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Q:  Our 8 year old cockatiel, Poppy, is having trouble perching in his cage.  He’s also having difficulty standing and has fallen several times.  When we take him out of his cage, his grip seems weaker on our fingers.  While his appetite seems normal, he is drinking more water than usual.  A friend mentioned he might have gout.  I know this is a human disease, but I’ve never heard of a bird having it.  What can you tell me?

A:  Gout is the accumulation of uric acid crystals in body tissues, especially the joints. Gout can cause difficulty perching due to painful swollen joints.  It is a common problem in pet birds, although it is different than the disease in people. In birds, gout is often associated with kidney failure and treatment aims to address both the painful joints and the underlying disease. 

Your bird may not be suffering from gout or kidney failure as many other conditions can also cause a bird to have a weakened grip and difficulty standing.  Arthritis can affect the toes.  Many birds develop a foot infection called pododermatitis or “bumble foot”.  Nutritional deficiencies will play a role in the development of many of these conditions.  Make sure your bird has no exposure to lead or zinc. Some neurologic problems cause similar signs and should be ruled out.  In addition, older birds may develop tumors that will impact the ability to walk or stand. 

As you can see, Poppy could have any number of conditions that result in his difficulty with his feet.  I would recommend that you start by having a physical examination performed by a veterinarian experienced with treating birds.  Your veterinarian will evaluate Poppy and make treatment recommendations based on his specific diagnosis.

Frank C. Boren, DVM

Dr. Boren graduated from the University Of Florida School Of Veterinary Medicine and has remained on the staff of Oradell Animal Hospital since completing an internship here in small animal medicine and surgery. Dr. Boren has a special interest in exotic and zoo animal medicine. He is the veterinarian for the Bergen County Zoo and is consultant for The James A. McFaul Environmental Center in Wyckoff, New Jersey. Dr. Boren sees appointments at Oradell Animal Hospital in Paramus and at our Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey office.