Veterinary Care

Birds

The following information is designed to help you take the best possible care of your pet bird.

DIET
Birds can eat many of the same foods humans eat as long as they are healthful foods. Allowing your pet to regularly share family meals provides an excellent way to strengthen the human/animal bond and shows your bird he is a part of the family. Following the dietary guidelines mentioned below is important when allowing your pet to eat with you.

Birds, being extremely intelligent, can quickly become bored with a dry diet that is exactly the same every day. Boredom can lead to behavior problems such as overeating, feather-picking or cage destruction. Variety is the key to providing your pet bird with total nutrition.

Many new pet bird owners are overwhelmed by the vast assortment of seeds, seed treats and other items that are sold as "bird food." The fact is, birds need more than seed-type bird food to stay healthy.

Some food forms can occasionally help provide sources of activity for your bird. These include whole nuts, berries on the stems, buds and leaves, corn on the cob, pine cones and coconuts.

Some foods can be toxic and should be avoided. These foods include chocolate, caffeine, alcoholic beverages, and greasy, high-salt or high- sugar foods.

Commercial bird diets - These diets are acceptable as the staple diet for many species of birds, from canaries to toucans to macaws, making up 50% of the daily diet, and they are very convenient for the pet owners. There are many types on the market, from granules to colored pellets.

Fruits & Vegetables - These foods should make up about 10 - 25% of the bird's diet. They are an excellent source of carbohydrates and contain many essential vitamins and minerals. Any fruit or vegetable that is fit for human consumption may be offered, but some are higher in the necessary vitamins and minerals your pet needs; such as corn, carrots, potatoes, dark green leafy vegetables, pumpkin, winter squash, collard greens, endive, broccoli, cooked sweet potatoes, apples, papaya, cantaloupe, apricots, melons, oranges, berries, bananas, pears and peaches. Fruit and fresh vegetable juices may also be offered, but commercial vegetable juice is too high in sodium.

Breads and cereals - This component should make up about 10% of your bird's diet and should be fed twice a day. Breads and cereals are an excellent source of certain amino acids, carbohydrates and B vitamins. Good sources include whole grain breads, unsweetened breakfast cereals, granola, tortillas, and cooked brown rice, pasta, beans or legumes.

Protein - High protein foods should make up about 10% of your bird's diet and should be fed twice daily. These items can spoil quickly, so they must not be left in the cage too long, especially on warm days. Examples of protein-rich foods include cooked lean meats, tuna or other fish, peanut butter, tofu, low-fat cottage cheese, firm and light-colored cheeses, yogurt and cooked eggs. If your bird is obese, the cheeses and eggs should be deleted.

Seed mixes - No more than 20 - 25% of a pet bird's diet should be in the form of seeds. Try to severely limit oil seeds such as sunflower, safflower and peanut. Using these oily seeds as the foundation of your pet's diet can lead to serious nutritional deficiencies and eventually death. It is best to use these as hand-fed, special treats given in small amounts. A medium-sized parrot, for example, should not have more than 10 -15 seeds in this category daily. Grain seeds such as millet, canary seed, wheat, and oats can be left in the cage in small amounts. Seeds provide carbohydrates and some B vitamins.

Vitamin & Mineral supplements - Vitamin supplements should not be added to your pet's diet unless recommended by his veterinarian. If you are feeding a variety of the proper foods, it is generally not necessary to use them. Calcium is a very important mineral need for most birds. This can be provided in the form of a cuttlebone (soft side toward the bird), white oyster shells, or mineral blocks.

Water - Fresh water must always be available and should be changed daily. Water cups should be thoroughly cleaned each day before refilling. Depending on the water quality in your area, you may want to consider using bottled water for your pet.

ENVIRONMENT
Cages - The largest cage that can be accommodated in the family area of your home is recommended for birds who are expected to be confined most of the time. The cage must be strong enough to resist bending or dismantling by the bird, free of toxic materials and designed for safety and ease of cleaning. An appropriate cage for limited confinement time is large enough to provide room for full-body extension without touching the sides. In most cases the cage should be wider than it is tall to accommodate stretched wings; however, adequate height should be provided for long-tailed birds.

Since the cage is your bird's living quarters, it is very important to make sure it is hazard free. Make sure there are no sharp edges that could cut, strings or frayed fabric to get tangled in, or cage bars that narrow to an acute angle where the head or a limb could be trapped. Cages made of galvanized wire are toxic to birds if they chew on the wire. A weekly thorough cleaning of the entire cage is recommended.

