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by Diane Burroughs March 24, 2016 7 min read

Revised February 11, 2022

The best diet for a parrot may be more than what you originally thought. Offering an all seed diet may be easy and cheap, but it could be seriously harming your parrot's health. Find out how offering your parrot a healthy diet can promote a healthy lifestyle for your pet parrot.

Wanna Know Why Your Parrot is Sick?

Many parrot owners just assume that feeding seeds exclusively to their birds will automatically ensure a long and healthy life. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, giving your bird an all-seed diet could spell disaster. Birds are naturally meant to eat a much wider variety of foods than seeds alone, and simply offering them seeds can cause serious health problems down the road.

Some of the common illnesses that parrots on an all seed diet face include obesity, hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver disease), atherosclerosis (cholesterol deposits in arteries), stroke, and heart disease. While there are many other health problems caused by a lack of variety in your bird’s diet, those are some of the most serious ones you should be concerned about. As you can see, giving your parrot seeds alone isn’t necessarily healthy! That’s why it’s so important to diversify your pet’s diet beyond seeds as much as possible.

Bird seeds may be dangerous for birds for another reason. Why? Because they are treated with pesticides and fungicides. These chemicals are sprayed on the seeds during the growth process to prevent them from being damaged by insects, mold, and fungus, but the spray coats the hull with potentially toxic chemicals that birds ingest. 

Birds are naturally picky eaters. And even if a bird seed diet is scientifically formulated and contains added fruits and vegetables, picky birds pick and choose their favorite tidbits and leave the rest. A bird can have a full bowl of fresh seeds all day long and still run the risk of malnutrition. Their stomachs are too small to ingest a large amount, so what they do ingest matters very much to their well-being and nourishment. This is a big problem with seed mixes. Did you know that the number one problem avian vets see are the effects of malnutrition from an all seed diet?

Notice on the Bird Food Pyramid above that bird seed comprises of a small portion of a proper parrot diet.  Pellets are the mainstay with a portion of veggies, fruits, sprouts and grains.  Variety is truly the spice of life for pet birds.

bird food pyramid

Infographic by Diane Burroughs, LCSW

Does that mean that I should never feed my bird seeds?

Unfortunately, many people find it difficult to avoid giving their birds an all-seed diet. After all, seeds are cheap and easy to serve.But that doesn't mean that you must avoid seeds at all costs. Avian veterinarians and pet experts will tell you that seeds should be regarded as a supplemental food, or even an occasional treat, rather than an essential part of your bird’s diet. Seeds are great for training purposes .

Just like you would never feed your child only potato chips, it’s not a good idea to serve only seeds to your pet bird. There are a number of reasons why providing an all-seed diet is problematic.

Let’s take a look at three of them. In most cases, seeds will be deficient in some vitamins and minerals. Sure, you could add supplements to fill these nutritional gaps. But even if you do so consistently (which is rare), there’s no guarantee that your bird will get everything he needs from his food alone . Instead of worrying about whether or not your parrot gets enough calcium, it might make more sense just to cook him some green beans every now and then :))

Here's a thorough post on how to go about converting your parrot to a pelleted diet.  With patience and persistence, your bird will begin enjoying a healthy diet rich of nutritional pellets, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains that can help to reduce the risk of heart disease.

Seeds are high in fat

Fat is a necessary nutrient, but seeds have more than most pets need. Even if your bird gets plenty of exercise outside of its cage it’s still important to be mindful of fat intake. Seed-only diets tend to be very high in fat, which can lead to obesity and other issues over time.

But, worse, it may also cause gall bladder problems or pancreatitis. A high-fat diet can lead to fatty liver disease (steatosis), which is most often associated with an increased risk of developing hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver) and secondary complications such as hypocalcemia, ascites, and hepatic encephalopathy. All of these disorders can ultimately result in fatality if not treated appropriately; however, if caught early enough there are many treatment options available.

Its better to stick with limited plant-derived forms of essential fatty acids like Red Palm Oil or Coconut Oil.

Lack of variety can cause selective feeding

When it comes to feeding your parrot, a lack of variety can cause selective feeding. In other words, you run the risk of your bird eating only one or two foods in larger quantities than others. This not only disrupts your pet’s nutritional needs, but also hinders growth and promotes excessive weight gain.

Fortunately, there are some simple steps you can take to ensure that your bird receives proper nutrition from an assortment of foods.

For most pet birds, it’s best to feed a variety of foods rather than just one or two types. With a little planning and thoughtfulness, you can easily create balanced diets in which birds receive a combination of different nutrients from fresh whole food sources.

Are pellets better than seed?

