Basic Care for Birds

Nutrition

Dietary deficiencies are the underlying cause of many physical and behavioral problems. A bird should be on the best possible diet all of the time, not just during molts or breeding. A bird may need more food at certain times, but should never be on a diet that "needs improving". Check out "Feeding Your Pet Bird", also located on this page, for more information.

Environment

Room temperature of 60 - 75 F and free of chilling drafts are suggested. A drop of 5 - 10 F at night is beneficial if the bird is healthy and gradually acclimated to change. Sudden changes in temperature can be dangerous to a sick bird. Many birds can be housed outdoors if they are healthy and adequate shelter is provided as well as time to gradually adjust to their new environment. Opportunities for supervised access to fresh air and direct sunlight are beneficial as long as shade is available. Anytime a bird is taken out of doors without a cage, even with wings trimmed, the possibility of a good breeze allowing them to take flight is a very real danger.


Avoid exposure to smoke, especially cigarette smoke, and other fumes including fumes from Teflon coated cooking utensils. If your bird has free movement in your home, be sure they are safe from toxins (plants, cords, painted wood, chemicals, etc.) and other dangers like ceiling fans, dogs and cats, young children, and large, exposed windows that could be flown into.

Housing

The largest cage possible is recommended for any bird that is confined most of the time. Even small birds, like parakeets, need as much space as can be accommodated; the larger the better. It needs to be strong enough to resist bending or dismantling by the bird, made of non-toxic material, and designed for safety and ease of cleaning. Perches of natural woods that or nontoxic and pesticide free are clean, easily replaced and inexpensive. They should be of an appropriate diameter for your bird and placed as not to overcrowd the cage but still give your bird ample climbing and perching options. Avoid placing them over food or water to prevent contamination by droppings. Sand paper covered perches should be avoided as they can cause irritation and sores on the bird's feet.

It is recommended to place food and water bowls at opposite ends of the cage. Multiple water dishes may help deter bathing in the drinking water and separate bowls for "wet" or fresh and dry food should be used. Bowls should be cleaned daily as we would our own dishes.

Cage bottoms and liners should be changed daily also, and observation of dropping as well as checking for signs of blood should be made at that time. Changes in color or consistency of droppings could indicate a medical problem. Using newspaper, paper towels, or other plain paper liners make it easier to monitor this. Birds should not be allowed contact with other substrates (like sand, kitty litter, corn cobs or wood chips) as they tend to harbor and grow bacteria and fungus and are not generally recommended. The entire cage should be thoroughly cleaned weekly.

Toys

All birds are inherently curious, active and more intelligent than most people realize. It is very important that they can be kept busy and stimulated by a variety of toys and in most cases have access to chewable items like branches, pinecones, rawhide chews and soft white pine. Some birds love to tear paper and chew cardboard from paper towel rolls; rolls of plain adding machine paper on a stick for then to unravel and chew can provide lots of entertainment. Be sure to select toys with the safety of the bird in mind. Avoid small metal chains and clasps that toes can get caught in as well as items with fabrics or threads that can get wrapped around toes and feet or legs. Select wooden items that are dyed with natural dyes or that are un-dyed, natural wood. Change and move toys often to keep the bird interested.

Grooming

Feathers need constant care. The normal bird cleans, arranges and lubricates his feathers intermittently throughout the day. Daily misting and a minimum of weekly bathing is recommended to encourage grooming and help keep the skin clean and feathers free of excessive feather dust. Soiled feathers can be cleaned with a small amount of mild soap (dawn dish soap or baby shampoo) followed by a thorough rinsing and drying.

We at Village Veterinary Hospital recommend wing clipping. Many injuries can and do occur do to flying into windows or walls or other dangerous surfaces and well as by inadvertently escaping out a door or window. It also aids in taming and training. Options can be discussed with your veterinarian.

Generally, healthy birds on a good diet with access to plenty of chewable materials do not need beak trims.

Nail trims are frequently done to prevent overlong nails from being caught in toys or owners' clothing. Sharp nails are also very uncomfortable on bare arms or hands!

