Psittacines, colloquially known as parrots, have been a staple bird companion for humans for thousands of years. Parrots come in all sorts of shapes, colors, and sizes, and some species can be very talkative. Although parrots are very cute, fun pets, they have very strict dietary and nutritional needs that are necessary for them to stay healthy. This article is meant to introduce you to the basics of psittacine nutrition.
Psittacine Nutrition Basics:
Psittacines comprise over three hundred different breeds and each one has slight differences in their nutritional needs. That being said, their diets basically consist of pellets and a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. A normal commercial pellet diet for a psittacine consists of all the protein, fats, carbohydrates and vitamins that they require. Pellet diets are recommended over a seed diets because it is easier to ensure that your bird gets all the essential nutrients it needs. However if you feed your parrot on a seed diet, you must keep an eye on the nutritional aspects listed below:
Several protein deficiencies are commonly seen in psittacines fed seed-based or table-food diets. In those dietary cases, psittacines usually lack the amino acids lysine and methionine which can be nutritionally satisfied with additives that usually come as a powder to be added to moist foods that you can get from your feed store. The proper amount of protein in their diet should be anywhere between 5%–15%, anything more is considered excessive which can lead to kidney damage.
Fats are an essential part of the psittacine diet. Fats provide the birds with essential hormone precursors and energy that they need for basic survival and also for egg laying and brooding. For a pelleted diet, among other nutrients, at least 1% of the dry diet should consist of the omega 3-fatty acid, linoleic acid. If your feed is poorly stored, environmental conditions such as heat can oxidize fatty acids that are present. When psittacines have a lack of fat in their diet, it will manifest problems during reproduction or during development.
- Vitamin A is an essential requirement for parrots’ vision, reproduction, immunity, growth, maintenance of organs and tissues. Vitamin A deficiencies are common in seed diets and can lead to vitamin A deficiency disease. Clincalc signs of vitamin A deficiency include nasal discharge, sneezing, periorbital swelling, conjunctivitis, dyspnea, polyuria and polydipsia, poor feather quality, feather picking, and anorexia. In order to counter the deficiencies in seed diets the bird must be given vitamin A supplements.
- Carotenoids are also essential for psittacines. Specifically, they are needed for the formation of vitamin A. Signs of carotenoid deficiency include swollen eyes, wheezing, diarrhea, and or nostril blockage.
- Vitamin D helps increase absorption of calcium and phosphorus. Psittacines get their necessary vitamin D through their diet or UVB light. However, there can be vitamin D deficiencies if you always keep your parrot in doors. Clinical signs of vitamin D deficiency include bone fractures, reduced laying of eggs and hatching, seizures, soft or thin egg shells. If you keep your psittacine indoors you must provide them with special UV light bulbs that can typically be purchased at a feedstore.
What foods to avoid
Parrots can sometimes get into foods that they are not supposed to eat. If they become ill the bird will show signs of it by wobbling, having seizures, diarrhea, and or vomiting. Majority of what a psittacine should avoid is listed below:
- foods that are high in fat, such as peanuts or dairy products
- foods that are high in salt, such as chips or crackers
- highly processed foods, such as food that consists of a lot of dyes or preservatives
- chocolate, avocados, and onions
Although psittacines owners should follow these strict guidelines to feeding their bird, they can also give special treats to them occasionally. The treats should make up less than 10% of their diet and can be made of seeds, treat sticks, spray millet, and nuts.
Now that you have the basics on how to properly feed your psittacine, make sure you follow the above guidelines and keep an eye out for any atypical behavior or clinical signs from the bird. A healthy parrot is a happy parrot.
This article was written by Ari Sallus and Dr. Maurice Pitesky at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine-Cooperative Extension.