Why You Need To Know About Calcium for Birds
Providing calcium for birds is a critical component of their over all health. Low bird calcium levels is a very real problem that many birds experience. Calcium is vital for over 400 body functions. It helps to build and maintain the skeletal structure, support, proper muscle movement, and it plays a major roll in how the nerves transmit messages to body parts.
Calcium is one of the most abundant minerals in the body. Did you know that 90% of the bodies calcium is found in the skeleton? And, that 97% of an eggshell is comprised of calcium?
In birds, calcium plays a huge role in the functioning of enzymes, egg shell formation, fat metabolism, blood clotting, nerve transmissions, muscle development and the secretion of hormones.
Given the numerous physiological functions that calcium supports, a calcium deficiency can create serious problems for your bird.
What happens if your bird doesn't get enough calcium?
Hypocalcaemia, the term used for abnormally low calcium levels. The most common reason for hypocalcaemia is inappropriate and calcium deficient dietary intake.
Low bird calcium can directly affect the heart. It also reduces cognitive functioning and the way the body uses other nutrients.
Calcium for birds is also an important part of your pets brain health. Calcium helps the neurons in the brain fire correctly. A bird that doesn't get enough calcium may be overly nervous and potentially cause seizures.
While all captive birds can experience African Grey's are exceptionally susceptible to the calcium deficiency. This is well documented in the literature.
African Grey's may have greater bone density than most other parrot species. The greater bone density requires additional calcium in the diet. It just makes sense that African grey's will benefit from a good bird calcium supplement.
What Are The Symptoms Of Low Bird Calcium?
• Heart disorders
• High cholesterol due to improper enzyme synthesis
• Muscular pain and contractions caused by weak nerves
• Rickets in young birds
• Difficulty in climbing cage walls and moving around due to muscle weakness
• Loss of balance
• Lack of co-ordination
• Parrot Feather Plucking
All of these disorders can cause a lot of discomfort and stress potentially leading to the development of stereotypical behaviors and nervous disorders. Issues like physical pain and emotional pain can easily lead to challenging behaviors like aggression, screaming, and plucking.
How Do You Treat Calcium Deficiency In Birds?
Licensed Photo from Shutterstock,
Calcium synthesis in the body can get tricky. You see, most nutrients have a reciprocal relationship with each other, and calcium is no different.
The body requires both magnesium and vitamin D3 in order to absorb calcium. Vitamin D is not readily available in most foods that birds eat. When skin is exposed to UVA UVB light, it makes vitamin D from cholesterol. You can provide essential UVA UVB light with bird lights.
If the appropriate complimentary nutrients aren't available, then the calcium simply washes out of the body when the bird poops. That's why its best to choose a complete calcium supplement that contain magnesium and vitamin D3. UnRuffledRx Bird Calcium is ideal for treating birds with calcium deficiency.
For best absorption results, consider feeding the calcium supplement on fresh, moist raw foods like parrot chop, a diverse range of vegetables, fruits, soaked grains, seeds, and nuts. That way, you know that your bird is consuming the entire dosage.
A complete calcium supplement should only be offered 3 days a week, or every other day. "Although excessive oral calcium intake is not thought to cause clinical problems in most cases, excessive oral vitamin D3 can cause harmful calcium accumulation in tissues such as the kidneys."
Supplements should be used carefully, especially in susceptible species (eg, macaws). And, if your bird is on tetracycline, stop administering calcium during treatment.
Other than African Grey parrots, typically, calcium deficiencies are caused by a poor diet. We see multiple nutrient deficiencies in birds fed all seed diets. But, even if you feed a premium pellet, keep in mind that many nutrients are lost during the cooking process. Never the less, avian nutritionists often recommend that 40% of a birds diet be made up of Harrison's, Roudybush, or TOPS pellets.
Then, start working toward a dietary ratio of 40% pellets to 60% raw foods. Raw foods are uncooked vegetables, fruits, herbs, fresh grains, flowers, soaked seeds, nuts, and sprouts. You can mix a huge batch and freeze daily portions.
Natural foods that can correct the Hypocalcaemia
Greens: Leafy vegetables like kale, mustard greens and collards and even green veggies such as okra, broccoli and zucchini can all offer a bird its daily requirement of calcium. Cabbage, celery, carrots, dandelion greens and peas are all a rich source of the mineral.
Nuts and beans: Birds love nuts and beans and the best part is that many of these will provide your feathered friend all of its nutritional requirements. You could typically include almonds, hazelnuts which are very low in oxalates, kidney beans, pinto beans (always cook these as raw beans have some poisons that can prove toxic for birds), sesame and sunflower seeds to introduce additional quantities of calcium in a bird's diet.
Fruits: You won't have to persuade your pets too hard to eat these sweet offerings; from figs to oranges and even apricots are known to have a significant amount of calcium in them.
Other calcium rich food items: Apart from these, brewer's yeast, butter milk, kelp, yogurt, oats, cheese and even herbs such as parsley, basil, dandelion leaves chamomile, oat straw, comfrey, and alfalfa will up the amount of calcium in the bird's diet.
Learn more about how a plant-based diet can support your bird's nutritional well-being in these books by Karmen Budai.
Can A Bird Get Too Much Calcium?
Simply put, yes! Interestingly enough, too much calcium is just as bad as too little calcium. There is a range of acceptable calcium levels which your avian veterinarian can explain to you.
So, as long as your dispersing no more than 3 times a week calcium on moist food you should be okay. Also, by feeding a huge range of raw plant-based foods, trying for a minimum 10+ varieties of produce per day,
Two Important Warnings: First, it is imperative to ensure that along with calcium, the bird also gets the right amount of Vitamin D3, so that the calcium ingested can be absorbed in the body. The simplest way to get this nutrient is through sunlight exposure.
So, make sure that your parrot gets enough and the right kind of light to stay healthy. Second, it is very easy to overdose on calcium, and cause just as much damage as low calcium levels. Take precautions. Work with your avian veterinarian to insure that you are correctly supplementing your feathered friend. Be an active parrot owner who reads labels so as to prevent over dosing calcium.
Leave us a comment on how you help make sure that your parrot gets the proper amount of calcium.
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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