Many bird owners, in an attempt to give their bird the best possible diet, cage, and care, turn to a variety of books, pet store employees, or friends for advice. Often people take home mite protectors for parasite protection, cuttlebones for calcium supplements, seed mixes supplemented with millet sprays as treats, and sandpaper covered perches to help keep the nails short. Unfortunately, a lot of this information is outdated, and some of it is even dangerous.
A proper diet is the single most important change one can make to impact their bird’s health. Seed based diets are high in fat, water, and carbohydrates, and lacking in many essential vitamins and minerals, including Vitamins A and D, and calcium. While fat and carbohydrates are necessary, they are not a good base for a diet. Birds, like people are prone to clogged arteries (atherosclerosis) and other vascular diseases due to high fat and cholesterol. Birds on seed diets are also more prone to liver disease, respiratory infections, fatty tumors, and reproductive issues. Balancing a bird’s diet properly can be difficult, as they will pick out the foods that they like best. For the vast majority of birds, a pelleted diet supplemented with fresh fruits and vegetables is the ideal diet. Pelleted diets are much like feeding your dog or cat high quality dry foods…they provide as much balanced nutrition as possible based on today’s knowledge of each species’ individual needs.
“A proper diet is the single most important change one can make to impact their bird’s health”
Changing a bird over to a pelleted diet can be difficult at first, as birds do not recognize the new texture as food, and can starve themselves quickly in protest of the new diet. Converting your bird should be done with the help of an avian veterinarian, both to ensure the bird is healthy enough for the change and to assist you in the transitional period. Your avian veterinarian can recommend which particular diet is best for your bird.
Avoiding toxic substances is also extremely important. There has been a large amount of publicity regarding non-stick cookware, scented candles, and other aerosol products. Chocolate, avocado, caffeine, and alcohol are also well publicized bird toxins. However, heavy metal toxicities are among the most commonly seen by bird veterinarians. Lead and zinc in particular can lurk in many different types of metal, particularly in galvanized metals (which can be found in bird cages or toys). Other heavy metals can also cause problems in birds, but there are not always tests available for each individual metal type.
Symptoms include neurological signs, such as inability to use a leg, wing droops, or seizures; vomiting and regurgitation, blood in the droppings, and excessive urine in the droppings. Any suspiciously dull, silver colored metal should be removed from your bird’s cage, as well as those that have rusted. Even the small clips on some bird toys or the clankers in bells may contain toxic metals. Home testing kits are available for lead. Mite protectors also have the capacity to be toxic. They contain the same ingredients as mothballs, and this concentration being kept in the bird’s cage can affect the respiratory system. Also, mites are fairly rare in this part of the country, and are not often susceptible to this chemical. If you suspect your bird has mites, or if your bird is showing any potential symptoms of other toxicities, it should be examined immediately.
Your bird should always be kept safe from other pets in the house that may prey on it. Dog related injuries are seen more frequently than cat related injuries. Ceiling fans, hot stoves or foods, mirrors, electrical cords, and other types of fans are all other examples of potential hazards.
Lastly, working with an avian veterinarian regularly is one of the best ways to help keep your bird healthy. Birds are masters at hiding illnesses as a protective, instinctual measure. Annual exams and laboratory testing can reveal problems before they are evident at home, and having a relationship with an avian veterinarian is invaluable should your pet become sick. Both Drs. Chenoa Lencewicz and Katherine Pietsch at Anchor Animal Hospital are happy to see birds and work with bird owners to create a happy and healthy life for their birds.