For optimal health, pet birds need to be provided with a well-rounded, species-specific diet that meets all their needs.
To stay healthy, pet birds must eat foods that cover all of their nutritional needs. It is a simple statement—and it seems obvious—but pet owners often do not know exactly what their birds need. Unlike dogs or cats, there are many species of caged birds, each with different nutritional requirements. On top of this, the requirements change due to age, stress, breeding and other environmental factors.
A nutritional deficiency can cause many health problems for pet birds. For example, a large parrot in captivity—which would normally have a varied diet in the wild—may relish in a diet of mainly seeds, which are loaded with fat and flavor, but it will be deficient in some necessary nutrients, including vitamin A and some amino acids. Barred feathers, overgrown beaks, scaly feet, lethargy, feather plucking, and many other ailments and behavioral problems can indicate that a bird is not eating a nutritionally complete diet.
Dr. Robert M. Collett, DVM, president of Designing Health, Inc.—makers of The Missing Link branded pet products—says that for larger parrots “a diet of processed sunflower seeds and/or safflower seeds and peanuts is a mixture overloaded with the omega-6 fatty acids but sadly deficient in the omega-3 fatty acids and the macro and micro-nutrients essential for optimal bird health.”
The Missing Link’s solution to this problem is its Ultimate Avian Formula, an all-in-one superfood supplement that includes all the nutrients a pet bird needs to stay healthy and disease-free.
“The food and supplements a bird intakes not only affect activity and appearance, but also profoundly affect the quality of life for any bird,” Collett adds. “Proper bird nutrition supports a healthy, long life.”
It is essential to feed pet birds, such as the larger parrots that can easily live 20 years or much longer, a diet that includes supplements to cover all of a bird’s nutritional needs over its entire lifespan. The longer an animal lives, the more important this can be. Even the smallest and most commonly kept parrot species—the parakeets and cockatiels—can easily live to be 10 to 15 years old.
Of course, bird diets have expanded with the introduction of pellets as an alternative to offering seeds as a main diet. Pellets have been particularly useful for bird species that do not eat seeds in the wild and, as a result, have often suffered malnutrition-related health issues.
Kaytee Products’ Exact is a line of extruded pellet diets developed by the company’s nutritional experts, says Michael Clark, Kaytee’s senior brand manager for Central Pet in Schaumburg, Ill. The food line is designed to deliver “exact nutrition,” ensuring that birds get exactly the right nutrition to produce better feathering, brighter colors and maintain excellent health, according to the company.
Amazons, macaws, African greys, cockatoos, conures and other medium- to large-sized parrot species benefit the most from these fairly nutritionally complete pellets, but to stay healthy, even they need to eat other foods such as vegetables and some fruit. No food, whether seeds or pellets, can be absolutely nutritionally complete. Sometimes a supplement is needed—although bird owners must be careful if their birds are eating mainly a pellet diet, as these have a lot of nutrients already added. Too much of certain nutrients can make a bird very ill, as can too little.
Birds that mainly eat seeds in the wild such as parakeets, cockatiels and finches also ingest other foods like greens and other vegetables, as well as some insects and so on. In captivity, these birds can be fed a seed diet with greens, plus a variety of other foods. However, it is also often important to give them supplements that provide vitamins and minerals, as well as amino acids derived from animal proteins such as egg, since plant proteins do not provide all of the essential amino acids, as animal proteins do.
Dan Shouse, marketing director for Thomas Laboratories in Tolleson, Ariz., says, “Our pets, like humans, produce about 10 of the 20 or so essential amino acids needed for proper body function; the rest must be supplied by the food that is eaten.”
And because essential amino acids cannot be stored in the body, they need to be eaten every day. Thomas Laboratories makes a couple of nutritional supplements, including Amino Plex and Bird Booster, which include the essential amino acids needed to keep birds healthy. Missing Link’s Ultimate Avian Formula and Kaytee’s Forti-Diet Pro Health Egg Food Supplement also include animal proteins in their profiles to help cover the need for essential amino acids, as well as other important nutrients.
“Just like dogs, cats or humans, birds benefit from proper bird nutrition physically, emotionally and behaviorally,” Collett says.
It is extremely important to give any caged birds a variety of foods that are right for their species and situation. It is also essential that the birds actual eat the assortment of foods being offered, as they will pick out their favorites and foods that are familiar. Supplements should be used as needed to fill in any of the bird’s nutritional gaps to be sure they stay healthy, happy and live a long life.
Robyn Bright has a master’s degree in parrot biology and more than 35 years of pet retailing experience.