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Ask Dr. Kait: Feeding and caring for feathered friends
Ask Dr. Kait

Ask Dr. Kait: Feeding and caring for feathered friends

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In my practice I have the pleasure of seeing many different creatures. I see the usual dogs and cats, but some of my favorites are the unusual. I had the pleasure of doing emergency surgery on a tegu (3-foot lizard) and even removed a mass from a goldfish!

Though performing life saving surgery is fulfilling, it is my goal to encourage more preventative care and education for exotic pets. Most exotic pets become ill and eventually die from improper husbandry. Improper diet and care may not immediately cause visible signs of illness, but they are slowly harming the animal. So, with that said, here is some information regarding properly caring for birds in the parrot family.

The parrot family of birds includes breeds such as cockatoos, parrots, love birds, cockatiels and even Parakeets. These birds are tropical species, so they require mild temperatures.  It is important to keep this in mind when selecting a housing option. First, the cage should be large enough for the bird to move around and flap their wings. They should be kept in a draft free area, no cooler than 72 degrees. Heat lamps can be used to keep them warm if you keep your home cooler.

Because they are not outdoors, captive birds should have a consistent day/night cycle. Placing a cover over their cage when the sun goes down and uncovering them in the morning will help mimic this cycle for your bird. The cage should not be placed in front of a window due to drafts and the possibility of direct sunlight. A UV light will give UV without the dangers of overheating your bird with direct sunlight.

When deciding where to place your cage, temperature is only one concern. Also, keep chemical exposure in mind. Birds are extremely sensitive to fumes, so a kitchen is not a good choice. Teflon pans put off chemicals that humans cannot even smell, but these fumes can be toxic to your bird. Other strong odors such as scented candles, air fresheners, or perfumes can be an issue too. Never use strong chemicals around your bird, and if you need to clean your oven with cleaners or the auto clean cycle move your bird to the furthest area away from the source. The same applies to painting. Paint fumes can be fatal to a bird, so move your bird to another room as far away as possible. If your entire home is being painted, kennel your bird elsewhere for about 2 weeks. A good rule is to remove your bird from any environment that has a chemical odor.

Once your bird is settled into it’s new habitat, you will likely need to begin working on transitioning it’s diet. Most breeders and pet stores do not feed birds a nutritionally balanced diet. Their logic is that the birds do not live with them long term and seeds are inexpensive and highly desirable to birds. Though this is true, seeds do not provide proper nutrition when fed long term. Seeds are deficient in nutrients like calcium, phosphorus, certain proteins, vitamin A, zinc, and iron.

Seeds are also high in fat which can lead to obesity, liver or kidney disease, clogged arteries, respiratory disorders, reproductive disorders (such as being egg bound), and skin issues with or without feather loss. For these reasons, it is very important to transition your pet to a well balanced pellet diet. Consult your veterinarian regarding what feed is best for your pet.

Transitioning from seeds to pellets will not be easy. Imagine you adopted a 2 year old child that was fed only chips or candy and you are now offering chicken and broccoli. Your bird will likely be equally excited about your new plan! Nutriberries are pellets coated in birdseed and this can be very useful when making a seed to pellet change. Mix nutriberries with the new pellet diet and gradually decrease the number of nutriberries fed daily. By gradually reducing nutraberry to seed ratio, your bird should be successfully switched over in a couple of months. Be sure to gradually transition though, since birds can starve themselves if the change is abrupt. Birds will put up a fuss in hopes you will give in, but do not be weak. You must win this battle of the wills! Eventually seeds will make a great treat for learning to talking or rewarding your bird for stepping up. Remember seeds are “candy” so feed them as you would feed candy to your child. With patience, your bird will eventually transfer to pellets.

While 80% of your bird’s diet should be pellets the other 20% should be fresh fruits and vegetables. Birds will enjoy almost any fresh fruit or vegetable, but there are a few that are toxic. Never feed your bird avocado, garlic, onion, mushrooms, or fruit seeds or pits. Fresh fruits make great treats as do raw almonds, walnuts, macadamia or brazil nuts, pecans, or pistachios. Breaking into the raw nuts can provide a treat and also mental stimulation to your bird.

In addition to the housing and feeding recommendations, remember to visit your veterinarian for regular beak and nail trims. Wing trimming is a personal choice, as some bird owners allow their pet to free fly in their home. If your birds wings are not trimmed, be very cautious about opening doors while your bird is out of its cage.

Tame birds may fly away once they see a wide open blue sky and trees. Many birds get lost this way and they cannot survive in the wild in our climate.

Birds are very intelligent creatures and can make great companions. If you follow these guidelines, your bird will have the best chance of a long and healthy life.

Dr. Kaitlen Lawton-Betchel grew up in Lemoore. An alumni of West Hills College and Fresno Pacific University,  she graduated from Midwestern University in Arizona with her doctorate of veterinary medicine and her business certificate. Dr. Kait currently practices out of Karing for Kreatures Veterinary Hospital, also known as K+K.

The hospital is located at 377 Hill St., Lemoore.    To make an appointment, call 559-997-1121. 

Her column runs every other Thursday. 

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