By Rebecca Sweat
You should talk to your avian veterinarian if you have questions about what nutrients are most critical for your bird’s species. There are, however, some generalities that apply to all parrots. What follows is a list of table foods that shouldn’t be offered to any parrot species. This should give you a good place to start when making table food selections for your avian companion.
Foods that should never be offered to parrots include chocolate; caffeinated and alcoholic beverages; avocado; shellfish; and any meat, fish, poultry or eggs that is undercooked or has been cooked, refrigerated and then reheated.
Many bird owners have heard the warning about chocolate, but it’s worth repeating. “Chocolate contains a compound called theobromine, which is like caffeine in that it is a stimulant,” explained Natalie Antinoff DVM, an exotics-only veterinarian in Houston, Texas. In high enough quantities, chocolate can cause birds to suffer heart problems, depression, regurgitation, seizures, liver damage, and even death.
“Since the consistency of chocolate is so thick, it is not easily flushed out if a bird does eat it,” Dr. Antinoff said. Chocolate candy is also bad because of the sugar in it, which is not good for pet birds.
Even a small bite of a chocolate could be harmful to your bird. “A bird’s body weight is much less than ours so it takes a lot smaller volumes to cause equal signs of illness,” noted Brian Speer, DVM, an avian veterinarian in Oakley, California, and co-author of Birds for Dummies. “If your 400-gram Amazon eats one small square of chocolate, that would be the equivalent of a human being eating a 10-pound bar of chocolate. If you eat 10-pounds of chocolate you will have the same clinical signs as your Amazon parrot that ate one small square of chocolate.”
Caffeinated beverages such as coffee, tea and cola can cause an increase in heart rate in pet birds and make them hyperactive. If enough of a caffeinated beverage is consumed, a bird could have seizures and die.
Alcohol, too, can cause seizures and death. Julie Burge, DVM, a veterinarian and aviculturist in Missouri, recalled a case of one of her clients who woke up one morning after having thrown a party the night before and found his parrot dead in the living room. “The bird was allowed to fly loose, and had consumed enough alcohol from the glasses left by guests to die from alcohol poisoning,” she related.
Avocado is a no-no because of the pit, which contains an oil that leaches toxin into the fruit. The toxin is persin, a fatty acid-like compound that has cardio-toxic effects. Avocado toxicity can produce lethargy, anorexia, breathing difficulty and sudden death.
In Larry Nemetz, DVM, an exotics-only veterinarian in Southern California experience, avocado seems to be especially harmful to smaller birds like lovebirds, budgies and cockatiels (which often will become very sick and die within a day or two of eating avocado), but larger parrots are also susceptible. He once treated a cockatoo that had been fed avocado for six months before getting sick from it.
The fish and meat warnings are very similar for birds as they are for people. Nemetz does not recommend shellfish because “it can be toxic, which humans may be able to get away with eating, but birds are much more sensitive, so it’s best to not take any chances.”
Uncooked, undercooked or reheated animal protein should not be given to pet birds because it is at a higher risk of bacterial infection than meats that are freshly and fully cooked, according to Nemetz. So if you’re eating a reheated or rarely cooked steak sandwich for lunch or drinking a shake with raw eggs in it, don’t offer any tastes to your bird. If there’s any bad bacteria in the food, you may not become ill from it but your bird might.
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