The diagnosis of Hepatic Lipidosis (Fatty Liver disease) can be one of the most frightening to hear uttered by your avian veterinarian.However this does not always have to carry the sentence of death. Lets review some of the reasons why a parrot develops liver disease and what can be done to prevent this from happening to your birds.
A liver that is healthy and functioning well is important to the life of any bird. In the bird’s body the liver acts like a big filter through which many toxins pass and are removed from causing harm to the bird. One of the most common problems seen in avian species is fatty infiltrates into the liver. Fatty liver disease is certainly one of the most common metabolic disorders that affects all psittacines. It is possible that there is a correlation between vitamin deficiency and the development of fatty liver disease.
The B vitamin Choline is felt to be one, which if deficient, will allow for fatty infiltrates into the liver. “Choline is present in all living cells and facilitates the movement of fats into the cells. It combines with fatty acids and phosphoric acid in the liver to form lecithin. Choline is required for the production of acetycholine, a neurotransmitter. Choline is found in most animal tissue and is necessary for nerve function and fat metabolism, protects against poor growth and a fatty liver.” The lipotropic (“acting on fat metabolism by hastening removal, or decreasing the deposit of fat in the liver”) vitamins that are best supplemented in cases of fatty liver disease are Choline, biotin, and methionine.
Choline’s main function in the body is fat metabolism and in the transport of fats from the liver. It prevents fat from accumulating in the liver and it helps to facilitate the movement of fats into the cells. Besides decreasing the amount of fat in the liver it also protects the liver against chlorinated carbon and tetracycline antibiotics. Along with this, Choline is also important for nerve structure and function within the body. Deficiencies of choline in humans include fatty liver and liver damage. Foods that are high in choline are egg yolks, brewers yeast, legumes, and whole grain cereals.
Biotin is a water soluble substance that is not stored by the body and is considered to be part of the B complex vitamins. Biotin plays a significant role in the metabolization of fats and is essential for the normal metabolism of fats and protein. The best sources of biotin are nuts, fruits, brewers yeast, and brown rice.
Methionine is an essential amino acid. It belongs to the group of lipotropics along with choline. This amino acid like choline helps to eliminate fatty substances and helps to prevent excessive fat from being accumulated in the liver.”Methionine interacts with other components of the body’s chemistry to detoxify harmful chemicals (such as ammonia) in the liver, the bladder and the kidneys. It is also a natural chelating agent that eliminates heavy metals from circulation. Finally, it acts as a lipotropic agent that prevents the liver from storing excess fat and reduces cholesterol by stimulating the production of lecithin.” It is one of the compounds that promotes the breakdown of fat and affects the level of gluothathione which plays a critical role in keeping out toxins. The liver as a filter is the detoxifier of the body and these compounds help to keep toxins out of the cells. Good sources of methionine are eggs, fish, meat, and milk. Methionine is not available from plant sources.
Nutritional support is essential for the treatment of fatty liver disease. First and foremost there must be a change in diet away from high fat, high energy foods. It is important to change the diet to one that is much lower in fat. Ideally an organic formulated diet that has lower fat and lower protein should be started as soon as the diagnosis of fatty liver disease is made. Along with this, every effort should be made to increase the bird’s daily exercise. Every effort should be made to work with your avian veterinarian to reverse the effects of fatty liver disease. In many cases there are secondary infections along with the liver disease and medications used should not be toxic to the liver.
There are some alternative treatments that can be used along with those that your avian veterinarian prescribes. There has been increasing success with the use of two herbals, milk thistle and dandelion. These are available in most good health food stores in liquid form. It is always best to buy the non-alcoholic variety when treating your birds. Aloe Detox is another that has been used successfully in the presence of liver disease. This preparation already contains milk thistle and dandelion as well as Echinacea which is an immunostimulant. There have been reports of improved liver function when using these. However everything should be discussed with your avian veterinarian before using any of them.
Milk thistle is an herbal which has been used for many years in the treatment of liver disease and subsequent liver damage. Milk thistle is able to alter the cell membrane, thus making it a powerful blocker of toxins that would try to enter the cells. It has the ability to protect liver cells and is able to block the absorption of toxins into the cells. Milk thistle provides nutritional support for liver function and it is a powerful inhibitor of those factors that are responsible for liver damage. One of its most significant attributes is its unique ability to stimulate production of new liver cells to replace those that are damage by disease. Milk thistle is thus able to have a positive effect on the management of liver disease.
Dandelion is another herbal which is used in cases of impaired liver function. The main part of the plant that is responsible for the effect that dandelion has on the liver are the bitter compounds found in the leaves and the root. These help to stimulate digestion and effectively increase bile production and bile flow from the liver. This increase in bile production aids in improving fat metabolism in the body. This then makes Dandelion an effective herbal with birds that have impaired liver function.
In order to prevent fatty liver disease, one needs to remember that your bird does best on a low fat diet with all the vitamin, minerals, and amino acids needed to support life. All birds benefit from daily exercise and this is important to keeping your bird’s liver healthy.
Often the liver is subjected to toxic injury from ingesting aflatoxins, plant toxins, and a variety of chemicals used in the home environment. It is possible for there to be toxic insults to the liver which do damage. One toxic insult could be due to mycotoxins ingested from seed. Other causes of liver damage can be due to infectious diseases. Some diseases which do liver damage are Chlamydia psittai, Pseudomonas, Mycobacterium avium, E-Coli, and Salmonella. If you suspect that your bird is suffering from liver disease please contact your avian veterinarian.