Nutrition & Safety

Birds and Other Animals

by Tiellover

Word went out from a local bird club about a tragic case of dog vs. bird. A 30 year-old double yellow-headed Amazon had played regularly with the family dog, without incident. The bird was allowed to roam the floors freely and walked up to the dog’s food dish. The bird, being a bird, nipped the dog on the nose. The dog, being a dog,

dog and cockatiel

instinctively responded by grabbing the bird by the wing and ripping it off in front of the owner. The bird was rushed to the vet, but had to be euthanized. Now the owner will have to live with the horror of watching her beloved bird being mutilated and killed by her dog. She said they had always played together fine without incident before.

Dr. Clare Fahy of South Wilton Veterinary Group (SWVG) in Wilton, CT reported a similar incident with a cockatiel that was rushed to them after having its wing torn off by a dog. Amazingly that bird survived, albeit wingless, with the chest cavity sewn shut.

lovebird and cat

A letter posted to George Sommers’ column, “From the parrot’s beak” tells of how they lost their “dear sweet” white-capped pionus. A friend was watching their birds while they were away. The friend has dogs and was asked not to have the birds out of their cages when the dogs were in the house. The friend thought she could just run through the kitchen to upstairs with her shepherd mix. The pionus was startled and took flight. The dog snatched the bird out of the air and killed her instantly.

dog and lorikeet

Dr. Stephanie Lamb, formerly of SWVG, tells the story of a yellow-naped Amazon which lived in a home with 4 other birds and 3 rescue dogs of various breeds. The dogs normally did not have contact with the birds, but one night the owner let the birds out to play on their cages. The phone rang, and she left the birds “for just a second”. One dog sneaked into the room and grabbed the Amazon right off of the cage.

budgie and cat

The owner rushed him to the vet, but he had died by the time they got there. There was a huge hole punctured in his stomach. Dr. Lamb reports another case of an African grey parrot that lived with a chow chow. The chow chow was always trying to get to the bird, and one year earlier had grabbed the bird through the cage and punctured the bird’s eye, blinding it in that eye. This time, the bird was walking around the floor and got grabbed by the dog again (yes, the owner STILL let the dog be around the bird!). The bird suffered multiple puncture wounds on the face and into the sinus cavities. The beak had a severe lengthwise fracture down the center.

dog and Amazon

The bird had to have a prosthesis placed on the beak and stayed in the hospital in intensive care for five days on numerous medications and oxygen support. The bird did survive and went home, but the recovery time was greater than two months. No word on whether the owner is still allowing the dog to be around the bird. She described a third case of an eclectus which had had numerous encounters with a medium-sized dog. They “played” together, but it had escalated numerous times, causing puncture wounds, beak fractures, internal bleeding, and nerve damage. Dr. Lamb has advised the owners time and time again not to let them “play”, but they wouldn’t listen. She said that she fears that one day the bird is going to get killed.

Maybe you’re sitting there reading this and horrified. Maybe you’re telling yourself that those cases are exceptions, and that your dog/cat would never harm your bird. They’ve “grown up” together. Your dog/cat is very docile and wouldn’t hurt a flea. Your bird has a beak – it can defend itself. Your bird is fully flighted – it can always fly away. Your dog/ cat is afraid of your bird. The list of why it’s OK for your dog/cat (or other animal) to play with your bird goes on and on. Except it’s not OK. It’s never OK.

The Internet abounds with ‘cutesie’ videos of birds playing with dogs and cats. We’ve all seen them. We’ve probably thought how adorable they looked together, all the while telling ourselves that it was dangerous. But how dangerous is it?

lory and cat

The stories above are not exceptions to a rule. They ARE the rule. Dogs and cats (and some other family pets, especially ferrets) are predators. They may be domesticated, but their predatory instinct is always there, either overtly or lurking just below the surface. If an otherwise friendly dog or cat is annoyed by a bird, such as by a nip on the nose (and what bird doesn’t occasionally nip?), it will lash out. It’s not going to stop and think that oh yeah, this is my buddy. I’d better not hurt him. In dog/cat vs. bird, the bird usually loses. Yes, the bird has a beak, but it’s not like they’ve set out to have a fight with their “weapons” at the ready. Once the dog or cat has struck, it can be game over for the bird. Even friendly dogs and cats can injure birds by over-exuberant play or even stepping on a bird, so injury doesn’t just result from hostile behavior.

dog and CAG

Also keep in mind that something as simple as a scratch from a dog or especially a cat can be fatal to a bird. Dog and cat bites, licks, and scratches can transmit a deadly organism called Pasteurella multocida. Not just to birds, but to you too! When outdoor cats “play” with a bird (or other animal) outside and the animal escapes, it frequently dies of this infection. So even if your docile cat just licks your bird, it can have deadly consequences.

