|Exercise and The Perch Potato:
by Louisa Jaskulski, Vet Tech at Wildwood Veterinary Hospital:
This information is in no way meant to
replace discussing an exercise program with your veterinaran to ensure
your bird gets enough exercise, but it is helpful info why exercise is
so important and gives some good suggestions on exercises (know your
bird's limitations and be in tune with their body language of course).
The main point to take away to keep those zons moving.
Thoughts on Exercise - We know birds are designed to be
very active and athletic. The ability to fly requires
exquisite oxygenation and muscular adaptations. Wild birds
fly many miles daily, as well as climbing, playing,
foraging, ripping things up etc.
The biggest muscles on flying birds are the pectoral
(chest) muscles, which function to pull the wings down
during flight. (I imagine it may be different for running
birds like ostriches, but I digress.) So exercises to work
those big muscles are important.
Negative consequences of lack of exercise include muscle
atrophy, heart disease and artherosclerosis, and moodiness.
Keeping them on a normally low fat diet consistent with the
needs of the species is critical as well to prevent heart
disease, and also helps keep sex hormones down.
It can be a real challenge to provide exercise opportunities
to caged birds. The bigger the cage the better, obviously.
Place food and especially treats at different heights in
the cage so they have to climb around to get them.
Foraging toys that require the bird to reach and pull, or
physically tear open a box or paper twist after they get
hold of it, can also help.
For example, Amazons can tend to be real "couch potatoes"
as they mature, so they really need to move around. My
old rescue Amazon (Phoenix) has severe heart disease from
being on a seed diet for years in the past, which makes the
need even more critical. So inside his cage I put his
favorite treats in his foraging wheel way low (he never
climbs down low in his cage otherwise), or hanging from a
skewer so he has to reach and wrestle with it.
Out of cage time is critical. Too many "play stands" are
actually just out of cage perches - nothing for the bird
to do but sit there. Look for playstands that have many
levels and activity potential.
If the bird is flighted (one of mine is), that is great
exercise, as long as your bird is supervised, you have
eliminated dangers (open doors, open toilet seats, no one
is cooking, etc) and the bird is an adept flier.
If they are not flighted, but have trimmed wings, they can
still flap. Some people hold the bird on their hand/arm
and bring the hand/arm down quickly so the bird flaps.
Make it a big silly game and go as long as the bird (and
your hand/arm muscles) will tolerate.
Some birds (like Phoenix) are not comfortable with my
pulling him down like that. With him what I do is hold him
over his back - my thumb curls around one side of his body
under his wing, my index finger is flat on his back
pointing toward his head, and the other 3 fingers are
curled around the other side of his body under his wing. I
can then hold him parallel to the floor in a normal flying
position, and I walk with him like that - he flaps and
flaps. Because of his heart disease, I cannot flap him for
more then a minute (max) before he starts really panting,
so I stop and cuddle him and tell him "Catch your breath",
and then we do it a few more times with breaks in between
each time. Then there is more loving and he goes back to
his cage and gets a treat.
I have successfully used the above hold-over-the-back
technique with smaller birds as well. It takes a few times
for them to get used to it, and to learn you will not drop
them - but it gives them a good flapping workout in a more
normal flying position.
I think it is very helpful to do this at least twice a day,
more often if you are home during the day.
Birds can also get good exercise walking around and
climbing up on things - but be VERY CAREFUL if your bird
is on the floor - the dangers are stepping on them,
another pet catching them, or them ingesting something
toxic that they find on the floor.
Make it fun. Do it as often as you can. Enjoy!