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Feeding your Pet Bird too Much

FEEDING YOUR PET BIRD TOO MUCH (compiled by Vera Dennison)

Why are pet birds overweight?

  1. Eating too much

An overweight bird is probably eating too much in total, taking in an excess of calories. This often happens when a bird is bored and has little else apart from his food items to gnaw on and keep him busy and entertained. His dish probably contains far too much food in any case and most of it is likely to be sees of high fat content.

  1. The diet is imbalanced

If a diet is imbalanced, a bird needs to eat more of it so that he takes in the minimum amounts of certain essential nutrients. As he eats to satisfy his body’s requirements for certain essential nutrients, he takes in a whole lot of extra unnecessary food.

  1. The diet is wrong

The most common mistake pet bird owners make is that they give their pet bird a high fat seed diet (sunflower and safflower and peanuts) because they do not know any better. Other sources of high fat content are animal fat like bon marrow, dairy products and bacon.

The dangers of being overweight

Overweight birds suffer serious health risks, heart attacks, liver failure, thickened arteries, diabetes, heart disease, abdominal hernias, etc. Fat damages the liver and causes sudden death from liver failure. High fat seed diets interfere with the absorption of calcium from the intestine.

Imbalanced diets may contain too little or too much of certain vitamins and minerals.Too little calcium for example causes soft bones and beaks, weakness, lack of co-ordination and clumsiness ending in them falling from the perch, convulsions and uncontrolled flapping of the wings.

If the birds get too little Vitamin A, for example, they will be prone to respiratory infections, have swellings in the mouth, they will be stress-prone and they can die with handling. Seed-only diets are low in Vitamin A and calcium and high in fat.

On the other hand, overdosing vitamins leads to Hypervitaminosis. Walter Scharlach, Co-Director at Avi-Products (Pty) Ltd, says that fat soluble vitamins are the most toxic and symptoms are seen at 3 to 30 times the normal inclusion levels. Vitamin A is probably the most toxic vitamin and retinoic acid (birds convert retinal to retinoic acid) becomes toxic at around 9 000 iu/kg. Symptoms of Vitamin A hypervitaminosis are:

Weight loss

Decreased feed intake

Nervous dysfunction

Swelling and crusting of eyelids

Inflammation of the mouth, adjacent skin and skin on feet

Decreased bone strength and increased bone abnormalities

Increased mortality

Decreased pigmentation of eggs or tissue (due to reduced absorption of carotenoid pigments)

Vitamin D3 is also quite toxic and if levels of 10 000 iu are fed for prolonged periods, calcification of the soft tissue (especially the kidneys) will occur.

How much do I feed my pet bird in one day?

How much food can or should your pet bird eat in one day? Remember your pet bird flies very little, and walks and climbs so little that he will never even breathe fast or pant.

The right way to feed him is to give him a total of 10% of his body weight in the form of a healthy mixed diet which contains a good quality pellet in limited amounts, fresh fruit and fresh vegetables. Vegetables are actually better that fruit because they contain less sugar. Never feed any one food only all the time, even if it is a vegetable and your bird loves it! In doing so you may be overdosing with one or more vitamins.

Seed is not all bad, and birds love it. Feed your parrot no more than one teaspoon of high oil content seeds such as sunflower or safflower per day.

In total, your pet bird should not need to eat more that 10% of his body weight per day. If you have a red-tailed African Grey it probably weighs about 400g.Weigh all the fruit and vegetables and pellets and seeds that you normally give him on one day. Is it not far too much? Are you not wasting? By giving your bird far too much, you are allowing him to pick and choose and eat only the parts he likes. If, however, you give him 40g of food of great variety, he will probably eat it all and therefore take in a much better balance of nutrients.

Now you and I who are not animal nutritionists, do not know how and we do not have the equipment to achieve the right balance of nutrients in a 40g helping. That is why we should follow the advice of nutritionists and feed mostly fresh fruit and vegetables, avian pellets and a limited quantity of seed to our pet birds.

Here are some approximate weights of the most commonly kept pet birds:

African Greys 400g (Timneh 320g)

Alexandrine 250g

Amazon, Blue-fronted 375 – 400g

Budgie 25g

Caique 160g

Cockatiel 90g

Cockatoo Lesser Sulphur-crested 350g

Cockatoo Citron-crested 350g

Cockatoo Triton 600g

Cockatoo Umbrella 440g

Conure Sun 120g

Eclectus 375 – 550g

Galah 345g

Indian Ringneck 115g

Jardine’s Parrot 200g

Lovebird max 55g

Macaws around 1 kg (they can have more nuts)

Mini Macaws 165 – 360g

Pionus 250g

Quaker 150g

Senegal Parrot 125g

Slim down your podgy parrot

It is quite difficult to see if your pet bird is overweight or not because his/her feathers disguise the fat rolls! The most common overweight pet birds are Galahs, Corellas, Sulphur-crested Cockatoos, Budgies and Amazon parrots.

If you feel your parrot’s chest area and notice that it is very well covered with flesh and fat, your bird needs to go on a diet! Also check the area at the bottom front, the base of his belly: if he has pockets of fat (fat cancers of lipomas, benign tumors) hanging there , put him on a diet without delay!

Start by leaving out all the sunflower seeds and peanuts and other nuts and stick to crisp, fresh, raw vegetables of various kinds. Sprinkle a multivitamin powder over the fresh food or put some soluble multivitamins in the drinking water (if he drinks enough).

Give him a daily ratio of maintenance pellets so that he continues to get proteins, vitamins and minerals in the right proportions. Make sure the total mass of food he gets in a day is not more that 10% of his body weight. If possible, leave wings unclipped and allow him daily flying exercise. Even increasing the amount of walking each day has been shown to improve weight loss and overall health in some birds.

References: Macwhirter, Pat (editor) Every bird – a guide to bird health, Inkata Press, Australia, 1987

Cannon, Dr Michael J –Australian Birdkeeper, 1996

Low, Rosemary –Parrots on Aviculture, Silvio Mattachione, Canada, 1992

Oldfield, Tim (Avian vet), When is fat and happy too fat? Talking Birds, June 2005, Australia

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