One of the best things that you can do to ensure a long and happy life for your bird is to feed it an appropriate, nutrient rich diet.
Now, that can get confusing due to all of the long-time myths about what birds should be eating. For years, we thought that a seed diet was the way to go. When I got into birds about 25 years ago, we were told that it was really important to feed your bird table food. Now, it's easier to find out what a bird's appropriate diet is, but I still find dangerous myths on forums and in Facebook groups.
Now, a handful of companies make premium, science-backed pelleted diets. But, over the last 15 - 20 years we’re learning the importance of raw, plant-based foods. It definitely makes sense. The rainforests and jungles are full of lush, nutritious plants.
You may be surprised to learn that a majority of the birds that present at their clinics are experiencing malnutrition of one form or another. One of the most frequent diagnoses is vitamin A deficiency in birds.
WHAT CAUSES VITAMIN A DEFICIENCY IN BIRDS?
You might think that feeding your bird a pellet will supply all of the nutrients it needs. But, that really depends on how the pellet is made. For instance, vitamin A is lost in the cooking process. So, it is important to supplement a pelleted diet with foods rich in beta-carotene, which is found in foods like carrots, sweet potatoes, and leafy greens.
Vitamin A deficiency in birds, also called hypovitaminosis A, is one among the most common and preventable diseases. Unfortunately, deficiencies frequently go unrecognized at home since it affects skin tissue, like the respiratory tract, eye vision, and irritated, dry, flakey skin. An avian vet can uncover vitamin A deficiency quickly as part of their wellness exam.
Often, we see vitamin A in birds on an all-seed diet. Most bird seeds are not rich in vitamins. But, even birds on a premium pellet can experience vitamin A deficiency because the cooking process alters vitamins.
Vitamin A is tricky. A bird can experience a deficiency, but it can also be fed too much vitamin A or - hypervitaminosis A. This happens when people “double up” on multivitamins, supplements, and vitamin A rich veggies. Signs of vitamin A toxicity include a rash, abdominal tenderness, and vomiting.
Vitamin A is found in several raw, uncooked fruits, vegetables, herbs, and essential oils. Feeding your bird a diverse range of raw fruits, grains, vegetables, sprouts, and herbs, plus Red Palm Oil will go a long way toward preventing vitamin A deficiency.
HOW IS VITAMIN A DEFICIENCY IN BIRDS DIAGNOSED?
According to the Merck Vet Manual, "Clinical signs are nasal discharge, sneezing, periorbital swelling, conjunctivitis, dyspnea, polyuria, polydipsia, poor feather quality, feather picking, and anorexia. Birds may have absent or blunted papilla of the choanal slit."
Say aaaaah! Orla shows us her choanal papillae!
The choana is the gap between the oropharynx (mouth cavity) and the nasal cavity in birds. The spiky projections in the image above are normal outgrowths of epithelium tissue that line the choana.
Vitamin A is required to make fine epithelial tissue like this, as well as throughout the respiratory tract. It allows for closed mouth breathing. Visualizing the state of the choanal papillae gives us a good clue to the bird's nutritional state. Inadequate vitamin A, as well as respiratory infections, cause the choanal papillae to become blunt or disappear.
Vet's also check the choana to make sure that it is free of pus and mucus - which can be caused by infections like yeast, protozoa, viral and bacteria. This is a place where food particles can get stuck too, as well as foreign bodies like grass awns and feathers.
WHY DO BIRDS NEED VITAMIN A?
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, and an antioxidant that helps in the growth and repair of body tissues. It is also essential for the proper functioning of the bird’s eyes, skin, bones, mucus membranes and hearing. So, you can see that vitamin A deficiency in birds can be miserable.
Vitamin A deficiency in birds can affect a number of organs and numerous clinical problems are associated with it. One of the most important functions of balanced vitamin A is supporting the immune response. When the immune system isn’t working well, your bird is susceptible to a whole new host of health issues.
Low vitamin A makes a bird more susceptible to bacterial, fungal and viral infections. The cells lining the respiratory tract, reproductive organs and digestive tract undergo structural change, disabling them from secreting the mucus that removes these contaminants from the system. If left untreated, the secondary infections will further lead to the demise of the bird.
Signs & Symptoms of Parrot Vitamin A Deficiency
Common symptoms of vitamin A deficiency in birds' symptoms depend on the organ system that is affected and the microorganisms that penetrate the particular epidermal (skin) barrier. We often see signs like
Nasal discharge & clogged nasal cavities
Eye swelling or discharge
Very watery droppings
Poor feather quality or feather plucking
Compaction of the preening gland
Here are some common disease processes of vitamin A Deficiency in birds:
White plaque or patches inside your bird's mouth and on the tongue base. The white plaques become infected, swell and form large, obvious abscesses in the mouth and nasal cavities. It becomes very painful and the bird ceases to eat.
The abscesses distort the glottis, windpipe, causing labored breathing, that can eventually lead to suffocation.
Excessive oral mucus caused by changes in the salivary and tear glands.
Blunting or absence of the cloacal papilla is common.
Blocking of cloaca leading to labored or open-mouth breathing, significant nasal discharge, sneezing, wheezing and severe swelling of the eyes.
