Move It!

Exercise Is A Key Component To Healthy Birds

Avian pathologists have repeatedly made us aware of the alarming incidence of significant heart disease in companion psittacine species. Certain species appear to be at greater risk and there is consensus that high-fat seed diets predispose companion psittacine species to atherosclerosis. Following the lead of human medicine, we should expand our approach to wellness to include exercise as an essential component of forward-thinking healthcare. This review of pathology and physiology supports this approach and proposes reasonable ways to bring exercise and a healthier lifestyle to companion birds.


As birds exist primarily as flighted animals, it is a wonder that we have generally adapted our approach to companion parrots as sedentary animals. Whether this approach was based on convenience, laziness, or rooted in arrogance, there is no doubt that it has irrevocably impacted sustainable health in our companion parrot population. Somehow the biology of the bird was left out of the equation. Today we are able to offer sophisticated diagnostics when a parrot’s health fails, but we have generally failed to develop or communicate practical paths to sustainable health. Many continue to accept a commercial industry that promotes a seed-based diet, even though the long-term results of feeding such a diet have been clearly demonstrated. Time outside, exposure to sunlight, or hours away from the food bowl are perceived by most pet bird owners as risky or outright dangerous. Exercise is usually a trip on a shoulder from cage to kitchen. Talented behaviorists address issues of unwelcome screaming, biting, and destruction. And we are surprised that many larger companion parrots are headed to sanctuary by 10 years of age and tragically dead by 20.

It seems that not only do we need to develop fun and easy ways for our companion birds to Move It!, but as a group of motivated professionals, we need to Move It! away from outdated notions of diet and husbandry and incorporate into our approach all that is really great about parrots. Parrots have been described as one of the most adaptable and flexible species on the planet. Their intelligence and beauty have appealed to humans throughout history. It seems to be well past time to address our efforts to providing a real quality of life and sustainable health for companion parrots. The old notion of the caged parrot needs to be replaced by new traditions that provide not only diets that promote health but also life-sustaining fresh air, sunlight, and exercise.

Why We Must Move It!

Evidence that our companion parrots are suffering from degenerative conditions due primarily to high fat diets and lack of exercise has been presented at nearly every AAV conference with supporting evidence in clinical veterinary journals and texts.1–8 Even if we were to narrow the discussion to degenerative conditions of the heart and great vessels, focusing on the incidence of arteriosclerosis or atherosclerosis, the evidence for an alarming situation is overwhelming. Generally a necropsy finding and often an incidental one, avian veterinary pathologists have reported in numerous retrospective studies a significant incidence of advanced disease of the heart and great vessels.1,2–4, 5,7 A recent retrospective report described atherosclerosis as the most frequently described pathologic change of vessels in psittacine birds in captivity.1 Most attempts to assign statistical incidence to presenting signs, age, gender, or diet have failed because of lack of clinical history and an unknown correlation between numbers of birds kept as caged pets and numbers presented for necropsy.1,3–5,7