Pellets are not just more convenient, they’re nutritionally superior. Parrot pellet diets typically contain vitamins and minerals in precise ratios that help to maintain a bird’s optimal health. Feeding parrots an all-seed diet is like feeding them an all-chocolate diet—it may keep them alive for awhile, but it won’t help ensure their long-term good health. The bottom line: If you want your pet bird to live long and healthy life, pellets are better than seeds.

Choose an organic, premium diet for best results. The type of diet you feed your pet bird can have a big impact on his health; choose a diet that fits within your budget and is made from ingredients that are high-quality and nutritious. Organic diets also tend to contain fewer artificial preservatives, colors, and flavors; these chemicals may be harmful birds.

Three well-respected bird pellets include Harrison's, Roudybush, and TOPS. These diets come in a variety of formulas; choose one that matches your parrot’s species and life stage. You may also want to talk to an avian veterinarian about which diet is best for your bird’s specific health needs.

Choose a pellet made from whole ingredients: Pellets made only from ground seeds or cornmeal are generally inferior to those containing whole ingredients—such as seeds and other items harvested from plants—because they don't provide enough nutrients. Whole-ingredient pellets can usually be identified by labels that state whole foods on their packaging. The above commercial bird food manufacturers use whole ingredients when making their products because research has shown that it’s better for your pet bird.

But what's even more important is how you make it. Cooking depletes nutrients that are important for your bird's health. This is especially true of water-soluble vitamins like B and C vitamins. A cold-pressed manufacturing process used by TOPS may retain these important vitamins.

What's better than pellets?

For decades, pet birds have been eating a diet of pellets. Because they’re formulated to contain most of a bird’s nutritional needs, pellets are extremely convenient and easy to work into your bird’s daily routine. However, there is one big problem with relying on a pellet-only diet: In their natural habitat, birds eat a rich range of plant-based foods that are jam-packed with important vitamins and minerals like calcium, iron and zinc.

Because of the limitations in pellet formulation, these essential nutrients can be left out, cooked out, or hard to come by. This means our avian friends may need more than just a few veggies once in awhile! When it comes to feeding your feathered friend, variety really is key!

Feed your bird a rich, fresh, plant-based diet every day with veggies, fruits, herbs, grains, seeds, nuts, flowers and plant-based oils in addition to pellets.

How to get your bird to eat a better diet

Has your bird been a picky eater who's gotten addicted to seeds? Want to start him on a healthier diet but don't know how to get him interested in it? Try these tips and tricks.

Fortunately, there are several ways to begin to wean a bird off of seeds and onto healthier foods. Start by preparing his new diet items in interesting ways that he hasn't eaten before. For instance, you can take your bird's diet to the next level with this video where I discuss 9 ways to get your bird to eat more veggies. One of my favorite ways to get a bird to eat healthier is is to model what to eat like their mom and dad would have done in the wild. Eat veggies right in front of your bird but refuse to share until your bird is begging you for a bite!

The most important thing is to be patient and just keep trying. Your bird's taste buds can change in as little as a few weeks, so it will just take time for your bird to get used to his new healthy diet. Be persistent!

Would you like to optimize your bird's health while you're training it to eat better?

Related Blog Posts

9 Healthy Treats That Your Bird Will Go Nuts Over

Everything You Need To Know About Bird Calcium

References:

https://www.merckvetmanual.com/exotic-and-laboratory-animals/pet-birds/nutritional-diseases-of-pet-birds

https://www.petmd.com/bird/conditions/digestive/c_bd_Acute_Hypocalcemia

https://theparrotsocietyuk.org/site/index.php/parrot-information/veterinary-advice/hypocalcaemia/

Budai, K. and Pao, S. A Parrot Fine Cuisine Cookbook And Nutritional Guide. Quietlight Productions. North Palm Springs, CA. 2018.

Budai, K. A Parrot's Healthy Dining. Go Raw! K &S Natural Company, Ltd. UK. 2020.


Diane Burroughs, LCSW is a licensed psychotherapist trained in ABA therapy techniques. She specializes in avian anxiety disorders and is certified in Nutrition For Mental Health. Diane has written a number of bird behavior books and she offers behavior consultations. She's developed a range of UnRuffledRx Science-backed Parrot Wellness Supplies.

Diane's products have been featured in the Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery and at Exoticscon, a conference for exotic pet veterinarians. Her bird collars & supplements are stocked in avian vet clinics and bird stores throughout the US. With over 30 years in the field of behavior, Diane has created thousands of successful individualized behavior plans that help pets thrive.

TAGS: #DietForParrots #BirdFood

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