Kidney inflammation (nephritis)
In the course of their lives, some pet birds suffer from kidney disease. This can appear due to various reasons. One of the most common causes bacteria causing inflammations. Unfortunately, however, in many cases, these kidney diseases are overlooked or recognized only very late. Birds suffering from kidney inflammation often excrete large quantities of urine, which are mistakenly confused as diarrhea by numerous pet owners and even by some vets who are not experienced in treating feathered patients. Many people assume that wet droppings are liquefied feces. Therefore, when a bird excretes large amounts of liquid, it is often not considered that this could be an immense quantity of urine instead. A major contributor to this misunderstanding is that in birds, feces and urine are excreted together from the same posterior body orifice – the cloaca.
On this page, you will learn how to distinguish such huge urine blobs from real diarrhea. To train the eye for this, it is important to know what the urine of budgies usually looks like. By the way, it is comparable for many pet birds from other species who mainly eat dry seed mixtures. In contrast, the droppings of birds who regularly eat a lot of fresh food or even mash are generally considerably moister than those of budgies. Therefore, the pictures shown in this chapter are not a reliable reference regarding such bird species. Please keep this in mind when judging the texture of your birds’ droppings.
Recognize a kidney disease in a budgie
Together with the fecal compontent budgies deposit their urine, thus a dropping is composed of both. Usually, the urine is creamy in consistency and whitish in color. If a bird regularly ingests a vitamin supplement high in vitamin B or eats highly coloring fresh foods, the urine may be yellowish to orange in color. Dark fecal components surround these creamy, typically quite solid urine excretions. So, in a healthy budgie, the fecal heaps and urine portion should both be solid and odorless under normal circumstances. And they should dry up within a fairly short time.
When a bird drinks a particularly large amount or has eaten large portions of fresh food shortly beforehand, it is like for us humans: The volume of urine being produced by the body temporarily increases. This fluid is often excreted by the bird’s body together with the feces, which makes it appear relatively wet overall. However, if you look closely, you can see that the fecal component is rather solid, whereas the urine is not creamy, but liquid. With true diarrhea, it would be different, because then the dark fecal component would be strongly liquefied as well.
After consuming large portions of juicy fresh food, it is even common for budgies and other pet birds to excrete urine droplets that do not contain any fecal matter. However, this is usually only observed over a very short time in healthy animals who have previously consumed a lot of fluid. The amount of urine excreted returns to normal by itself in a healthy bird no later than a few hours after eating the watery fresh food. This applies too if a bird has temporarily excreted large quantities of urine due to agitation. So it can also be observed time and again in budgies when facing stressful situations.
A real disorder of the kidneys, for example, caused by an inflammation, is usually the case when the animal excretes wet droppings over a longer period, for a whole day, or even longer. In some extreme cases, urine will literally drip out of a bird over a long period and no feces will be excreted at all. If it happens, even a layman can usually tell that the budgie’s urine is considerably too liquid. Regarding this, avian vets refer to it as so-called polyuria.
There is another symptom that is commonly seen in birds suffering from kidney disease: Due to the increased urine excretion, the plumage around the cloaca becomes sticky. It is damp and begins to smell unpleasantly after a short time. The pungent urine odor is usually noticeable from a short distance. In addition, the otherwise white down feathers around the budgies’ cloaca often turn yellowish to greenish due to the urine. In some cases, urine virtually squirts out of the birds’ posterior body orifice at high pressure. Some animals also suffer from itchy eczema or other skin lesions near the cloaca because the urine irritates the tissue. If the kidneys are seriously harmed, they even may bleed and the urine excreted by the birds will then be mixed with blood.
Depending on what type of disease is involved, the kidneys may be heavily swollen and take up so much room in the affected birds’ bodies that they squeeze nerves along the spine. This can cause the birds to experience pain in their back and legs. Because when the nerves passing through these parts of the body are compressed higher up, the intense pain often radiates down to the foot. Therefore, the birds limp while walking and spare the aching leg by not putting weight on it and pulling it to the body or lifting it from the perch. In the worst case, even paralysis of the feet can be the result. Many a person knows these health problems from a herniated disc in the lumbar spine …
Causes of kidney inflammations
Kidney inflammation, the medical term for which is nephritis, can be caused by a variety of different factors in pet birds. Quite often, nutrition mistakes lead to severe disorders of the kidneys in these animals. Too much fat and protein, but also eating salt (for example, from human food), frequently lead to damage and later to inflammation or even failure of the birds’ kidneys. Another possible cause is that the birds do not drink enough. If a bird drinks too little, the kidneys are not sufficiently flushed – they become dehydrated, doctors say. Dehydration can lead to the organ’s tissue becoming vulnerable to pathogens. Those can proliferate particularly easily then. Therefore, you should regularly check whether your birds are drinking enough. This is even more important if you have added a vitamin supplement or a medicine to it, which changes the taste of the water.
Also, the ingestion of many toxins can cause severe kidney damage, which is dangerous in itself. On top of that, they make the organs very susceptible to bacterial infections. Administration of certain medications over a long period can also cause kidney problems in birds, which will often lead to bacteria becoming established in the damaged organs.
Only an avian vet will be able to determine with certainty why a bird is constantly excreting increased urine and whether this symptom is actually due to kidney inflammation caused by bacteria or, if so, indicate kidney damage from another cause. Unfortunately, curing kidney inflammation successfully is not always possible. Often, you and your avian vet can only provide relief for your birds’ discomfort if the disease has already turned chronic.
Avian veterinarians have several ways to reliably diagnose the condition. By examining a bird on palpation or by taking an x-ray, any swelling of the kidneys can be detected. Fecal and urine samples can be tested in a laboratory, and it is possible to determine kidney levels in a bird’s blood. For the latter, however, a blood sample is mandatory.
If it turns out that a bacterial infection is causing health issues, an antibiotic often needs to be administered. Additionally, in many cases, bird owners can take some further measures to help their ailing feathered patients.
Supportive measures for kidney inflammations
In my experience, the treatment with a medical heat lamp often has positive effects on the condition of a sick bird. Since birds suffering from kidney inflammation are usually very thirsty, you should always take this increased need for water into account and provide the animals with fresh, clean water in sufficiently large quantities. Some supplements must not be used for birds suffering from kidney disease because they stress the weakened organs! Talk to your avian vet about which products you would like to administer and clarify whether they can be used without concern.
With some herbal teas that support kidney function, you can also help a sick bird; this applies to nettle leaf tea, for example. However, keep in mind that herbal teas can also have side effects. How severe these are and how they are expressed in birds depends on the individual case, which is why the administration of teas should be coordinated with the attending avian vet.
Increased urine output, blood in the urine and severe kidney swelling leading to restricted leg movements can also indicate the presence of a kidney tumor in birds. Experienced vets usually detect such tumors very reliably. In most cases, unfortunately, it is not possible to cure the affected birds.
Furthermore, diabetes can occur in birds and be associated with increased drinking and the associated excretion of large amounts of urine. Avian vets can make an appropriate diagnosis.