But, you’re thinking, my dog/cat has never harmed my bird in all the years they’ve been together. That’s what the owner of the Amazon in the other club was saying too. Just because something has never happened before is no guarantee that it will never happen in the future. You’ve cooked with Teflon all these years and your bird is still alive (until Aunt Mabel calls you and you lose all track of time as the pan slowly burns on the stove, killing your birds). That stock has risen every year since you’ve owned it (until the CFO gets caught embezzling funds and the stock crashes). You don’t need to put ID tags on your dog because she’s never run out of the house before (until you open the door for the mailman and a squirrel runs by outside).

cat, dog, and lorikeet

It’s called an accident. It’s unpredictable. You never meant for it to happen. Supervising your animals while they’re out isn’t good enough. The woman whose Amazon got its wing ripped off was in the room when it happened. Unless you can move faster than the speed of light, you won’t be able to stop it from happening. The only way to keep your bird from being injured or worse by your other family pets is to make sure they’re never out together and that the other animals can’t access the cages. A friend of mine with an outdoor aviary lost his cockatiel when a neighbor’s wandering cat pulled the bird’s leg through the bars and ripped it off. The bird had to be euthanized as it slowly bled out. Some people advocate “training” the dog/cat to be with the bird. It’s fine to let the dog/cat know that there are birds in the house and that they shouldn’t touch them. But that’s not the same thing as letting them play together. That is never acceptable. And size doesn’t matter. Ferrets are small, but deadly to birds.

macaw and dog

With proper precautions, extended families of humans, dogs, cats, birds and other animals can all live happily together. Remember that the lives of these precious little creatures are in your hands. Let’s be safe out there!

@tiellover, © 2012, 2016. All rights reserved

Healthy Food, Healthy Fids
by Tandi Glaser

Some say our birdies eat better than us human parronts do and honestly, that is quite simply the truth! It’s vital to remember that their nutrition is as crucial for them as breathing is for us, and we need to make sure they are at their healthiest and playful best. Just like kids, our birds are fussy eaters!! One may like bananas one day and throw it out of the bowl the next!!! Some birds despise vegetables and would rather turn their beaks up at what’s in their food bowl!!! With this in mind, it’s important to remember that our feathered kids need a balanced diet just like we do: vitamins, minerals and the odd treat here and there!! Finally, everything in moderation! We humans have a sweet tooth and our birds have an equally sweet appetite. So ease up on the sugar (not too many grapes for example). Secondly ask your vet or knowledgeable fellow bird owners about what vitamins or minerals your bird(s) would need (calcium, iron, etc.). As a treat, not too many sunflower seeds. I cannot stress enough to remove seeds from apples – and NO avocado, it’s toxic for our birds!

All in all, feed your birds like the precious royalty that they are. A happy and well-nourished bird is a healthy and well-functioning feathered kid!! Bon appetite!!!

Recipe: Show-Stopper Chop

Winter blues have you and your fids down? Pocketbook hurting after the holiday season? Picky feathered pet refusing to try fresh foods? Hunting for an easy, photo-ready snack for your bird? You’re in luck!

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This show-stopper chop is a favorite among my birds. Its bright colors stimulate their instinct to forage and look impressively appetizing. The addition of loose millet (or seed if loose millet isn’t available) piques the interest of picky eaters and birds who have not yet become comfortable with fresh foods. The best part: it only has four ingredients, and they are cheap, found in many human recipes, and extremely easy to find.

Show-Stopper Chop

1 cup red cabbage, finely chopped

1 cup kale, finely chopped

1 cup carrots, finely chopped

1/8th cup loose millet or budgie seed

Chop ingredients on a surface that has been cleaned with a 50/50 white vinegar / water solution. Combine in a resealable container, mixing thoroughly. Feed only as long as chop remains looking and smelling fresh.

For birds with calcium deficiencies, bone injuries, or obsessive eggs layers, feed sparingly — excessive amounts of cabbage can prohibit calcium absorption (always consult a qualified avian vet if you have concerns!).

