How Do I Get My Finicky Parrot To Eat A Balanced, Healthy Diet In Spite Of Himself?
Ron Hines DVM PhD
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The majority of health problems I see in pet parrots, like yours, are caused by nutritionally imbalanced diets and the failure to feed pet birds the same fresh diets that keep the rest of us healthy. All sorts of disease problems that veterinarians see in pet parrots have, as their underlying problem, a poor diet. The things you find in commercial seed mixes and parrot pellets are things that no parrot in the wild ever ate.
Until the 1960’s, most people fed their parrots seeds and most of these parrots were budgies. The seeds that were available were not the native Australian grass seeds that budgies normally consumed. They were the high-tech, farmed, oil and starch seeds that dominate the current agricultural business.
About that time, an observant veterinarians in Niles Illinois, Ted Lafeber, noticed that his avian patients who consumed a wide variety of vegetables, fruits and grains, in addition to seeds, had less health problems and lived considerably longer than the ones given exclusively seeds. That observation led him to market the first formulated bird food in 1974.
Dr. Lafeber’s observations were correct. All common seeds were too low in crucial vitamins, as well as important minerals and other nutrients. Seeds that these hookbills (parrots) loved to eat also contain too much fat for their lifestyle and too little protein. Their feathers – a mirror on their inner health - were brittle and lacked their normal luster and color. This led to obesity, increased susceptibility to disease and a shortened life-span. You can read more about another diet-linked problem , gout, in another article on this website.
Absolutely none of the seeds you see in pet store are part of your parrot’s natural diet in the wild. Many of these seeds seem to produce a “high” shortly after they are eaten and depression when they are not available. And just like a mom who slaves over a wonderfully nutritious meal for her kids - and then placed a bowl of Snickers bars in the center of the table, parrots and macaws will go straight for the "candy bar" seeds and eat them until they are full.
I have had so many clients prepare beautiful diets for their birds, only to have their little rascals carefully sort through the mix, eating only the portions that catch their eye. The problem is worse in hand-fed domestic parrots who may have been fed one, monotonous oil-rich diet during hand rearing or while hanging in a pet store.
What Are Some Of The Warning Signs Of Poor Nutrition that I Might See?
It is pretty obvious when a bird’s health is deteriorating due to its diet. I can tell when they walk in the clinic door, because the colors of their feathers are dull and faded. They never have the intense greens, reds,and blues one sees in wild parrots or those eating as if they were in the wild. I come from the Mexican border so I see a lot of double yellow-heads. When they walk in with what looks like a peroxide-blond hairdo, I know they are on seeds or the product of a Mexican dye-job. (it was common to dye the heads of all parrots yellow to sell to gullible gringos) The washed out yellow in this photo of a parrot at the Vancouver Aquarium, shows that the bird has not been eating an adequate diet for a considerable period of time. View it here. Parrots do not seem to obtain their red and yellow colorants from their diet the way many other birds do. (ref)
Many owners are unaware of this because the pet came to them with that sort of plumage, because the color changes occurred slowly or they compare them to pet shop birds that all have the same problem.
The next most obvious sign are frayed, or broken feathers or those that have individual veins with a brownish color. Some of these abnormalities are due to failures in feather formation, other times it is due to deprived birds chewing on themselves neurotically. If you want to determine which is the likely cause, see if the same abnormal feather on the opposite wing or portion of its body shares the same defects. If so, it is a feather formation problem. (If the feather just seems to “give up” during formation (particularly if your pet is a cockatoo, African grey, eclecuts or another non-south american species) the PFBV virus needs to be considered as well). Ref
Your pet’s two nostrils (nares) are located in that unfeathered triangle (cere) at the base of its beak. The cere should be soft and smooth and those two openings should be oval-round and wide. When the cere is crusty, scaly, or has an irregular, turtle-shell appearance, or the nares are pasty and narrowed with debris, the bird is not well. Barring a previous fight with another parrot or a wound to the cere, these two openings should be identical in shape, never round, never crusty and your bird should only sneeze on rare occasions. We think that a lack of sufficient vitamin A in your pet’s diet is the underlying cause of this problem. But often, by the time these pets arrive at my hospital, they already have a bacterial sinusitis and need more than a diet change.
