Creating a Healthy Pet Bird Diet
All About Eating Well!
Birds are hardy animals, but when cared for improperly or given poor nutrition they are susceptible to disease and possibly death. There's no doubt that one of the most important determinants of your bird's health is what it eats. Did you know the number one "disease" condition veterinarians see most often is malnutrition? Malnutrition opens the door for birds to develop secondary infections. Birds manifest nutritional disease faster than other animals because their metobolic rate is higher. For instance, feeding a seed only diet is inadequate because seeds are incomplete foods. Seed mixtures are deficient in certain vitamins, minerals, amino acids which are the building blocks of protein, and they are high in fat. Only when eating a balanced diet does a bird have the opportunity to enjoy a long and healthy life. If your bird is provided a proper diet and lives an untroubled life with no stress will they enjoy physical and mental health, and have the opportunity to reach their full potential as pets or breeders.
Providing excellent nutrition is important so its understandable why veterinarians recommend what they consider to be the best choice; that is, formulated pelleted diets. The main reason is in recent years nutritional science research has provided a better understanding of the nutritional needs of birds and pelleted diets have been developed to meet these needs. Pelleted diets maximize the opportunity to have excellent health, optimal energy and a long life.
Formulated diets area available in several forms: pellets, extruded diets, granules and crumbles. The advantages of these diets are that they are nutritionally balanced diets, relatively inexpensive, and have no waste because they are 100% edible. There are also combination pellet/seed bars and cakes available. These type of products are a mixture of seeds and pellets adhered tightly together. Because birds are attracted to the seeds in these products the bars and cakes are readily accepted. And with the tight bonding of the seeds and pellets birds tend to eat both portions. They may work well as a transition food when converting a bird from a seed diet to a formulated diet.
Seed Diets for many years have been accepted as the proper food for birds. But actually birds in the wild would only eat dried seeds in times of hardship. In the wild they would rather eat fresh succulent foods and insects. However, seed can be part of an adequate diet when used properly (see next paragraph). Seed is deficient in Vitamin A, Calcium and is high in Fat so when using this food as part of an avian diet it must be supplemented. However, offering just a loose mixture of seed with some other foods does not qualify as a complete and balanced diet. Providing food in this way allows the bird to pick and choose what he wants to eat ... he'll choose to eat his favorite food which may not be the best choice from what is offered. Additives and powders sprinkled on the seed just sift to the bottom of the dish or else are lost when the bird hulls the seed. When using additives and powders they should be applied to moist food. It is usually not recommended to put additives or powdered vitamins in water because bacteria can quickly develop and the bird may not consume enough water to get the benefit of the nutrients.
- With the hit and miss aspect of providing a seed/soft food diet it is easier to understand the benefits of offering a formulated diet. If you wish to help your bird accept a formulated diet it is best to follow a workable guideline to convert a bird to a pelleted diet, and it usually takes time and patience. However, if you have no success after seriously attempting to convert a seed addicted bird to a pelleted diet, then be sure to provide a variety of healthful, (soft) food along with the seed mix and add supplements to the soft food to provide the best chance for the bird to obtain the best nutrition possible. Be sure to purchase fresh seed such as the bagged variety from pet suppliers. The seed should be free of any mold, dust, bugs and musty odor.
- Supplementing the fresh food/seed diet with vitamin supplements. There are a number of excellent vitamin supplements available. Some vitamins are formulated for special needs or conditions. Some well-known quality products are available from Lafeber, Nekton, Prime, Chirp, or Vitaflite to name several. Follow the manufacturer's directions carefully. It is very important for bird's to have sufficient Vitamin A in their diet. Here is a list of fruits and vegetables that help meet this criteria.
- Mineral Supplements are very important because seeds are seriously deficient in calcium. Calcium is especially important to birds laying eggs and a deficiency can result in egg binding which is a very serious problem. The high fat content of seed actually binds any calcium in the seed so it is nutritionally unavailable to birds. Mineral sources include: cuttlebone, mineral block, crushed egg shells (boil well to prevent Salmonella bacteria), crushed oyster shells, bones/bonemeal and commercial preparations, such as: Avimin, Osterform, Neocalglucon.
