90% of the exotic pets are fed inappropriate diets

Do you know what the most dangerous food is for pet birds? Would you be surprised if I said it was… bird seed?

If so, you wouldn’t be alone. Approximately 90% of the exotic pets I see are fed inappropriate diets. In fact, the leading cause of illness in exotic pets is malnutrition.

While bird seed appears to be a good food option, it is actually devoid of any real nutrition. It contains an imbalance of poor quality protein, carbohydrate, and fat and contains practically no vitamins or minerals. Feeding pet birds only a commercial seed mix is like feeding children only potato chips. Seed blends that claim vitamin fortification create a false sense of security, since the vitamin additives actually deteriorate during packaging, shipping, and storage. Many people believe that seed is what birds eat in the wild, but it is only available a few weeks out of the year. In fact, most of what birds like best — seed, nuts, fruit, etc. – are only available seasonally. If a natural-food diet is to be fed to birds, it must contain a large variety of ingredients and the birds must eat all of those components.

Unfortunately, birds rarely eat every item in a mix. Contrary to popular belief, instinct does not direct birds to eat a balanced diet. In the wild, they eat what’s available during the successive seasons, and each species has evolved to thrive on what’s available in its own geographic area. In a pet environment, what’s available is usually pot-luck.

The easiest solution to the problem of malnutrition in pet birds is to feed one of the newer, formulated cereal diets, also known as pelleted diets. It’s similar to feeding a wellbalanced, dry-food diet to dogs and cats. There are many quality brands available, and the worst pelleted diet is infinitely better than the best seed mix.

So, how does one get a pet bird on a proper diet? Since birds can be almost addicted to seed mixes, the key is in a gradual transition. At first, the new food is given the first 50% of the day, the old food the remainder of the day. This continues for several days. Then it’s new food 60%, then 70%, and so on. After a few weeks the birds can receive only the pelleted food, or at least pelleted food for 90% of the day.

The key to good health and longevity in pet birds is good nutrition. Pelleted diets have been around for more than a decade and easily solve the problem of providing pet birds with a complete and balanced diet.

Dr. Don Harris is an exotic animal veterinarian. Avian and Exotic Animal Medical Center is located at 6380 S. Dixie Hwy. For information, call 305-234-2473, email djh@avianexotic.com or visit www.avianexotic.com.

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