The unfeathered portion of your bird’s feet should have the
look of full-grained leather – much like an alligator-skin
purse. It should not be scurfy, scaly or patchy in its colors. The
bird should stand high on its perch when it is alert, not slouched
low to the perch. Nutritional deficiencies, obesity, respiratory/heart
problems all cause birds to rest their keel (breastbone)
close to or on the perch. While I am on it, their
tail should never bob up and down as they breath.
Since every system in your bird’s body depends on proper nutrition, any health problem is possible when a pet doesn't eat right. (That is why I always have clients bring me a food sample, as well as the tray liner from their cage when they bring in the parrot) What’s in the food cup isn’t as important as the hulls and scraps on the cage bottom that tell me what the pet is actually consuming or dropping to the bottom whole. Their poop tells me a lot as well. The color isn’t all that important (unless it contains blood). It is the stool contents, their degree of digestion, and the presence or absence of mucus that tells me most. If you drag a toothpick through the pet’s poop, it should not trail along behind. Veterinarians often stain a specimen for bacteria and yeast. Digestive tract yeast infections do not occur in parrots that receive good diets and care. Much of what is diagnosed as a “yeast infection” is actually malnutrition. Yeast spores are present in all the grains products you feed your bird (and that you eat yourself) and they come out in the stool whole. But it is exceedingly rare for them to be the source of a health problem. Much of what is diagnosed as an oral yeast infection in birds is probably just a nutritional deficiency. If your veterinarian finds that the bird's stool contains too many gram negative bacteria, antibiotics are only a temporary fix and so are bacterial pastes - paste bacteria will not live if gut conditions are not right for them. But If you concentrate on cage sanitation, proper environment and a varied plant-based diet, the gram positive bacteria will return on their own.
Diets Rich In Industrial Seeds
I call them industrial seeds for lack of a better word. You can read about the good and the bad of them here. These are all the cereal and other staple grains that are planted and harvested from mechanized farms throughout the World. Over centuries, these plants have been selected to produce seeds in huge amounts that are high in carbohydrate, high in fat, low in vitamins, and low in protein. It is a zero-sum game. If you want huge crop yields, you have to sacrifice something.
In trading quantity for quality, these plants all require human beings to complete their growing cycle. These industrial seeds include, corn, millet, safflower, sunflower, peanuts and hemp. It matters not, if these seeds are “All Organic”, “All Natural”, “Pesticide Free” “Wellness Blend”, etc. etc. They are all naturally injurious to your pet’s health if they form too much of its diet. It doesn’t matter if they are ground up, fed whole, pelletized, sprayed with colors, given nice aromas, sprayed with vitamins, offered in flashy containers or offered for sale by “avian experts”. Their time as the primary diet component for conscientious pet owners has passed.
Seed diets have done-in many more pet parrots than all infectious diseases combined. Parrots love them - just like kids love Snickers. Some folks say that if you lay out a healthy diet for your pet, it will select the right blend for itself. That’s like cooking a healthy diet for your kids and then putting a bowl of M&Ms and pop tarts in the center. What do you think will happen?(ref)
Seeds and grain products, pelleted or not, should make up, at the most, about 25% of your pet’s diet.
Feeding your pet seeds also brings with it the dangers of aflatoxins. I’ll mention a bit more about that later; but if you are going to feed whole seeds or peanuts, pick out any broken, defective, cracked or discolored ones and throw those away. They are the ones with the most potential for high aflatoxin content. When seed mixes are dyed, ground up or coated with a vitamin concoction, picking out the bad ones becomes impossible. (Incidentally, those vitamin/mineral coatings just end up on the cage floor.)
Industrial seeds are chiefly made up of empty carbohydrates. Many are quite high in oil as well. Hookbills love oily seeds - but these seeds, along with lack of exercise, could easily be a factor causing the arterial disease (atherosclerosis) we commonly see in pet parrots as they age. (ref) They are not at all like the seeds, growing wild in nature, which a wild parrot might encounter. They tend to be quite low in vitamins D and A, some of the B-vitamins, calcium, and trace elements. It is said that what protein they do have is often unbalanced, being deficient in the amino acids lysine and methionine. (ref)
So Why Do So Many People Still Feed Seeds ?
folks just do the easy thing – pick up a box of Hartz at your
grocery store or some “premium” seed brand at the pet
Megastore - and get on to other things.
Pet birds love seed diets - true but unfortunate.
Seed diets store well – actually, they don’t, you just can’t see the dangerous spoilage.
Pet stores feed their birds seeds so why shouldn’t I? You love your bird - they don’t.