- Protein supplementation is important when feeding a seed diet. Seeds are deficient in protein so birds can be supplemented with foods such as cooked meat, fish and eggs, and cheese and milk. Although birds can digest these foods well, do not feed these foods to excess.
- Feeding Table Foods. Healthy table foods can be a valuable nutritional supplement. They have the added benefit of building a stronger bond when people share their food with their bird. Eating table foods with their favorite people can not only be a source of good food but a happy experience as well. And the sharing of food between people and their pets seems rather natural. Birds seem to favor eggs, sharp cheese, spicey tomato sauces, poultry, sweet grapes and other fruits, and are attracted to almost everything their caretakers look like they are enjoying.
While it may be appealing to feed your bird what you are eating, some caution is necessary. Bulky and high fiber foods can overload the bird's system and are poorly digested. Although small amounts do no harm, volumes of 10-15% or more could cause problems. Foods in this group include greens, fruits and raw vegetables. Also take care not to feed fatty foods. Birds fed diets high in fats tend to be overweight, may have oily feathers and an enlarged liver infiltrated with fat. Caution must also be exercised in feeding foods high in cholesterol. Birds live very long lives and prolonged feeding of high cholesterol foods can lead to hardening of the arteries, just like happens with people.
Table foods should be treated as a food "accessory" to a well-balanced diet. They add interest, flavor and a freshness not found in prepared foods. Nutritionally, is table food an asset? Yes. But is it the ideal diet for pet birds? Veterinarians conclude that birds are best off if 80% of their diet consists of commercially produced nutritionally balanced food, and 20% people food including bakery goods (not the sugary kind), cereals, pasta, nuts, fruits, greens, vegetables, meats, fish and dairy products. Such a diet allows the bird to receive the benefits of balanced nutrition formulated especially for their needs along with the enjoyment of the variety, flavor, freshness and interest of the foods we eat.
Liquids. Water is essential to birds. Although it may not appear that your bird drinks much water, without clean, fresh water it could not survive. Water bowls should be cleaned daily and more often often if it becomes fouled. This will prevent the buildup of bacterial contaminants. Chlorinated water in cities will not harm birds, but I personally prefer to provide bottled or filtered water. Some bird develop a fondness for nectar, juices and tea. These will not harm them in moderate amounts.
Offering the Food.
Free Choice is leaving the food in the cage all day long, with the bird selecting the food it prefers. The disadvantage is the bird may select only one type of food and exclude other offerings. This problem becomes non-existent if the bird is fed a balanced type of diet, either commercial or from the ingestion of a wide variety of food and supplements.
Two Meals a Day with nothing in between, except for an occasional treat, has advantages for both the bird and owner. Contrary to popular belief birds do not starve to death when fed two separate meals a day. In fact, the degree of hunger brought about by two feedings develops a hearty appetite. Most wild members of the parrot family fill their crops in the early morning to avoid food gathering during the heat of the tropical day, and then feed again in the evening before nightfall in order to fast through the night.
Establishing a definite, dependable mealtime and eating schedule will cause your bird to anticipate eating and will eat heartily and reduce the wasting of food. A further advantage is the bird will anticipate the person bringing food a friend. A bond develops as the bird associates the owner with the pleasure of feeding. A bird eager to accept handfed treats between meals becomes a pampered pet with the best care.
One of the most important decisions you'll make regarding the proper care of your bird is what you will feed it. Feeding an all seed, high fat diet will prevent your bird from achieving a good level of health and longevity. A diet exclusively of people food is also risky. Avian veterinarians universally agree that providing a commercial diet (such as pellets) that is nutritionally balanced is necessary to be sure your bird is on the best plane of nutrition. In their opinion it is the only way to be sure all your bird's nutritional requirements are met. If your bird absolutely refuses to eat such a diet then you must try to broaden the diet and provide adequate supplements to make up for the shortfall. Avian veterinarians have reason to feel strongly about their recommendations, as most of the bird patients they see suffer from the disease condition of malnutrition.