Veterinary Care

Veterinarians emphasize that the most important physical examination for a bird is the first one! Birds can appear well and still have problems. It is important to know your veterinarian. Every animal at some time in his life will become sick and need medical services. There's a real advantage to knowing an avian veterinarian who is personally familiar with your bird and its background.

Birds effectively hide signs of sickness showing them only when the problem is advanced. Birds cover up these signs instinctively as they would be driven off from the flock or become targets for predators in the wild. Birds that look sick may be dying. Early signs of sickness are easily missed and frequently misinterpreted. Speedy diagnosis and treatment of problems is important.

Signs of sickness in a bird may include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing Heavy or fast breathing
  • Ruffled feathers
  • Inactivity
  • Excessive sleeping or keeping eyes closed
  • Diarrhea or vomiting

Any of these signs of sickness require rapid attention.

Dangers to Avoid

Ceiling fans; large exposed windows; hot stove tops, pans, and cooking oil; Teflon®-coated items (overheated); leg chains; sandpaper-covered perches; tobacco and cigarette smoke; chocolate, avocado, rhubarb, parsley; salt; alcohol; toxic houseplants; pesticides; 'mite' boxes in cages; toxic fumes; easily dismantled toys; dogs, cats and young children; cedar, redwood and pressure-treated wood shavings; sources of lead or zinc; cords; plug-in air fresheners.

Feeding Your Pet Bird

Feeding Your Pet Bird Although formulated or pelleted foods should be the foundation of your bird's diet, they also need a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. Some smaller birds, like cockatiels and budgies, may also benefit from a low percentage of a high quality seed mix in addition to pellets and fresh foods. Seed diets are high in fats and carbohydrates and low in necessary vitamins and protein and as such should not be their sole means of nutrition. Millet spray is candy to a bird, but may be helpful in encouraging a sick or convalescing bird to eat.

Other "people foods" such as eggs, rice, pasta, breads, meats (well cooked) and unsalted nuts in the shell are acceptable and beneficial as well. Avoid avocados as they are toxic to birds (no guacamole!) as well as rhubarb and parsley. Birds cannot metabolize salt well either, so avoid salty foods and since most pet birds are perch potatoes, fatty foods should be avoided too. Rule of thumb; if it is healthy food for you, it is healthy for you bird.

Pelleted food is a blend of grains, seeds, vegetables, fruits, and various protein sources. Manufacturers mix the ingredients and either bake and crumble them or extrude them, ending up with pellets of a proper size for any given species (large pellets for large birds, small pellets for small birds).

This process produces a food that has a definite and huge overall advantage to the "smorgasbord" way of feeding - the bird cannot pick out his favorite foods and ignore the rest. Pellets also are convenient for bird owners. These commercially prepared diets are easy to buy, relatively inexpensive (definitely so when you consider the veterinary trips they save), and store nicely in a cool, dry place.

Vitamin A is the most common deficiency seen in pet birds, particularly those on seed-based, marginal diets. Vitamin A is necessary to boost he immune system and protect against bacterial infections. Birds deficient in Vitamin A do not have the protective mucous lining their complex sinus, respiratory, reproductive and digestive systems, which allows harmful bacteria to penetrate the tissues causing secondary infections. An immune-suppressed, deficient bird does not have the ability to fight of these invasive pathogens.

Good Vitamin A Sources:

Food Vitamin A
Sweet Potatoes/Yams 1/2 Cup - 1400ug
Carrots 1 Medium - 1015ug
Pumpkin 1/2 Cup Canner - 953ug
Turnip, beet, mustard, dandelion greens 1/2 Cup - 200-300ug
Spinach 1 Cup  - 200ug
Kale (Boiled) 1/2 Cup - 300ug
Cantaloupe 1/2 Cup - 150ug
Winter Squash 1/2 Cup - 260ug
Red Sweet Pepper (Cooked) 1/2 Cup - 180ug
Papaya 1/2 Medium - 150ug
Organ Meats (liver, giblets, etc. Well Cooked) 3oz - 1490-9126ug

Foods that are NOT recommended:

  • Fatty Foods - commonly overfed fatty foods include nuts, French fries, crackers, peanut butter, butter, fatty meats
  • Sugar foods - frostings, chocolate, candy, soda pop, cookies, etc.
  • Dairy - birds lack the digestive enzymes needed to break down milk sugar and milk proteins. Uncultured milk products like milk, cream and butter should not be fed, but yogurt and cheeses can be supplemented in the diet in moderation (they are also high in fat and some cheeses are salty).
  • Lettuce - a typical filler food that is low in everything except water. It does not offer anything for your bird's diet.
  • Avocado - is toxic to birds. Also avoid parsley and rhubarb.

Many vitamin supplements are available, but avoid putting it in water; sprinkling it on their food or adding it to seed mixes is acceptable. Although vitamins are needed for proper metabolism, too many in the diet can be harmful. Always follow the directions when using vitamin supplements.
Calcium should also be supplemented, especially for egg layers, as calcium deficiency is a common problem (especially in Amazons and African Greys). Cuttlebones, mineral blocks, cooked and crushed egg shells and Vit. D-Calcium-phosphorous powders are possible ways to add calcium to the diet, as well as some vegetables.

Grit is not necessary for birds who hull or crack their seeds. Birds that do not; soft-bills like pigeons or poultry, need the grit to facilitate the grinding of food in the birds gizzard. If your parrot is seen to be passing undigested seed in their stool, seek the advice of an avian veterinarian.
Obesity is the most common nutritional disease in caged birds. Any bird has the potential to get fat but it is most commonly seen in Amazons, African Grays, and budgies (often fed all seed diets). These birds in particular can develop liver disease due to obesity.

Converting to Pellets

Changing a bird's diet, especially birds that have been on a specific (and nutritionally deficient) diet for a long time can be extremely difficult. Removing seed and offering pellets and fresh foods in the morning hours is a good way to start as birds tend to eat the most first thing in the morning.Their regular diet can be replaced in a couple of hours (in a lower quantity and mixed with pellets) if they refuse the new diet.

Be persistent and patient, it can take a while to get them used to different diets. For smaller birds - cockatiels, lovebirds, budgies, etc. - mixing the tiny pellets made for finches into their seed mix works well to convert them (change to the appropriate formula when converted). Slowly decrease the amount of seed and increase the amount of pellets.

Other steps that may be helpful in converting to pellets include:

  • Changing your bird's environment. Move the bird to a new location, even a new cage. Remove toys, perches and bowls and offer the pellets on a solid surface on the floor. Sprinkling the food on a mirror or white paper works well for budgies. The mirror may encourage your bird to eat to compete with the "rival" bird and white paper draws attention to the particles.
  • Feed at mealtimes. Place the food on a plate and move it around with your finger and pretend to eat it in front of your bird.
  • Crush pellets and sprinkle over regular food or moisten them and mix with seeds. Moistening the pellets with a little fruit juice (no added sugar!) could also be tried.
  • Cover the pellets with a layer of their regular food so the bird eats down into the pellets.
  • Large pellets may encourage some parrots to pick them up with their feet and take a bite. Most larger-sized parrots are very tactile and like to grab at new things.
  • Do not starve your bird to convert them! A small bird cannot go hungry for more than 36 hours without risk of starvation.

As a reminder, change their water frequently; at least twice a day, as many birds will defecate and bath in their water. Multiple sources of water may be helpful also. Fresh foods should also be changed frequently or removed if they would be left in the cage for any length of time. Fruits are terrible for attracting fruit flies as well as spoiling quickly in warm weather. All water and food bowls or containers should be washed daily as you would your own dishware.

Locate

Contact

Village Veterinary Hospital
236 36th Street
Bellingham, WA 98225

Phone: (360) 647-1980

After Hours Emergency
(360) 758-2200

Hours-

 

Monday 7:30am 6:00pm
Tuesday 7:30am 6:00pm
Wednesday 7:30am 6:00pm
Thursday 7:30am 6:00pm
Friday 7:30am 6:00pm
Saturday 8:00am 12:00pm
Sunday Closed Closed
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