Feeding fresh produce is so messy! My parrot slings it on the walls and floor and the cage area smells like the farmer’s market on Sunday. If you want a neat, low maintenance pet - think twice before purchasing a parrot.
I used to care for performing bears with the Ringling Bros. Circus. The acts always fed them 80% day-old white bread and 20% Old Roy dog chow. A very perceptive, third generation, bear trainer once confided in me, after his son was mauled, that if he increased the amount of dog chow, the bears became too unpredictable. He thought his son had been feeding them too much dog chow and he knew they were only docile and easy to handle when the amount of dog chow was kept low. He was convinced that there was something in Old Roy dog chow that made his bears “mean”. He was wrong. Bears are naturally dangerous; his were slow, disinterested and weak from malnutrition. It’s much the same with parrots. Parrots on bad diets don’t scream as much, they are less aggressive and destructive, they spend much of their time sleeping with their head tucked under a wing and they don’t molt and produce feather shaft fluff or powder down as much. Some folks find birds in that condition easier to live with. I don’t scold these clients; they love their pets just as much as you love yours. It’s that, like the bear trainer, they just haven’t connected the dots right.
Pelleted And Extruded Diets
Dr. Lafeber was followed by many other entrepreneurs. They all thought that if they took the known nutritional needs of chickens and added the missing ingredients to industrial grains, they could come up with an ideal product. What we ended up with are today’s pellets, which are kind of like military K-rations or meals-ready-to-eat. Throw all the required stuff in a pot, grind it up, heat it up, press it through an extruder, add a slick marketing campaign and a nifty bag and Vuala! - the perfect parrot food.
Most aviculturalists use the words pelleted diet and extruded diet interchangeably and that is fine. But in production, extruded diets pass through a process of higher heat and pressure than pelleted diets. Today, most are extruded.
I have great respect for the late Dr. Lafeber. His idea was an enormous advancement in pet bird nutrition. In fact, it was the beginning of pet bird nutrition. I would call him at his Animal Hospital in Niles, Illinois and we’d chew the fat over a difficult case. His pellets were convenient, the birds couldn’t sort through to pick and choose, they had enough vitamin A and D-3 and Calcium and they corrected the amino acid imbalance by adding lysine and methionine. Feeding this diet was light-years more health than feeding a seed diet. Suddenly, budgies and cockatiels were living so much longer. Today, there are many brands to choose from. I am fond of Mazuri products, but there are many other good brands.
However, with time, problems in birds fed solely pellets became apparent. For one, pellets robbed the pet of foraging time, exercise and exploration - all important part of your bird’s mental health. Like prison or institutional food, prepared by certified nutritionists you won’t develop scurvy or beriberi eating it, but you may eventually flip out. Or you might eat so much of it out of boredom that your weight skyrockets.
Another potential worry are the mold toxins that are common in industrial grains - the basis of all pellets. They are called mycotoxins and I will discuss them a bit later.
Avian pellets are marketed as nutritionally “complete”. The problem is that we really have no idea what that means. We know what will keep a chicken alive and free from illness for a year or two and all pellet producers start there. But the few studies in pet birds have been of very short duration, and, to the best of my knowledge, always conducted by the same person or organization marketing the product. (that didn't stop the AAFCO from issuing pet bird nutritional guidelines in 1998) That is very disturbing to me when we are talking about feeding one product or very similar products monotonously over 20 –30 years. That is entirely unlike the situation God anticipated when he created these creatures to flutter here and there, following the maturing of wild fruits, buds, seeds and berries. He designed them to thrive on nutritional variety, not nutritional adequacy.
Another problem with stored cereal-based pellets is what happens to them after they leave the factory. When you buy them from feed store, online or from your veterinarians, you never know how long they sat on the shelf, at what temperature, and with what exposure to gnawing rodents.
I avoid products that have been dyed with anything but products similar to the anthocyanins dyes of red cabbage and blueberries. It is safer to purchase a non-dyed product and sprinkle grated carrot, red cabbage or blueberries in it.
Is There A Place For Pellets In My Pet’s Diet ?
Yes, the secret to a healthy diet for your parrot is variety - and pellets can be a part of that variety. Just don’t feed them in the amounts that the manufacturers suggest. When they suggest 80% pellets and 20% mixed fruits and vegetables – reverse that number.
