As an aspiring exotic animal veterinarian, I want to share my experience with my own pet birds and the importance of quality nutrition for our avian companions.
Walking into a pet store and strolling through the bird section can be an overwhelming experience. There is an overabundance of dietary options and if you look a majority of them, they are seed-based diets. When we think of bird food, aren’t seeds the first thing we think of? It is what we feed the wild birds that grace us with their presence at our feeders, so many times that is what we think is natural. But is it natural and even more important is it healthy?
The quick answer is no. Improper nutrition continues to be a hallmark concern for our feathered friends and here is why. Many of the options at the pet store include seeds only and a large portion of the other choices are a mix of seeds and pellets. I remember vividly that my childhood parakeet, Jabber, got a heavily seed-based diet with a colorful pellet here and there and I can tell you with 100% confidence that every time I changed his food, those colorful pellets were always left in the bowl. These diets are not nutritionally satisfying because it allows the bird to pick out the tasty, albeit unhealthy choices, and leave the good nutritious stuff behind. This leads to many different diseases including obesity, vitamin deficiencies, and liver and kidney diseases.
Obesity can lead to fatty liver disease and seeds are a huge part of this problem. I think about it this way…take sunflower seeds for an example. This seed is particularly high in fat (we can even buy sunflower seed oil at the store these days) and it happens to be a favorite of my own parrot. If I gave him the option, he would pick out only the sunflower and seeds and leave the rest. Just like giving a child the option of eating either broccoli or chocolate, which do you think they would choose if given the choice (if you said broccoli, I applaud your child)? Let’s face it. If given the choice, most of us would choose the higher fat option because it tastes better and birds are no different. Nutrition plus a sedentary lifestyle can lead to other health problems too such as arthritis, atherosclerosis, and cardiac disease.
I experienced this with my own bird recently (check out my past blog post ). I adopted Tequila almost 2 years ago from a rescue that had no prior information about his history, but one thing was pretty clear. He didn’t have a good diet. I tried everything to convert him to a pelleted diet, but it became stressful and I had trouble sticking with it and worried that he would starve himself. He became extremely sick and had kidney, liver, and most likely heart disease as well. After that scare, I was able to convert his diet to one that is much healthier and I’m hoping he has a happier and longer life ahead of him.
If you have a feathered companion who eats seeds or if you are an aspiring avian vet like myself, look into some resources for switching to formulated diets to improve your own bird’s nutritional health, or for assisting your future clients.