Cat and Exotic Care of the Central Coast
Maxwell Conn, DVM
565 Five Cities Drive
Pismo Beach, CA 93449
Full Service Hospital & boarding for Cats, Birds, Reptiles & Small Mammals
1. Overview: FEEDING COMPANION BIRDS Proper feeding of companion birds has been one of the most challenging aspects of their care, primarily because of limited nutritional research on all species. However, based on studies of poultry and other animals, generalizations can be made on adequate feeding practices for companion birds. FORMULATED DIETS Formulated bird food products (“pellets”) are available from the pet food industry as a convenience to the owner and to ensure a more nutritionally balanced diet than that offered by seeds or homemade diets. The current trend is toward specific formulations addressing age, activity, therapeutic, and stress-related needs of the bird. For example, birds have special nutritional needs during molting, egg laying, or raising young. However, improving a diet in the short term in anticipation of these life stages is not effective; the feeding practices must be optimal year round. Commercial bird food products may be purchased as pellets, nuggets, crumbles, or hand feeding premixes. Converting a seed-eating bird to a formulated diet must be done with care because new items in the cage may not be immediately recognized as food. Your veterinarian can recommend a commercial formulated bird diet and help you with the conversion process (see informational care sheet on avian diet conversion). HOMEMADE DIETS Where commercial diets are not available, attempts are made to produce a homemade diet. While not ideal for pet birds, these usually offer an improvement over an exclusive seed diet. Overall, however, homemade diets are often lacking in calcium, iodine, selenium, protein, fatty acid balance, fiber, pigments, and vitamins A, B complex, E, and D3 while providing an excess of carbohydrates, and phosphorus. Additionally, homemade diets with moist ingredients tend to spoil easily and lose nutrients if not stored properly or if made too far in advance of feeding. The time and effort involved in preparing foods and the difficulty in balancing the nutrients make homemade diets impractical for the pet bird owner. Owners choosing a fresh food plan tend to offer too much variety and quantity of food each day, permitting birds to pick out what they like. Birds will not choose a balanced diet if given free choice. Consult with your avian veterinarian for specific recommendations on items and quantities to feed. FRESH WATER Fresh water should be provided at all times, and changed at least once a day. Some aviculturists and companion bird owners have had success using pet water bottles (sipper bottles) for birds, thereby limiting contamination of water. If this method is chosen, care must be taken daily to ensure that the sipper tube is working properly and the water is being consumed (some parrots will jam seeds into the sipper tube). A jammed sipper tube can quickly lead to dehydration and death. Water cups/bowls/sipper bottles should be thoroughly cleaned each day. Depending on the water quality in your area, you may consider the use of bottled water. FEEDING TIPS Carefully monitor TOTAL food consumption during any diet change. Introduce small amounts of a new food at a time. Gradually reduce the total volume of seeds as you increase the volume of more nutritional foods. Clean all food and water cups and remove old food from the cage daily. Do not provide supplemental vitamins unless recommended by your avian veterinarian. Generally if you feed a complete balanced diet (pellets), these will not be necessary. See also the separate handout on diet conversion for many more tips.