Fun and Easy Ways to Grow Greens for Your Birds

Part 2: Wheatgrass & Other Grasses

By @tiellover

Parrots in the wild love fresh greens, but it can be difficult to get our birds to eat enough greens in our homes. Greens are a healthy and nutritious addition to any parrot diet and are full of vitamins and minerals. Presentation can be everything, so here’s a fun way to get your birds interested in foraging for greens.

Many of you are familiar with wheatgrass, which is commonly used for juicing based on claims of health benefits for humans. In fact wheatgrass has been grown for its health effects since the ancient Egyptians and possibly even earlier. But you may not know that wheatgrass is great for birds too! Wheatgrass is the freshly sprouted first leaves of the common wheat plant, a worldwide staple cereal grain. As with other sprouts, wheatgrass is high in healthy nutrients such as protein, vitamins, and minerals, and low in fat. Many animals love fresh wheatgrass, including cats, dogs, rabbits, rodents, and birds. I observed many parrots in Australia eating freshly sprouted plants and grasses, which is the bulk of their diet. Having wheatgrass available for your birds is a great way to bring this experience to your own birds! Not only is it nutritious, but it’s also fun and fulfills their need to forage for their own food.

So how do you get wheatgrass for your birds? Fortunately there are many ways to grow or purchase wheatgrass these days. The easiest way is to just purchase it already grown. It usually costs just a few dollars and is found in health food stores, some markets, and pet stores. Instead of cutting the grass for juicing, as many people do, just set it down for your birds to enjoy. Most birds find it irresistible for nibbling, but as with anything new, you may have to play with it or pretend to eat it to get a bird interested in it. All of my birds and visitors have immediately gone over to it to check it out, but if you have a bird who is afraid of new things, you might have to be creative, such as sprinkling some millet in it or even putting a stalk of millet into it.

If you don’t want to buy it already grown or would rather grow it yourself, there are many easy ways to do that too. I have grown it many times from seed, also known as wheat berries,

Wheatberries
Wheat berries, zandland, Wikipedia, Creative Commons Attribution – Share Alike 3.0 Unported

and it really couldn’t be easier. You’ll need a small pot or shallow dish to grow it in, potting soil (preferably organic since birds like to root around in the dirt), wheatgrass seeds (usually easily available wherever you buy seeds), plastic wrap, and water. Here are good instructions for doing this: http://www.instructables.com/id/how-to-grow-cat-grass. You don’t have to grow it as high as it says in these instructions since birds aren’t as destructive to it as cats. Trust me – it’s really easy to do, not to mention inexpensive, especially if you have a lot of birds and want to plant up a bunch of pots. The grass grows quickly and will usually be edible in a week.

There are also many kits available for growing your own which come with the soil mixture, grass seed, and usually some kind of pot. The price is similar to purchasing already grown wheatgrass, but this is a good alternative if you can’t find it in your area or just want to grow your own. If you look online you’ll find lots of wheatgrass growing kits which make growing it extremely easy. Really the only thing that can go wrong is if the seeds are old and won’t germinate. Here are a couple of photos of my birds eating from a container that I just had to water. You can often find these in pet stores.

You may also see other grasses sprouted for feeding to your birds and other animals, such as oat, rye, and barley. Sometimes you will see “cat grass” instead of wheatgrass. Wheatgrass is always wheat berries, but cat grass may be wheat, oat, rye, or barley, so if you specifically want wheatgrass, check the label to see which seeds they are. Any of these are excellent choices and add variety, so purchasing “cat grass” is perfectly fine. As with wheatgrass, you can buy them fully grown or grow them from seed. It’s fun to experiment!

The nice thing about having wheatgrass around is it will generally keep for at least a couple of weeks, sometimes more, especially if you grow your own. You’ll want to water it every few days since it is a growing plant. It won’t stay alive forever, but you can certainly keep it going awhile. Even once it’s past its prime and the grass is drying out, I find my birds still love to play with it just for fun. If you want to get creative, you could hide some other foods and treats in the grass for them to find.

Enjoy some photos of my birds and some Twitter bird friends enjoying fresh grass! Please tag me (@tiellover) if you post photos of your birds with wheatgrass and other grasses – I’d love to see them! And let me know how your birds like them!

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*All photos property of @tiellover unless otherwise cited.

From Seed to Complete: Transitioning Your Bird to a Proper Diet

Babazee and the Wild Bird Feed

Picture this: a tiny travel cage designed for budgies with two shabby-looking cockatiels inside, sharing their only perch. The cage is filthy, the birds unable to open their wings. They subsist exclusively on bright red, cherry-flavored finch feed that their owner buys at a farm store for $10 for a 50 pound bag. The birds are sickly and greasy, and their growth is permanently stunted.