Mold toxins (mycotoxins, aflatoxins) are a constant hazard in the industrial grain industry for humans and pets alike. They are phantom poisons, tasteless, odorless, appearing suddenly in one field of corn and not the next. Some times these fungi are present in large amounts but produces no toxins, other times the opposite occurs. Sometimes (usually) the toxins are present before harvest but they can also appear during storage. They are impervious to cooking heat and no process has yet been developed that destroys them. (There is more about them in the article of mine on Avian Gout)
Currently, the US government allows a maximum of 20 ppb (parts per billion) of combined aflatoxins in human food. (ref) Canada only allows 15 ppb and the European Union only 4 ppb. For human infants, the maximum amount in the US is 0.5 ppb; in Europe 0.1 ppb. So much of the premium Minnesota corn leaves for Europe.
Birds appear to be less resistant to aflatoxins than many mammals.(ref) When US corn exceeds 20 ppb, it gets sold as deer corn, cut with clean corn to drop the reading to legal levels, or shipped overseas. Marketers of avian products will tell you that scientific studies show that the level it takes to kill birds is much higher than that in their products. But the studies they quote were not run in parrots and were for acute (rapid) toxicity, not chronic (long term) exposure. (A few puffs on a cigarette won't hurt you, but a lifetime of smoking will)
I check with Purina/Mazuri Mills from time to time to see what their aflatoxin readings are running. If your avian pellet supplier won’t provide aflatoxin, fumonisin and DON (vomitoxin) levels in their finished pellet (determined with test as sensitive as the Charm Rosa test) - shop elsewhere.
What Do Wild Parrots Eat?
Wild parrots are wary birds and I know, from personal experience, that they are very hard to observe. Most learned long ago that humans constituted a danger. When they do slow down, it is usually to kibitz, snooze and idly nibble at the branches that surround them.
Wild parrots eat primarily the seeds of trees in their various stages, ripe and less ripened fruit, buds and fresh growth, various flowers and occasionally bark.(ref 1, ref 2, ref 3, ref 4) They move between food sources seasonally as one or the other becomes more available. Here in South Texas and Tamaulipas State, they are considerably leaner in the winter months when food is less available.
It is very hard to find information on the specific amounts of nutrients that wild parrots consume. Jungle primates compete with parrots for many of the same food resources. Slightly more research has been done on their needs to gain insights on human diets and for now , it is the best information we have. (ref 1 , ref 2 ) To subsist in the jungle canopy over a complete year, an enormous variation in dietary ingredients is required. (ref)
The best additional information on the subject may come out of the research of Dr. Donald Brightsmith at Texas A&M University. You can read about it through this link and you might even decide to support his efforts.
Many informed parrot owners encourage their pets to consume fruit. That is good. But market fruits tend to be much higher in fructose sugar than jungle fruit. There is some recent data indicating that high fructose sugar intake can be associated with gout in humans. You can read that data here. We do not know what, if any, effect high fructose intake has in birds. But try to select fruits that are not exceptionally high in fructose sugar. You can read a chart that will help you make those selections here.
If My Pet Is Currently Eating Only Seeds, How Should I Convert It Over To A More Nutritious Diet ?
Parrots are very stubborn and obstinate about changes of any kind in their diets. They still have a wildlife mentality, and in the wild, new situations usually mean new dangers to be avoided.
I never suggest that diets be changed in these pets cold turkey (abruptly). Doing so can cause unseen health problems to accelerate and the lives of smaller or weaker pets will be put in danger doing so.
A healthy unclipped or moderately clipped parrot should be able to fly 15-20 feet without becoming exhausted, mouth breathing, or having its tail bob up and down. If there is any doubts in your mind as to the health of your parrot, have it checked out by an avian-savy veterinarian before attempting any diet changes.
In general, it is easier to change a parrot’s diet from pellet to fresh than from seeds to pellet. In making your changes, you must be very patient. Usually, the bird will simply ignore the new food item(s) for quite some time or simply throw them out of its food dish.
Younger pets are usually more curious and accepting of new food items. Birds that once ate food items they no longer receive will accept them again much faster than those that never received them.
