DanvilleSanRamon.com

Living - June 1, 2007

The Pet Vet says... Proper diet for a cockatiel

by Dr. Heidi Strand

Q. We just got a pet cockatiel from our friend. He eats Harrison's brand pellets. Is this a normal diet? I have always thought that birds needed to eat seed like they do in the wild.

A. Just like our canine and feline friends have been healthier since the invention of kibble, so have our pet birds become healthier since pelleted diets became available in the 1970s. If you think about it, wild birds don't eat just seed. They eat a variety of seeds, insects, plant material, and organic material from the soil. They prefer seeds because they are tasty and high in fat and calories, but they need those calories in order to survive. Your pet cockatiel doesn't. Pet birds fed only seeds suffer from obesity as well as nutrient deficiencies, in particular Vitamin A and protein deficiency.

You are fortunate your bird is already eating a quality organic pellet. There are many diets available, generally in pet stores rather than the grocery store. It's a good idea to supplement any pelleted diet with daily helpings of dark green leaf vegetables (kale, broccoli), orange vegetables (carrots, yams), pasta or rice, and protein-rich beans or peas. Fruit and even meat are OK as occasional treats. Offering foods in different places, such as hanging from a perch or on the bottom of the cage, is fun and stimulating for your bird. And you will find that the pellets are much less messy than seed. By the way, pet birds should never be fed avocado or chocolate.

For owners who want to convert their seed-eating pets to pellets, it's difficult but it can be done. Since birds select their food visually rather than by smell, they will not just automatically eat pellets. An avian veterinarian can recommend a method of converting - it usually varies depending on the type of bird. While the process takes time and perseverance, owners will be rewarded with a healthier and longer-living bird.

--Dr. Heidi Strand is a veterinarian for the East Bay SPCA in Dublin. She has lived in the Tri-Valley for 10 years with her family and an assortment of four-legged friends. Questions can be mailed to 315 Diablo Road, Suite 100, Danville 94526; or e-mailed to hstrand@eastbayspca.org. Her column runs every other week.

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