This was how my cockatiel, Babazee, spent the first six months of his life. Despite the fact that he was fed a wildly innapropriate diet that left him noticeably smaller than a typical cockatiel and so weak that he couldn’t fly, he was uninterested in the more appropriate options his rescuer and intermediate home provided him. Upon rescuing Babazee, she had tried to promptly switch him to pellets only to have him refuse to eat. She tried offering him greens, but he just cowered in the corner of his cage. She was forced to buy the same feed – the nutritional equivalent to a candy bar – so he wouldn’t starve himself. Babazee was sticking to what he knew, and if something didn’t change, it would eventually kill him.

Upon bringing him to my home, I was determined to transition Babazee to a more healthful and sustainable diet. Armed with rehabilitation experience across numerous species and countless hours of research, I set to work. Within three months, Babazee was eating pellets and fresh foods and had gained the strength to fly.

While commercially prepared all-seed diets aren’t nearly as harmful as wild bird feed, all-seed diets are incomplete and fail to provide both the nutrition and enrichment your bird needs. Unfortunately, birds who have been raised exclusively on seed – much like a child who is only accustomed to junk food – tend to prefer their innapropriate diets because they’re both familiar and delicious. However, with patience and knowledge, birds who are familiar with only seed can learn to eat and prefer a complete diet and ensure their health and longevity.

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Complete Versus Incomplete

It is a commonly held belief that birds should eat bird seed and that bird seed is a proper diet for most birds. This idea is especially common among well-meaning owners of small bird species like budgies and cockatiels. Unfortunately, seed is very fatty and only provides the bare minimum in terms of the nutritional requirements of popular hookbill and parrot species – wild birds eat a wide variety of foods, from seeds to fruits and vegetables, and are notorious for raiding farmers’ crops in search of fresh foods. Relying upon a seed-only diet has been found to cause numerous health problems, such as iodine, vitamin A, and calcium deficiencies, obesity, osteoporosis, and egg binding, and it can shorten the lives of our beloved birds. Through an ever-evolving understanding of the nutritional requirements of small parrot species, far more appropriate diets are readily available at most pet stores.

Rather than exclusively relying upon seed, commercially available pellets should be coupled with a wide variety of fresh foods, including a small amount of high-quality seed. Seed is simply nutritionally incomplete: it contains scant quanities of vital nutrients, high quantities of fat, and is only one small part of the sweeping array of foods your parrot would naturally seek out in the wild. There are many means of providing fresh foods, from tucking favorite nuts and seeds in to foraging toys, hanging fresh sprigs of greens or bits of fruit from cage bars, mixing nuts, seeds, and greens into pellets, or making chop – a finely chopped and mixed variety of fruits and / or veggies, nuts, seeds, and pellets that encourages foraging behavior and exploration of new food items.

Weaning Off of Seed

Whether you’ve adopted an adult bird or a youngster, unless they came directly from a breeder, your feathered family member was probably provided with a diet that mainly consisted of seeds and millet sprays. Pet stores provide this diet because it’s cheap and easy and, in turn, owners do the same because they were instructed to do so upon adopting their new pet. Young or old, your bird isn’t ready to immediately abandon an all-seed diet in favor of a more complete diet consisting of about 80% pellets and 20% seeds.

Upon bringing a bird that is accustomed to seed home, it is important that you purchase and continue feeding the same seed that they are used to eating, no matter how poor-quality – otherwise, they may refuse to eat. It isn’t unheard of for a new bird to starve after failing to adapt to a new food. This seed should be mixed with pellets (I recommend Zupreem’s Parakeet Pellets for small parrots) at a ratio of about 80% seed to 20% pellets for the first two weeks that your bird is in your home. The ratio of seeds should then be gradually reduced on a weekly basis: on week three, feed 70% seed and 30% pellets, week four, 60% seed and 40% pellets, etc. If your bird ever begins to refuse to eat entirely, go back to the ration you used the week before and continue to feed that ratio for another week before proceeding. The key is to slowly introduce pellets and encourage your bird to eat them on their own out of curiosity. In the case of my cockatiel, I found adding a small amount of Zupreem Pure Fun Cockatiel Feed to the mixture encouraged him to explore his new diet, as it contains several interesting seeds and nuts. I also found that the artificially colored pellets (as opposed to the tan-colored “Natural” variety) were more readily accepted. Birds are photo-sensitive, meaning their moods and behaviors are effected by color, so it makes sense that a colorful food would encourage feeding.

