Atherosclerosis in Parrots

Atherosclerosis in Parrots

Fluoroscopic angiogram being performed in a parrot. Diagnostics were performed by licensed veterinarians at the UC Davis SVM and approved by the UC Davis IACUC committee.  The black shadow you see traveling from the right side of the video, to the center of the patient, and then dissipating, is pharmaceutical grade contrast. The contrast is administered to allow visualization of how blood is travelling through the bird's arteries. 

Atherosclerosis is a disease of the arteries in which plaques (made up of fat, cholesterol or mineral) build up on the inside of the artery. These plaques slowly harden the artery and limit the amount of blood that can flow through the vessel. While you may know about this disease or even know someone affected by this common human condition, did you know captive parrots also commonly contract atherosclerosis? Researchers in the CZAR lab are working dilligently to develop new diagnostics and treatments to help alleviate atherosclerosis in birds. Please read on to learn more about our research:

Fluoroscopic Angiography

Historically, diagnosing and/or screening of parrots for atherosclerosis has been difficult to achieve. A variety of factors contribute to this fact including: limited diagnostic tests, the challenge of the bird as a patient and the often profound degree of disease that is present once patients begin displaying symptoms of atherosclerosis.

Symptoms of atherosclerosis in the bird can include lethargy, difficulty breathing, fainting, or falling over. We want to emphasize, however, that a very small number of birds will ever display these symptoms. An unfortunate truth of atherosclerosis in birds is that the most common clinical sign of the disease is sudden death. This fact further emphasizes the importance of developing better techniques to test for and treat avian atherosclerosis.

Recently, the CZAR lab teamed up with Dr. Josh Stern, BS, DVM, PhD, Diplomate ACVIM (Cardiology), to begin evaluating the use of fluoroscopic angiography in assessing degree of atherosclerosis in parrots. This technique allows veterinarians to administer contrast to anesthetized patients and then follow how that contrast travels through and is shaped by the patient's arteries. We are still evaluating use of this technique in the avian patient at this time, but please enjoy the small video clip provided on this page depicting use of the technique in one of our research parrots.


Another facet of our research into atherosclerosis in parrots is testing the use of medications for treatment of the disease. Starting this spring, the CZAR lab will be working with Dr. Jessica Robertson, DVM and first-year resident of the Companion Exotic Animal Medicine & Surgery Service, to evaluate the ability of atorvastatin in lowering cholesterol and triglycerides in the parrot. Atorvastatin is a lipid-lowering medication that is extremely effective in the prevention of cardiovascular disease in humans.

Keep an eye on this page for future updates on Dr. Robertson's study!