What's the healthiest diet for parrots? Despite a gradually building knowledge of avian nutritional needs, too many bird lovers think the answer is "seeds" -- to the detriment of their bird's health.
"We know that proper nutrition is important to maintain the health of our companion birds, but we're not always sure how to provide it," says Dr. Stuart Turner, the veterinarian who oversees the Pet Care Forum of America Online and a longtime parrot fancier with a bird of his own, an orange-winged Amazon named Petty.
"While it's easy to point the finger of blame at the pet-bird industry and at pet stores for limiting offerings or promoting diets as complete and nutritious, it's not really fair," he says. "In most cases, claims about nutrition are impossible to prove with the limited nutritional knowledge we have about the various species."
Turner says based on current knowledge, bird lovers do best to feed their pets a commercially available pelted food (Roudybush and Harrison's are two commonly available and recommended brands), while reducing the proportion of seeds and adding a moderate amount of fruits and vegetables.
"Change and diversity are important in nutrition," says Turner. "They not only ensure a greater chance of your bird acquiring critical nutrients that may be otherwise lacking in the diet, but they're also important for their contribution to better emotional health for bird -- different food choices help to relieve boredom."
Problem is, the goal of proper nutrition is easier set than accomplished. Some birds become "seed junkies" and resist efforts to broaden their diet.
"Foods that are new or novel may not be readily accepted," admits Turner, who offers some suggestions to bird lovers trying to get their seed junkies to eat a more balanced diet.
The first thing to remember is that persistence will likely pay off, he says. If a food is rejected, continue feeding the old diet for one to two weeks, then return to the new food again. Studies have shown this strategy increases the familiarity and gradually increases acceptance.
If you have other birds in your household who are eating a more varied and nutritious diet, they can often be used to "train" the other bird to accept it by housing them together or in close proximity. Be careful, though, that the birds are socially compatible and that they are confirmed free of disease by an avian veterinarian.
The size of pelleted diets is also important, says Turner. If the pieces are too large, your bird may reject them. Although many birds like to grasp the larger pellets with their feet, acceptance for others may depend on pellet size, so resorting to smaller pellets may do the trick.
Fresh fruits and vegetables are important, but remember they spoil very quickly and should be removed in a few hours to no longer than a day if not consumed. They can easily become overgrown with bacteria and fungus, and pose a health threat if not pulled from the cage.
Above all, says Turner, it's up to bird lovers to stay current as more becomes known about the best diets for parrots and other birds. "Keep up your reading of bird magazines and on the Internet," he says. "But remember always that the best source of information is going to be a board-certified avian veterinarian."
Pets on the Web: The San Francisco-based Senior Dogs Project (http://www.srdogs.com) is dedicated to helping older pets live healthier, happier lives and getting potential adopters to consider giving an older dog a home. The site offers advice on health care for older pets, including an interesting discussion of the new arthritis drug Rimadyl. Best parts of the site are the "10 Good Reasons to Adopt an Older Dog" and the pictures of successful old dog adoptions. I love the stories of older dogs like Hank, a golden retriever mix adopted at the age of more than 12 years. "We love Hank very much and know the inevitable kindness is nearer than we like to think. But in two short years he has brought us more joy, laughs and unconditional love than we had ever thought possible," write owners Dave and Dustine Sparks. Awww.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies" and "Cats for Dummies," and is the editorial director of the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or e-mail to Giori(at)aol.com.
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