Like people, birds can break bones and develop diseases that cause problems with their musculoskeletal system. In this section, some of the most common problems involving bones and muscles in birds are covered.
Birds do break bones and suffer joint dislocations. These problems can be challenging to treat, because some of the bones are pneumatic (air filled) structures that are part of the bird's respiratory system. Also, bird bones contain more calcium than human bones. The high calcium content tends to make bird bones brittle and more prone to developing multiple fractures in the break area.
Despite these challenges, treatment for fractures in birds has advanced greatly in the past 20 years. Fracture stabilization techniques have been developed to help many birds with broken bones. Because bird bones often heal more quickly than bones in people, dogs, cats, and other mammals, rigid stabilization during the natural healing process may be all that is required. In other cases, surgery or implanted supports might be required to return the bird's bones to normal functioning.
The repair of fractured bones in birds can be complicated by bone diseases. For example, osteomyelitis is a painful inflammatory disease of bones often caused by bacterial infection. This disease can cause repeated infection of other locations in the body. Antibiotics are critical to prevent this infection from spreading through your bird's bloodstream and becoming life-threatening. If osteomyelitis is present in a bird with bone fractures, repair and healing of fractures can be complicated. Blood tests and x-rays can be used to determine the presence of this disease.
During recovery from fractures, physical therapy may be prescribed for your bird. This prevents joints from becoming frozen or stiff and preserves as much range of motion as possible. Your avian veterinarian or the orthopedic specialist will provide you with instructions for any physical therapy your bird may need. To ensure a complete recovery for your bird, you will need to carefully and completely follow these instructions.
In addition to therapy, pain medication may be prescribed for your bird. These medications may be given in food or water or by mouth (see Routine Care and Breeding of Birds: Giving Medication to Pet Birds).
Gout (see Disorders and Diseases of Birds: Kidney and Urinary Tract Disorders of Pet Birds) is not actually a primary bone or muscle disorder, but it is a disease that can cause severe pain in the joints and muscles of birds. The cause of gout is the abnormal deposition and accumulation of uric acid crystals in the body, often in the joints or feet. Walking and perching will often be so painful that the bird will rest on the bottom of the cage or on any available flat surface in its environment. The bird will move only when it must and may vocalize if it must walk or move.
Sarcocystosis (see Disorders and Diseases of Birds: Respiratory Parasites) is a disease caused by microscopic parasites. It is the cause of death in many parrots housed in outdoor cages in the southern United States. The parasites invade soft tissues, including the lungs, kidneys and muscles.
Last full review/revision July 2011 by Teresa L. Lightfoot, DVM, DABVP (Avian)