Dogs and cats aren’t the only pets that can develop diabetes. Birds are also prone to developing the disease, and for many bird lovers, controlling their pet’s diabetes has become a part of their life.
To find out more about diabetes in birds, we consulted Lynn Dustin V.M.D. at the Bay Area Bird Hospital in San Francisco.
DI: What causes diabetes in birds?
Dr. Dustin: In birds with diabetes, it’s frequently the result of the pancreas being damaged by infection or other secondary problems, rather than the primary type of diabetes that dogs and people get.
DI: Do birds get two types of diabetes?
Dr. Dustin: To the best of my knowledge, all of the birds that have the diabetes require insulin treatment since it’s not a dietary problem.
DI: What is the standard treatment for birds with diabetes?
Dr. Dustin: They would need to have the bird taken to a veterinarian, have a blood glucose test taken and have the bird started on insulin injections.
DI: Can people treat their bird themselves?
Dr. Dustin: Usually the best course of action is for the bird to stay in the hospital and have its blood sugar monitored during the stabilization period. That’s the fastest way to get the diabetes under control. It is possible during the initial stabilization that the blood sugar might get too low and the bird might need veterinary care. Birds have quite a variation in the amount of insulin they need, and we usually start off low and move it upward if they seem to need more.
DI: How can people tell if their bird potentially has diabetes?
Dr. Dustin: The best way to tell is an increase in thirst and urination.
DI: What if I had a diabetic bird. What are its chances of leading a normal life?
Dr. Dustin: The chances would be very good. In fact, most cases of diabetes that I have treated eventually recover from the diabetes and eventually outgrow their need for insulin, although not all cases do. And that is partly because many of the diabetes cases are secondary to infection, and once the infection is resolved, the pancreas will recover. It will take time, but very often it will recover.
DI: So the diabetes is curable?
Dr. Dustin: I wouldn’t say curable, I would say it’s transient. It’s not unusual to see transient diabetes in cats and also in small exotic mammals.
DI: Since certain species of birds can live for long periods of time, do they develop the long term complications from their diabetes that people do?
Dr. Dustin: Birds definitely can experience slow wound healing, and they can experience abnormal fat metabolism which leads to fatty liver and coronary artery disease and things like that.
DI: Are there cases of diabetes-related blindness in birds?
Dr. Dustin: I haven’t had any and I haven’t read of any.