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A bird’s diet can be tricky


Published: Jun 18, 2013

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For the greater part of the year, I have been guilty in that most of the weekly veterinary articles presented have been dealing with matters affecting your pet dog or cat. As a result, I have somewhat been slightly biased towards dogs and cats than to other pets such as birds, fish and exotics. Today, I will try and make it up to the bird lovers and show more love to my feathery friends.

Birds make wonderful, interactive and affectionate pets. They are extremely intelligent and can bond very well with their owners. So if you are considering getting a bird or already have one, here are some basic guidelines for feeding your pet bird and protecting it with optional nutrition and health tips.

A bird diet can be a tricky thing to try and formulate, especially because its eating behavior and food choice is no different from humans. A lot of factors such as species (parrots, finches, etc.), environment and gender play a role in what types of food each bird will require.

Captive birds’ (which most pet owners have in cages) diets are a debatable subject. An incorrect diet can result in vitamin deficiency or obesity, among other things. Some may argue that a strict commercial diet is the best thing to feed your bird. A highly commercial diet will provide balanced and complete nutrition in each pellet. However, since the needs of bird are slightly different as far as calorie consumption and even vitamin consumption are concerned, a pelleted diet is also probably the furthest from the diet that would be encountered in the wild.

A natural diet may be a good option for your bird, but it comes with its downfalls as well. Natural diets most closely resemble what the bird may have eaten in the wild, but this can lead to a bird picking out the preferred foods and leaving the rest. This can lead to an imbalanced and incomplete diet. Most birds prefer seeds over other things, but too much seed is extremely unhealthy for a bird. Seeds are deficient in vitamins like B12, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid, vitamin A, vitamin C, many essential amino acids, calcium, sodium, zinc, iodine and selenium. Seeds are important to maintain a physiological balance, but are required in limited quantities.

Feeding birds a diet mainly consisting of seed is like giving your bird junk food all the time. Obesity can result, as well as a vitamin deficiency from the excess carbohydrates and fat.

For a general rule of thumb, yellow and orange vegetables like squash or sweet potato are excellent for providing vitamin A. Dark green vegetables are excellent for providing calcium, vitamin B, vitamin A and essential trace minerals. Veterinarians recommend a diet consisting of 50 percent pelleted food, 20 percent grains (seeds, bread, cooked rice or pasta), 20 percent vegetables such as the one mentioned above and 10 percent fruits, meat and cheese.

Birds develop a sense of what is correct to eat when they are young. They are foragers and are taught the correct diet by their parents or handlers in the case of hand-fed birds. Once a bird is shown a specific diet, it may be difficult to change those eating habits and can require a great deal of patience. By slowly adding new foods into the diet, you would be able to wean your bird off the older, preferred food. Any bird that is going to have its diet changed should have a health evaluation done by a veterinarian. Changing a diet would provide just enough stress to allow an infection to manifest itself clinically.

Good health is the basis for any companion we care for, and good health starts with a proper diet full of the essentials. If you consult your veterinarian and follow some of these tips, you are sure to have a healthy, wonderful companion who will be with you for years to come.


• Dr. Basil Sands can be contacted at Central Animal Hospital at 325-1288.

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