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Harmful Foods for Birds

Macaw eating parrot food

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A fun part of socializing your pet bird and creating a bond with her is having your pet bird come out of her cage at meal time. At this time, sharing your food with your pet bird reinforces that your bird is part of the flock. But do you know what to feed birds from the kitchen and what foods to avoid?

Though many human foods can be shared with your pet bird, some food for birds should be offered only in moderation and some should be avoided all together. Learn the differences so as you bond through sharing food, it’s a safe and positive experience.

1. Chocolate

Chocolate will induce vomiting and diarrhea in a bird. It also will affect your pet bird’s central nervous system and eventually can cause death.

Chocolate contains theobromine and caffeine, which are classified as methylxanthines They affect a bird’s digestive system first and can result in vomiting and diarrhea. The effects eventually can progress to an increased heart rate, tremors, seizures, hyperactivity and even death in birds if consumed at a toxic level.

The general rule is that the darker and more bitter the chocolate, the more potentially toxic it is to your pet.

2. Xylitol

Xylitol is an artificial sweetener often used in sugarless gum and many diet foods. While the exact effects of this sugar substitute have not been studied in birds, it is known that if ingested by pets, it can result in low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), liver damage and possibly death in dogs and other animals.

Because birds have a faster metabolism than many other animal species, it’s likely they will be more sensitive to the toxic effects of even small amounts of this artificial sweetener. Avoid exposing pet birds to xylitol.

3. Certain Fruits and Vegetables

Fruits in the Rose Family

Most fruit is safe and generally healthy for your pet bird to consume in limited quantities, but the seeds and pits of some fruit can be toxic.

The seeds of members of the rose family, including apples, cherries, peaches, nectarines, plums, apricots and pears, contain trace amounts of a cardio-toxic cyanide compound that can be problematic.

If you offer your bird a fruit or vegetable, make sure it is cleaned properly and sliced so avoid exposing her to the cyanide compound as well as potentially toxic herbicides or pesticides.

Avocado

All parts of the avocado plant, including the skin and the pit, contain persin, a fungicidal toxin reported to cause cardiac distress, respiratory difficulty, weakness and heart failure in birds. Small birds, like canaries and parakeets, are considered more susceptible, but clinical signs, such as respiratory distress, have been observed in other bird species. Avoid feeding avocado or avocado-containing foods, such as guacamole, to your pet bird.

Onions and Garlic

In the vegetable category, excessive consumption of onions and garlic can cause vomiting, diarrhea and other digestive problems in pet birds. Prolonged exposure can lead to hemolytic anemia—rupturing of the red blood cells—followed by respiratory distress and eventual death.

Since garlic and onion powder or onion soup mix are very concentrated and more potent forms of these raw vegetables, ingesting them may cause your bird even more problems.

Mushrooms

Mushrooms can cause digestive upset in pet birds. Certain parts of a mushroom, including caps and stems of some varieties, can induce liver failure. Therefore, it’s best not to let your pet bird consume raw or cooked mushrooms.

4. Uncooked Beans

Although cooked beans are an excellent and often a favored food treat for many birds, uncooked beans can be a choking hazard. They also contain a toxin called hemagglutinin.

To avoid exposing your bird to this hazard, thoroughly cook all beans you choose to share with your pet, and avoid leaving dried beans where she easily could access them.

5. Salty Snacks

While pet birds do need regulated amounts of sodium in their systems, too much salt can lead to dehydration, kidney and/or liver dysfunction and potentially death. It’s best to avoid salty snacks, such as chip and pretzels, as most bird diets already have a sufficient amount of sodium.

6. Alcohol, Coffee and Soda

One would hope you would not offer your pet an alcoholic drink. However, accidents do happen, and there have been cases where a free-roaming pet bird consumed alcohol.

This can depress your pet bird’s organ systems and lead to her death. So whenever alcohol is available in your home, keep it out of your bird’s access.

In addition, coffee, coffee beans, coffee grounds, tea and soda should never be consumed by pet birds, because the effects of caffeine can cause cardiac distress including arrhythmias, hyperactivity and possible cardiac arrest. Instead, you can share a caffeine-free drink of pure fruit or vegetable juice with your bird. This will satisfy your bird’s curiosity and taste for what you are drinking, as well as promoting your bond.

Sharing food with your bird can be a great way to build trust and provides an activity everyone can partake in. However, always be vigilant to keep your bird from ingesting any potentially toxic item. In the case of questions or accidents, contact your avian veterinarian immediately.

Bird Nutrition 101

Pet birds have different dietary and energy requirements than those in the wild. Caged birds typically do not have to compete for food or territory, defend themselves or fly.

This simplified lifestyle benefits caged birds and promotes their longevity in our care. However, this decreased energy demand can result in pet birds becoming over-conditioned and, therefore, overweight.

Many well-meaning pet parents feed their birds diets that are too high in calories, especially from fats. Add in table foods and calorie-rich treats, and many pet birds pack on the ounces.

The best way to help your feathered friend maintain her normal weight is to feed her a diet that is balanced in the nutrients and energy her species requires. If you’re uncertain about the best diet for your bird, ask your avian vet for suggestions.

Though treats are important for bonding and enrichment, offer them judiciously. It also is recommended to limit the amount of high-fat foods for birds. And this goes without saying, but along with avoiding or limiting high-calorie treats and high-fat foods, avoid feeding them dangerous and potentially fatal foods.

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Dr. Byron de la Navarre attended Cornell University as an undergraduate and received his DVM degree in 1990 from the Veterinary College at Cornell. Currently he is chief of staff for the exotics service at Animal House of Chicago. He has lectured on exotic pet topics at the local, state and national levels, and he is an active member of several veterinary associations.

Featured Image: iStock.com/Osobystist