I brought Kili and Truman to the Center for Avian and Exotic Medicine for a Bird Wellness check up. I had no reason to suspect their health but I had some questions about their weight and wanted to have a fecal exam to check for parasites (especially since I take them outside a lot).
I had a feeling that Kili was getting too pudgy even before visiting the vet. She had been on freefeed for nearly a month while I was away on two different trips. Since I normally manage the parrots' food, I allow for them to go on freefeed for some length of time to make an adjustment. I let this coincide with when I'm gone because it is convenient and let's them get their molt and hormonal time over with while I'm not there to put up with it.
The issue is that I primarily use behavior as feedback for food management rather than weight. To clarify, I use behavior to establish a target weight rather than just targeting a weight based on a specific percent reduction from freefeed. I'm not recommending this method for others without a more in depth understanding but just going to explain it here so you can see why Kili got so fat. I start the parrot at freefeed and see how motivated it is for training (flight, tricks, etc). Usually this is not very much because it just ate and has no room for any more food. Then I begin progressively reducing food portions while noting motivation increase as demonstrated through performing known behaviors. Once I reach the apex of performance, I target that weight by managing food portions. This worked very well up until now and the birds maintained healthy weights. However, since the last time they were freefed, I never got Kili back down to training/healthy weight. Part of it was that she was molting some critical primary feathers and I didn't want to stunt their growth but the main reason was that her training motivation was sufficient with a higher food intake. Basically she's just gotten so good at the tricks that it takes far less food deprivation to get her motivated to perform. This is why I needed a confirmation from the vet that she was in fact getting fat and not something else. Two alternative theories I had were that I either had overly deprived her before and she never attained healthy weight (probably not) or that she had grown/matured some more since before and belongs at a higher weight. Thus I thought we could use a veterinary consultation. I was also looking for a followup to the scar from her earlier beak puncture.
As for Truman, he had a pelvic fracture some years back and I wanted the vet to check that he has regained full leg motion since. Truman is still a klutz and falls down a lot so I could never tell if he was having trouble or just that way by nature. Also he walks slowly. He'll never run or hop like Kili when he's on the floor. He just slowly waddles over. Once again, I suspect it's a species thing but it was hard to tell if it was any kind of remnant of the injury.
I specifically picked a day when Lorelei Tibbetts would be available. She is the office manager and nurse. She just has the right approach with birds. She's doesn't just minimize the bad experience, she takes the extra step to make it a good experience for the birds. You can immediately tell that she's a bird person in how she approaches and handles the birds. And they can tell that too. Of course they are trained birds but having the right approach is still necessary in order for them to cooperate. Both Kili and Truman will step up for Lorelei and enjoy being held and cuddled. This is really important to me. I would not bring my birds in for an unrequired preemptive wellness visit if it were to stress them out or cause them harm. This is why I didn't get any blood testing.
The vet looked over Truman first. She said he has full range of motion in his legs and they seem fine. She also checked him over and listened to his heart. He wasn't traumatized but he was agitated. He kept growling. Lorelei had to ask Truman to be quiet so that the vet could hear his heart. It was so cute. She would whisper in his ear and give him kisses so he'd be quiet long enough.
Both parrots got their talons dremelled. They have been excruciatingly sharp but I've been putting off cutting them. They have been very sharp yet short so there wouldn't be enough to make a good cut. Since I was already paying for the vet visit I figured I'd let them take care of it. The birds never faced a dremel before so I was worried it would freak them out but it was expertly done and over in no time.
Kili got her belly squeezed from different angles and the vet called her pudgy. I knew she's been a perch-potato lately and a little on the heavy side. I just wasn't sure if I should do anything about it or not (because it hasn't been manifesting itself behaviorally). But the vet confirmed it and told me she'd be better off at a lower weight so Kili's going on a diet to slim down. It shouldn't be difficult to do. I'm going to continue feeding her seeds/nuts as treats for training but I will reduce the morning pellet portion and feed more veggies to her in the evenings (rather than pellets again) so she can fill up without the excess calories/nutrition. And on the other side of it, I'm going to make her fly more. Since she'll be fed less, she should be more motivated. So I'll be going back to working her out in flight on a variable ratio reinforcement schedule. The vet also recommended varying the pellets that I feed them so I may look into that as well.
I'm going to be documenting Kili's weight and training progress for the next few weeks and will report back when we've achieved a healthier weight for her. Even a flighted parrot on a twice daily meal plan can become obese (mainly because of caging and overly rich diet) so just imagine how much worse it is for clipped free fed parrots! Flight is great exercise but they have to use it to benefit from it. I've been letting Kili slack off because she was molting feathers (she was at the point of only having 2 on her bad wing). But now that she's whole and healthy again, we're going to be doing a lot more flight training again. It's so important for parrots to be flight trained and for owners to do this with them regularly because they don't get enough flight simply on their own. Perhaps if they were out to roam the house all day it would suffice. But since we let them out for a limited time and they want to spend that limited time with us, they don't end up flying for more than just getting around. This is where flying recalls and doing tricks really pays off as more than just fun and games but exercise as well!
At the end of the visit, Lorelei took Truman around for a tour of the new clinic (as they recently moved from a few doors down). Here is a video of the new Center for Avian and Exotic Medicine facility:
Kili and Truman's fecal test results came in all clear today. Also Kili's new diet plan is in full swing. I fed her less pellets this morning. Then in the afternoon I took the parrots to the park to fly. I'm putting Kili's higher hunger motivation toward exercise (so it's a double win for her health). I'm not starting them too hard all at once. I had Kili fly 5x long (20ft) recalls and returns. Then Truman flew 5x medium (10ft) recalls and returns. Finally I had Kili fly 5x more medium recalls but from less familiar places around the park. It's a great start considering I had not flown them much more than on the short leash this year. We'll keep working on recalls and flight in coming weeks.