I have found that things go smoother and progress faster if you calculate the amount of seed that you bird consumes in a day. At daybreak, give your pet only a third of that in a dish next to the pellets or mixed in with the pellets. Then wait until about 3 pm before giving it the rest of its seed. Of course, spray millet, hanging treat toys, and other edibles need to go for this to work. Buy a postage scale that is accurate to a gram, place a perch on it and weigh the bird daily. Its weight needs to remain steady unless it was already obese from eating the seeds. If you know how to tell the difference between the poop and the urine portions of your pet’s droppings, be sure the poop portion does not decrease. The color of the poop will change as its diet changes this is of no consequences unless there is obvious blood in the stool.
Sometimes, the worry and stress of changing a parrots diet is more than a loving owner can withstand. In those cases, or when birds are already clinically ill, diet changes often go better at an avian animal hospital or the home of a wise avian professional where birds can be accurately weighed, monitored and, if necessary, be fed by tube during the conversion.
There is no reason you cannot offer seeds, pellets and fresh produce all at the same time. Some birds are more resistant to this sort of diet change, but a few will begin eating everything after two to five weeks. If you try that approach, dice the produce to the same size as the seeds and pellets and be sure your bird is not going light (loosing weight).
Color, size and presentation are very important in drawing the curiosity of new foods to your pet. Basically, try any number of tricks and encouragement: extra feed bowels, crushed pellets, snippets or mashed small pieces of fruit and vegetable, pellets dipped in fruit juice, pellets placed here and there in the cage, etc. Once their wariness is broken, curiosity about new foods rushes out of them like water out of a dam.
The colorful Nutri Berries that Lafeber Co. markets can be helpful in encouraging your pet to open up to new food ideas. But I would not feed them continuously as more than a small portion of your pet’s diet. A top dressing of brightly colored veggies, like carrot scrapings, diced spinach or purple cabbage makes some parrots bolder about testing new foods. Use your ingenuity, read online what has worked for others.
Do not panic when the consistency, volume and color of your pet’s droppings change.
Please Give Me A Shopping List To Take To The Grocery Store
There are better parrot chiefs than I. I started a list for you, but it got too long to publish. So instead, I collage the photo at the top of this page to give you inspiration. Just visit the websites of parrot enthusiasts for other good ideas. When you do, look to the left and right of your monitor. If a whole bunch of adds are running or they are offering to sell you stuff, take their advice with a grain of salt. I like Pamela Clark's website. You can visit it. But please do not go overboard on any one ingredient - and lay off the industrial grains.
I prefer that fresh ingredients be cooked or at least brought to a boil because bacterial contamination of foodstuffs is always a threat. Organically grown vegetables and fruit should be lower in pesticides and chemical residues. But wash all food items well, even the organic ones.
Be sure your pet always has a container of fresh, clean water.
There is no harm in giving your parrot table scraps in small, varied amounts if you, yourself eat healthy. Some of the healthiest parrots I ever saw were the pets of the mountain peasants of Northern Mexico. They ate whatever their owners ate. Unfortunately, that changed when Frito Lay (Sabritas) began distributing junk food in the mountains. Now, neither the peasants nor their parrots eat healthy.
I don’t suggest you give your parrot meat ,chicken or fish, although they will eat them. But then, I myself do not eat meat, chicken or fish. If you want to give your pet parrots animal protein, crumble up portions of hard-boiled egg. (Most of the protein is in the egg white), not the yolk. (Be sure they are cooked completely hard) Don’t throw away the shells, dry them, grind them to a fine powder in a coffee grind and sprinkle them on the bird’s diet. Just do whatever you do in moderation.
Do not give your parrot chicken bones. I have also had clients whose birds developed bloody diarrhea after gnawing on spongy beef or pork bones.
Some people have successfully fed avocado to their parrots. However, since avocado leaves, stems and peel are known to be poisonous, I would not feed any avocado-containing product to your parrot.
There is no one, perfect parrot diet any more than there is one, perfect human diet. All animals have the ability to adapt to a variety of food sources - within reason.
Some bird enthusiasts suggest placing the cage of a seed-addicted hookbill alongside one of a parrot already accepting a balanced diet. I have never tried that. But I have released sunflower seed-addicted parrots directly into my aviaries to mingle with the birds that were already eating healthy and the new arrivals rapidly began eating whatever the other parrots were eating. If you attempt something like that, be sure of the health of all the birds and the quality of the care they will receive. Do not mix parrots of different sizes, and don’t do it when any of the flock is in breeding condition (aggressive). It is a bit like putting a couch potato in with a group of marathon runners.
What Is A Sensible Diet?
