Q: My mother-in-law has a female parakeet with a problem beak. A crack developed on the beak's right side. The beak began to grow extra long, and the vet cut it straight across. The bird looked strange but had less trouble eating. Then, the beak began to grow too long again and I cut it more on an angle, as a bird beak should be. Now, the beak is growing long again, and also becoming thick. What's happening?
-- E.W. Chicago, IL
A: Sometimes parrots, such as parakeets, with forever-growing beaks aren't wearing them down on cuttlebones or other abrasive devices. However, avian veterinarian Dr. Peter Sakas, of Niles, IL says an underlying disease may be the root of your bird's problem.
There are several possibilities, but based on your description, Sakas says your bird may have fatty liver disease (hepatic lipidosis). Some birds can handle fatty diets, while others develop this disease. A diet too high in seed content is likely responsible, says Sakas. Other signs of liver disease include little black spots (tiny blood hemorrhages) on the bird's beak and/or toes and/or fatty deposits on the bird's chest.
"Continuing to trim the beak doesn't address the underlying problem," says Sakas, author of "Avian Medicine: A Guide for Practitioners" (American Animal Hospital Association Press, Lakewood, CA, 2002; $68). To do that, you must gradually change the bird's diet by adding more fruit and vegetables, and ideally making a transition to a balanced manufactured diet. If you make the diet change too drastic, the bird might stop eating and literally starve itself to death.
Before you proceed, you do need a specific diagnosis from a veterinarian familiar with avian medicine.