With this method, Babazee transitioned from his improper diet of sweetened wild bird seed to a mixture of pellets and “Pure Fun” feed in about two months. This method has also helped me transition numerous baby budgies to a mixture of 80% pellets and 20% seed within about two months. However, all birds are different, and it is always important to follow their pace and respect their need to slow down the process.

Introducing Fresh Foods

Birds who haven’t encountered fresh foods simply don’t know what to do with them. They’ve never had the opportunity to taste fresh greens, and they usually haven’t even seen fresh food before. They can’t be expected to immediately eat or show interest in the fresh foods that they’re provided – but with patience and ingenuity, their world can be dramatically broadened and their health remarkably improved by the introduction of fresh foods.

My favorite method of introducing fresh food is to finely chop their first fresh food – kale or spinach is usually well received – and leave a thin layer on the surface of their food dish. A hungry bird will usually work up the nerve to use its mouth to move the “obstacle” out of the way of their feed, thus allowing them to taste the new food. This method also works with pellets. Of course, if your bird avoids their food because of the fresh food that’s on top of it, remove the new food and provide them with something they’re comfortable with.

Another method I like to use is to combine millet with the new food item being introduced – birds are usually overcome with the desire to eat millet and will gladly pick the loose seeds off of an orange slice or banana or out of a dish of diced bell peppers. Often, tasting the fresh food while picking at the millet will allow a bird to explore a new food they might otherwise have been too afraid or confused to try.

After cleaning the cage, finely chopped foodstuffs can also be sprinkled along the cage floor. Many birds are fond of ground foraging and will be overcome with curiosity when presented with small bits of food to investigate on their own time.
Foraging toys made of interlocking palm leaves, paper folds, or other designs can be beneficial as well. Tucking nut splinters, chilies, sprigs of rosemary, or other offerings that don’t expire quickly into a good foraging toy encourages your bird to try new foods through play behaviour.

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Yet another tried and true method is to simply attach a fresh food, such as a kale leaf or apple slice, to the cage bars. A curious, playful, outgoing bird will be drawn to the new addition to their territory, while a more timid bird may be too fearful to check out the food before it expires.

Chop: The Final Step

Chop is an ideal that any bird owner should strive to feed their birds eagerly and readily. A wide variety of fresh foods can be conveniently coupled with pellets and seeds when creating chop, thus providing the opportunity to feed your birds a stimulating diet that far surpasses the nutrition available in seed. Once you have experimented and found how your bird most readily accepts fresh foods, the method you employed to introduce fresh foods can be used to introduce chop: a confident bird will likely eat it straight from a special dish, while a tenative bird will likely try it first sprinkled on their food dish. Fresh chop can be provided at all times and can be eaten to their heart’s content provided your bird continues to eat their pellets.

When creating chop, keep in mind that you need to be able to store your homemade feed without it going bad before you can feed it to your pets. For this reason, I avoid adding fruits to my chop recipes and instead provide bits of fruit on a day to day basis – the moisture and sugar of fruit hastens the spoiling process. A small plastic bag or container that is air-tight is an ideal storage container. How much chop you need depends on how much your bird eats, but a good rule of thumb is that you should never feed your birds chop that you wouldn’t eat – if it is past the point that you would be willing to try it, it has gone bad.

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Making chop is easy: just finely chop up any foods your bird might like and mix in foods you know they like. The options are endless – kale, spinach, peppers, chilies, herbs, nuts, radishes, carrots, celery, rice – any food that is bird-safe is chop-safe and can be combined indiscriminately. High-moisture, low-nutrition greens (such as iceberg lettuce) should be avoided. I always finish my chop with the addition of a small amount of high-quality seed, as it encourages my birds to try anything the seed might be touching. A small serving of unsalted black oil sunflower seeds mixed in to chop is an excellent means of encouraging foraging behavior. I also mix in pellets to reinforce their desire to eat pellets and to provide a constant, reliable source of balanced nutrition.

When you have successfully transitioned your bird from only being comfortable eating seed to being comfortable eating pellets and a wide variety of fresh foods, you’ve succeeded in your mission to provide your pet with the most appropriate diet possible. Whether it took weeks, months, or years to complete the transition, your bird will be effected by the dramatic improvement in both nutrition and enrichment for the rest of their days, and you will have the satisfaction of knowing that your bird is being provided with the best food possible.


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