There is more that we do not know than that we know about the ideal diet for typical pet parrots. Because of that, and the natural feeding patterns of parrots, the most important thing you can do is to feed variety. I feed my parrots a diet that is about 10-15% seeds, 20% avian pellets and the rest fruits and vegetables. I do not think you will find two parrot breeders that agree on the subject. If you are hesitant, find a medium size successful parrot-breeding aviary in your area and begin by doing what they do. Just remember, the nutritional needs of breeding parrots and those out-of-doors flight-housed parrots are greater than your pet’s. Just like with human athletes, breeding birds require much greater protein, carbohydrate and fat loads than your sedentary (couch potato) bird can tolerate.
Cooked beans are an excellent source of protein. I have fed cooked lentils, garbanzo beans, soybeans, pinto beans kidney beans and peas. I occasionally add hard-boiled egg white. We think that a diet (in dried form) that contains 10-16% protein is about right for a house-pet parrot. Breeding birds, younger growing birds and some sick birds will benefit from more protein as will parrots that are in full-blown molt . Some vets associate gout in parrots with diets that are too rich in protein. Stress feather bars, easily broken feathers and dull, imperfect plumage are often associated with a diet too low in protein.
Do not feed your parrot raw, uncooked beans. They and industrial grains, contain a lot of phytic acid which can lock up minerals and vitamins (niacin) in your pet’s diet. If you do not want to feed them cooked, feed them sprouted. Both cooking and sprouting seem to reduce the amount of poorly understood antimetabolites.
Fats and Oils
You need only be concerned with providing fats if your parrot has exceptionally high caloric or metabolic needs. Birds that need fats and oils might be those that are emaciated (very thin), suffering from intestinal absorption problems, housed under severe cold, or currently feeding offspring.
Industrial grains and most nuts are low in fiber; beans and many fruits and vegetables are quite high in it. The wild diets of parrots are considerably higher in fiber than pellets or seeds. I do not know of specific medical problems in parrots that have been associated with a lack of fiber in their diet. There short digestive tracts seem to protect them from the constipation seen in mammals that do not get enough fiber; but we know that in chicken-like birds (with digestive tracks quite unlike parrots), fiber affect the shape and function of the digestive tract. (ref) and that its presence influences the bacteria types that will thrive in its digestive tract. (ref) so I assume that if you do not provide the moderately high-fiber diets that parrots were designed to consume, there will eventually be a price of some kind to pay.
Does My Parrot Need A Vitamin/Mineral Supplement?
Not if it is eating the type of diet I suggest. It is only in cases of severe malnutrition, weakened emaciated birds, or birds with specific health problems that vitamin/mineral products and tonics might have a place.
If your pet is stubbornly refusing to eat a balanced diet, get some professional advice before resorting to spiking its current diet with a vitamin/mineral mix. Besides, overdoses of vitamins A & D are as dangerous as receiving not enough.
If you have an African Grey parrot and your veterinarian suspects a low-calcium problem, adding a calcium supplement until you are sure it is eating a calcium-rich diet is always a good idea. If you are worried about their vitamin D needs, expose them to unfiltered sunshine in the summer and avian full-spectrum bulbs in the winter.
Anything that you feed your parrot in dry form that will grow, can be fed in sprouted form. (Just never attempt to make sprouts out of seeds intended to be planted in a garden because they have added chemicals.)
It appears that the sprouting process improves the availability of the nutrients in seeds as well as adding additional nutrients that were not there before. Fiber content increases, protein availability improves and fatty acid content is enhanced. I would not give your parrot commercially produced raw sprouts because of my fear of bacterial contamination. I never gave my parrots sprouts because I never had the time or staff to prepare them. But many parrot owners swear by them.
Is My Parrot Over Weight?
Just like us, our parrots become fat due to boredom , inactivity and a calorie-rich diet. Pet and domestically-raised parrots often weigh more than their wild brothers because of this easy access to an unlimitted amount of high-caloric food. (ref)
The secret to returning to slimness is no different than in humans: eat less calories, bulk your diet with low-cal foods and fiber, get more exercise and keep occupied with activities other than eating. There is an overweight parrot to the right of this photo.
When you know your pet’s weight and want to know its ideal weight, weigh breeding birds of the same species and sex housed in flights and remember that a few grams overweight is a big deal to a tiny parrot.
I have an article on monkeys with the same problem and much of that advice applies to your parrot as well. Read it here.
