Iron storage disease is a condition where excessive iron accumulates within the body and can cause damage to cellular structures. The liver, particularly, is often affected. There are various factors that could potentially cause this issue, such as too much iron in the diet or metabolic defects that alter absorption or secretion of iron from the body. In the end, liver damage from iron storage disease can cause numerous health problems and even ultimately death of an animal.
Certain species of birds are more susceptible to this disease than others, with lories and lorikeets being the more common species in the parrot world that are prone to it. However, it does occasionally occur in other parrots.
Recently, I had a Congo African Grey parrot that I diagnosed with iron storage disease. Blood work had shown he had a liver problem, but he wasn’t responding to the typical treatments we use for the more common liver disorders normally seen in parrots. Therefore, we decided we needed to look further and get a biopsy done to know what was going on. We were all a little surprised when the diagnosis came back as iron storage disease. The tissue samples don’t lie, however, and that was what we got. At that point, we knew we had to change our treatment plan in order to help this sweet guy out.
Since iron storage disease involves an abnormal accumulation of iron within the body, one way to deal with it is to reduce iron in the diet and get the patient treatments that will bind iron in the intestines before it can be absorbed into the body. We went through a very detailed dietary analysis with the patient’s mom and then formulated a strict dietary plan. We came up with a diet that was low in iron, low in vitamin C and high in calcium. Vitamin C needs to be low in patients with this disorder because that nutrient will enhance the absorption of iron from the intestines. Calcium can be higher because it blocks the absorption of iron. Lastly, we added in black tea for this patient to drink. This type of tea has substances in it known as tannins that will bind iron and prevent its absorption in the gut.
After a few months on the new diet and tea, we rechecked our African Grey patient to see how he was doing. When we rechecked his liver values, we were all pleasantly surprised to find a drastic improvement! Our diet and tea seemed to be doing the job and helping this guy with his iron storage disease. We will be watching him closely and monitoring his values to make sure there are no changes that require us to start more intensive therapy. For now, diet and tea supplementation is doing the trick and keeping this guy healthy.
It just goes to show you how important diet is in keeping our parrots healthy so that they can live long, happy lives!