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At Cedar Creek Veterinary Clinic we offer diet counseling specific for your particular species of pet bird. We do not yet have all the answers, as there are over 50 species of birds common in the pet industry, but great strides have been made and will continue in the future. For many species, we recommend a complete pelleted diet such as Harrison’s Bird Foods. Harrison’s is an organic diet formulated by veterinarians and nutritionists. This diet is complete and contains all the nutritional groups in the right proportions to support each bird for their long-term health and maximum life expectancy. “The bird is a result of what it eats!”
The cons of seed and nut diets: The fact that some birds have lived in captivity for decades does not support the idea that seed is a good or even adequate diet for avian pets. Many birds can appear healthy for years, but an improper diet can significantly shorten their quality and length of life. Please keep in mind that different species of psittacines have different requirements, and the information below is a guideline.
Total Fat levels: Current nutritional research suggests that most parrots need no more than 15% fat in their diet. In most commercially available pet bird seed mixes safflower seed represents the lowest fat level of all the seeds at 38%, exceeding maximum levels by 250%. High fat diets may also increase the problem by preventing the calcium uptake in the small intestine.
Calcium/Phosphorus levels: Research has determined that most parrot diets should contain 1% calcium for bone development and 0.5% for maintenance. Almonds contain the highest calcium levels, which is still barely 50% the level required for maintenance and only 27% of the calcium needed for growth. Most nuts or seeds contain considerably less calcium levels.
Calcium/Phosphorus ratio: Any given diet should deliver a 2:1 ratio of calcium to phosphorus to maintain normal levels in the body.. Certain nuts, like macadamia have a ratio of almost 1:2, delivering 4 times higher phosphorus levels compared to calcium. The kidneys must discard this extra phosphorus, and when they do, they also discard calcium. This further magnifies the overall calcium depletion within the body of the bird.
Vitamin A: This vitamin is crucial to function in many parts of the body including the formation of mucous membranes and epithelial surfaces, growth, vision, development of the vascular system, production of adrenal hormones, production of certain pigments in feathers, and many other functions. Pumpkin seeds represent a seed with one of the highest levels of Vitamin A, which is still barely a third of the level necessary to sustain avian health.
Profiling these nutritional categories should demonstrate how a bird eating a seed and/or nut diet exclusive to any supplementation would eventually lead to nutritional deficiencies and a shortened lifespan. These deficiencies can be masked for an extended period of time due to each organ’s reserve capacity. For example, the liver can perform 100% of its function with only 10% of its mass in some species. Kidneys can perform 100% of their function with only 30% of their mass. Once these thresholds are crossed, the clinical signs become obvious and often life threatening.
Word of caution: Never abruptly remove any existing diet assuming the bird will convert to a new one. Birds can die from starvation using this method.