Obesity and excess is not just a problem in adult pet parrots. It is also a danger to parrot breeders hand-raising parrot chicks. Fat babies are not, necessarily healthy babies. Excessive vitamin D and mineral in the formulas can cause gout problems later in life. They also put undo stress on leg bones that can leading to spraddle leg.
I once managed the health of a large flock of penguins for Sea World. We were concerned with the large number of hunch-backed birds and foot problems occurring in our hand-raised gentoo penguins. I suspected that it was occurring because the chicks were gaining weight to rapidly and finally located some wild gentoo growth curves. Gentoos are dotting mothers -, just like parrot breeders. Sometimes two sets of parents adopt the same chick. The growth curves showed that when that occurred, the chick had the potential to grow unbelievably fast - faster than their bones could support them. It was the parents ability to find fish, not the chicks appetite that regulated its growth rate. The same goes for parrot chicks, you can overload them with nutrients placing undue stress on their bones and organs before they are ready.
Is An Unhealthy Diet The Cause Of Avian Gout?
Yes, I believe that in many cases, it is. Gout in parrots occurs when the bird’s kidneys are damaged and can no longer excrete sufficient uric acid. Kidney health is tied to diet.You can read more about that problem (here)
Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids have been recommended for just about every medical condition known to man. I used to be quite skeptical that any compound could be effective for everything, but I have seen publications that are changing my mind. (ref1, ref2). The most acceptable explanation for me is the one that equates their beneficial effects to their ability to decrease inflammation in any part of the body. So go ahead and give them – but in moderate, appropriate amounts. I suggest you use an oilseed/nut source rather than fish oil. (ref)
Feeding commercial nuts in quantity is not a good idea. They are very fatty - something lazy house pets do not need. And some, particularly peanuts pistachios and almonds, can be high in aflatoxins. (ref) . Parrots love nuts and, in the wild, many parrots consume them. But farmed, commercially available nuts can have a mold toxin (aflatoxin) problem. (ref)
When you do feed nuts, purchase whole kernels or shelled nuts and discard any that are not perfect in form and color. If they smell musty, throw them away.
Do Different Kinds Of Parrots Require Different Dietary Nutrients ?
Perhaps. If and when they do, it is probably related to their different feeding habits and lifestyles rather than to any specific metabolic needs of particular birds. Pionus parrots, African Grey and Hyacinth macaws come to mind. There is really no scientific data I know of on the subject, and I have not owned them for long enough periods of time or in large enough numbers. If you own one of those species, defer to the recommendations of successful breeders. None of my diet suggestions apply to Lories or Lorikeets.
How Often Should I Feed My Parrot?
I feed my parrots – about an hour after sunrise and again in mid-afternoon to correspond with their wild inclinations. Parrot group feeding seems to be an immensely enjoyable time for them. Its a social activity that keeps them content with lots of squawking an interaction.
Parrots are messy birds, and food mess attracts rodents and other vermin. Clean up your indoor or outdoor cage areas every day.
Encourage Your Pet To Exercise:
Most commercial cockatiel, parrot and parakeet cages are much too small. Birds were not designed by God to walk from place to place. For their circulatory system to function well, they need to fly - or at least flap. Letting your bird fly loose in the house is very dangerous. But you can build a flight cage. The cage must be long, but it does not have to be wide or deep. (Big parrots and macaws do not like to fly if they think their wing tips might brush up against objects).
Flighted birds are also in danger of escaping or crashing into windows, fans and mirrors. But by clipping enough of the secondary wing feathers so the bird can only fly a few feet. you can solve this problem. Do not clip only one wing as this gives the bird a tendency to roll. I occasionally imp flightless parrots to get them off the ground – the same as falconers do. They just love to preen their new feathers – even when I have to use cockatoo primaries on a macaw or vice versa.
Expose your bird to natural sunlight for at least 1-2 hour a day. If the light passes through window glass, the time must be considerably longer. This allows the bird to re-establish it's normal body rhythms and produce adequate amounts of vitamin D3. If you cannot do that, utilize full-spectrum lamps designed for reptiles or birds. Just be sure the birds cannot gnaw the cords.
Encourage Water Consumption
Encourage extra water intake by having multiple water containers of different color and shape. Feed fun fruits and vegetables that are high in water. Many toxins, pesticides and antimetabolites present in food are eliminated through the urine portion of your pet’s stool. Well-hydrated birds have an advantage when dealing with them.
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