Foul smelling breath
Fading of the pigmentation of the bird’s skin and feathers
Tail bobbing due to labored breathing
Lack of appetite and failure of young birds to gain weight
Low hatch rates of fertile eggs
High hatching mortality
If secondary infections have developed, you can see pustules or abscesses in the oral cavity, crop, or respiratory tract
All these signs develop over the course of several weeks or months. If you notice these signs in your bird, it is very sick and needs immediate veterinary attention.
What Does Vitamin A Do?
Vitamin A helps to maintain the mucous membranes and other epithelial surfaces both inside and outside of the body. Mucous is a protective layer on soft tissue that keeps bacteria, fungus, and viruses from invading the body.
But, mucous production is diminished by vitamin A deficiency. The skin dries up and cracks and contaminants enter the body.
Bacteria and other dangerous microorganisms enter the body in vulnerable areas causing severe and debilitating swelling, infections, and obstructions in important body systems.
Common locations for these horrible infections include:
Mouth and throat
Sebum Glands around the feather follicles
If swelling and obstruction in the throat tissue becomes severe, your bird will not be able to swallow and will slowly starve to death. The microorganisms will also start to spread throughout the birds’ body and weaken the immune system and damage major organs. A deficiency of vitamin A may also cause hyperkeratosis, thickening of the skin with excessive scaliness and flakiness of the feet. In severe cases of deficiency, there may be changes in the kidney, which can lead to gout, indicative of kidney failure.
While few birds actually die from vitamin A deficiency, the secondary infections and weakened immune system will lead to death unless you intervene.
HOW DO YOU INCREASE VITAMIN A IN YOUR BIRDS DIET?
The best and safest way to ensure that your pet bird does not suffer from vitamin A deficiency and disease is to provide your bird with a great diet. This would be about 40% premium pellets combined with nutrient dense raw foods.
You can get fresh, organic raw foods at most local grocery stores. I love to head over to the Farmer's Market in the summer to pick up produce in the summer and fall. I've also taken to growing some of my own herbs and produce. There's nothing better that picking some fresh food, washing it up and letting the birds dig in.
Photo by Getty Images used under license from PicMonkey
Bird Chop is a great way to feed your bird a rich range of super nutritious plant based foods. A lot of people anguish over getting their bird to eat plant-based vegetables and other foods. But, let’s put that in perspective.
What do you think that birds in the jungle and rainforests eat? Vegetation! Bird’s don’t have the best sense of taste. We humans have about three times as many taste buds as a bird. So, taste isn’t the issue.
Many of our pet birds simply haven’t been taught to eat plant-based foods. Make it a point to watch my video on 9 Ways To Get Your Bird To Eat Vegetables.
So, getting back to bird chop, here’s my favorite recipe.
UnRuffledRx Rainbow Bird Chop
All birds should be given fresh, uncooked foods that are rich in vitamin A. Look for red or orange vegetables and fruits like carrots, red peppers, mango, squash, papaya, parsley, cantaloupe, and sweet potatoes. Dark green leafy vegetables like broccoli, spinach, collard greens, turnip greens, and kale are also vitamin A rich.
UnRuffledRx Red Palm Oil is another rich source of vitamin A, beta carotenes and antioxidants. It’s a great source of good fats, essential fatty acids! We make our red palm oil in a way that preserves nutritional goodness so that it offers vital support for reproduction, feather production and a healthy immune system.
Birds that prefer seeds should be given a commercial parrot vitamin supplement, sprinkled on their food or in water. UnRuffledRx FeatheredUp! is a daily multivitamin, mineral and amino acid supplement for pet birds. It’s also rich in biotin to support feather growth. It’s part of a healthy diet that helps maintain the overall health of your pet bird.
HOW DO YOU TREAT A BIRD WITH CHRONIC VITAMIN A DEFICIENCY?
Treating Vitamin A Deficiency In Birds
Your vet will examine your bird and may perform some lab tests to figure out which organs are infected. Plus, they’ll want to discover the type of bacteria or fungi that is causing your bird to be sick. Your bird may have to be hospitalized for nebulization and tube feeding.
Once its condition stabilizes any abscesses can be surgically removed as shown in the cockatiel image above. Although the recovery period may be quite long, the prognosis is favorable.
In some clinical cases, your vet may opt for an injectable vitamin A supplement to speed recovery. Some people periodically supplement your pet’s diet by adding a few drops of vitamin to the bird’s diet from a punctured vitamin A gel capsule.
Some breeders add a teaspoon of cod liver oil to a pound of bird seed, as vitamin A improves reproductive results. However, it is recommended to refrigerate both cod liver oil and red palm oil as oil based supplements can become rancid.
Always consult your avian veterinarian for their recommendations on using bird supplements.
In conclusion, birds are generally resistant to many diseases, but once their system becomes compromised due to vitamin A deficiency, treatment and cure need veterinary intervention. Ensure your bird’s safety against vitamin A deficiency and disease by feeding it with food rich in vitamin A and a daily use of a good quality vitamin A supplement will also help to prevent your birds from getting afflicted.
Macwhirter, P. Avian Medicine: Principles and Application. http://avianmedicine.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/31.pdf
Merck Veterinary Manual, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/exotic-and-laboratory-animals/pet-birds/nutritional-diseases-of-pet-birds
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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.
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