottom by just going down the ladder, walking across and then climbing back up again. It makes it just a little easier for him. He does have his favorite toys that he likes to hang on, kind of scattered across the cage. He has a couple of different swings. I also do certain things with his bird food. 

Birds as they age often develop changes in their kidneys. They unfortunately develop a disease called “gout” very often when they’re older and they’re not getting enough Vitamin A, and you know I am a big proponent of pelleted bird food to try to prevent that from happening or slow down the process of developing gout which can be related to a lack of vitamin A and pellets have lots of vitamin A so it’s a good thing to feed your bird pellets. But, we want to really try to increase their water consumption as they age and I do that by feeding vegetables that I really wet down and I actually wet down pellets as well. Dale like some crunchy so he doesn’t want them soggy but I do add water to the pellets to try to increase his water consumption. You have to just make sure that you are refreshing those pellets often because they do sit around for a little while and they get a little soggy so you want to make sure you refresh them at least every day. You don’t wanna leave them sitting there. 

Another thing I’ll do for some birds – I haven’t had to do this yet for Dale is – if they fall, if their grip is not as good, you can actually fold up some towels and put them underneath the perches, build them up kind of in a stack because birds like to sit up high and they may not like it if they if you lower their perches to the bottom. But if you actually build up that stack of towels, if they do trip or fall, they’ll fall softly on the towels and not injure themselves.

You can also see that I have a different set, a wide variety of different kinds of perches of different diameter. I am a big fan of the rope perches here. They’re easy to wash, they’re easy to clean, and they’re softer on the bottoms of their feet. I do have some wide wood perches. I have some narrow wood perches and I do have a short perch here that enables Dale to pivot quickly between his food and his water because he likes to dunk his food and that way he doesn’t have to climb around and you know, spend a lot of energy doing that.

So, there are a lot of things that you can do for your bird as he ages. I encourage you to talk to your veterinarian about those changes that are most appropriate for your particular bird. But as you can see, birds thrive when you make the right arrangements in their environment. It’s just something to be aware of and something to think about so you can keep your older bird happy and healthy.

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