Many birds benefit from the availability of a retreat inside the cage for a sense of privacy. A paper bag large enough for him to completely enter, a draped towel that forms a "tent," or a nesting box make excellent hiding spots.

Temperature - Healthy birds can handle the same temperatures that are comfortable to you. Drafts or sudden changes in temperature in the area of the bird's cage should be avoided. If a bird is overheating, he will pant and hold his wings away from his body. Frequent opportunities for supervised access to fresh air and direct sunlight appear to be beneficial for birds. The bird, in cage, can be placed outdoors in clear comfortable weather and provided with an area of shade and plenty of water.

Humidity - Birds native to subtropical climates may benefit from increased humidity levels. You can frequently mist your pet with cool water in warm weather or place your pet's cage in a bathroom with the shower running. Do not place the bird directly in the shower.

Perches - Perches should be clean, easily replaceable, appropriately sized, natural wood branches from pesticide-free and nontoxic trees. Northern hardwoods, citrus, eucalyptus and Australian pine, to name a few, have branches the bird can chew as well as stand on. Sandpaper-covered perches are not advisable.

Cage liners - Corncob bedding or wood chips are not to be used on the bottom of the cage because these can be swallowed and cause intestinal blockages. Do not use cedar, redwood or pressure treated pine chips as bed liners. These can be toxic to your pet.

Newspapers, paper towels or other plain cage liner paper is preferred over kitty litter or sand as the cage bottom liner. This way the appearance and number of the droppings can be monitored on a daily basis for signs of potential illness. Cleaning and disinfecting cage bases and replacing cage liners must be done daily.

Food and Water Bowls - The use of wide bowls rather than deep cups displays the foods attractively and encourages your bird to eat. Normal, healthy birds can easily approach this type of bowl; therefore it is not necessary to place the food bowl up beside the perch. Metal or glass bowls are best because they can be easily cleaned and disinfected. Glazed ceramic bowls are not recommended. Bowls must be cleaned and disinfected daily to prevent problems associated with food spoilage.

Common hazards - Household hazards that can seriously harm birds include lead, zinc, copper, cedar, redwood, antifreeze, toxic house plants, inhalant fumes from tobacco smoke, insecticides, fertilizers, rodent poisons, and mite sprays. If you need a mite spray, use only products specifically recommended for your pet's species.

Ceiling fans can be hazardous to birds who are allowed to fly loose inside the house.

TOYS
Toys are useful as mental diversions and to encourage physical exercise and beak wear, but must be safe for the bird. Easily dismantled toys such as balsa wood, small link chain items, toys with metal clips or skewers, lead-weighted toys, and toys with small beads or parts that can be swallowed should not be given. Recommended toys include chewable items such as tree branches, pine cones, rawhide dog chews, and soft white pine pieces.

GENERAL CARE
Minimal body care is required for the healthy, well-fed pet bird. Confined, indoor birds who resist a varied diet require more attention in the care of the beak, nails, feet and feathers.

Molting & Bathing - During the molting period, additional fat, protein and vitamins may be required in the diet, and additional darkness provided each day to encourage rest. As a new feather develops, the bird may pick at the pin feather cover to open it. This is not "feather-picking" or a sign of mites. It is perfectly normal for healthy birds. Pure, clean water is the most appropriate feather spray. Soiled feathers may be gently cleaned with a mild detergent solution, such as baby shampoo diluted with water, followed by a thorough warm water rinse. Feathers can be gently towel-dried or blow-dried, or the bird can be placed in the sun. The feathers need to be kept dry and free of oily substances.

Clipped Wings - A wing clip may be desired to prevent escape or injury, or for taming and/or training. Some bird owners may believe it is cruel to limit a bird's ability to fly. However, a pet bird in captivity is already in an unnatural situation and, as long as there is a good social interaction between owner and bird, most pets do not seem inhibited psychologically by a wing trim. Further, you must seriously consider the potential trauma that occurs when a bird flies head-on into an unseen window or through an open window or door, never to be seen again. Your pet's veterinarian can advise you on wing clipping.

A regular visit to an avian veterinarian for a routine health examination is advised in order to detect potential problems in the early stages.

(Some information within taken with permission from "Bird Nutrition," Midwest Bird and Exotic Animal Hospital, Illinois and "Basic Care Guide for Pet Birds," Veterinary Associates, Stonefield, Kentucky.)


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