vet-in-san-franciscoInformation for Your Bird, Rabbit, Rodent or Reptile

The following is a set of articles created here at Bay Area Bird & Exotics Hospital designed to provide you with useful information. We are striving to improve the number and variety of information. Please feel free to let our receptionists know what topics might interest you.

If after reading through these articles, you have further questions – please feel free to call our hospital at 415-566-4359 or contact us online!

Feeding Your Bird

Guidelines For Your Bird’s Diet
Research and experience show that birds stay healthier and may live longer on formulated diets than on seed-based diets. Formulated diets, also known as pellets, are manufactured to meet the specific nutritional needs of companion birds.

Ideally, most companion bird diets should be composed of a minimum of 75% formulated food with the remainder in produce and other table food. For birds that refuse produce and table food, small amounts of seed may be fed along with the formulated diet. (Small birds such as cockatiels, budgies, parrotlets, canaries and finches do well on a base diet of 50% pellets and 50% other foods including seed, produce and small amounts of table food.)

Formulated Diets
Many brands and flavors of formulated food are available. Harrison’s Bird Diet (HBD) is an excellent bird food that is sold only through avian veterinarians and online. You will receive a free sample of Harrison’s during your bird’s first visit to Bay Area Bird & Exotics Hospital. It is certified organic, and also has good taste appeal to most birds. For birds that dislike HBD or require variety, pet stores stock many other brands of formulated food. In general, plainer looking diets have fewer additives and are preferred over highly colored and scented varieties. Some brands are listed here according to the size of the bird.

Large birds (Macaws, Cockatoos, African Greys, Amazons, Eclectus, Pionus and some Conures)
Harrison’s Bird Foods Adult
Lifetime Coarse
Zupreem – Natural or Nutblend
Roudybush Premium
Scenic (corn, cheese, apple and chili flavor)

Small birds (Cockatiels, Budgies and Lovebirds, Conures, Doves, Grey-cheeks, Pigeons, Parrotlets and Quakers)
Harrison’s Bird Foods – Adult Lifetime Fine or Superfine
Roudybush Premium
Zupreem – Natural
Kaytee Exact Original Flavor
Scenic “Hot ‘n Healthy”

Very small softbills (Canaries, Finches, Budgies, Cockatiels, Doves, Grey-cheeks, Lovebirds, Pigeons and Parrotlets)
Harrison’s Bird Foods – Adult Lifetime Mash
Lafeber’s – Finch Granules

Low Iron Diets
Certain breeds such as toucans, mynahs, lories and Peking robins are prone to iron storage disease, which is usually fatal. These birds require specially formulated foods with low iron content. Harrison’s Bird Foods are recommended although other low iron brands may also be available through pet stores. Produce and table food with high iron content should also be minimized or avoided, such as grapes, raisins, dark leafy greens, red meat and poultry. Citrus fruits, such as oranges, can increase the uptake of Iron from the stomach or intestines and should be minimized.

Produce and Table Food
Most produce and table foods that are good for people are nutritional for birds as well. All fruits and vegetables should be thoroughly washed before feeding and should be removed after 4 to 8 hours to avoid spoilage. Some examples of beneficial foods are listed below.

Dark leafy greens (favorites include dandelion greens, green beans spinach, kale, bok choy and parsley)
Carrots and carrot tops
Cooked sweet potatoes
Frozen mixed vegetables (thawed)
Protein (small amounts)
Cooked meat, fish, chicken
Cooked beans
Cheese and yogurt (lowfat or nonfat)
Cooked egg (white and yolk)
Nuts (only for the larger birds as nuts are also high in fats)
All fruits are acceptable in small amounts, including citrus, but orange fruits such as papaya, mango, and cantaloupe are highest in vitamin A.

Foods to Avoid
Avocado and chocolate are poisonous to birds and are fatal if fed in sufficient amounts.

Foods high in salt and preservatives are undesirable since birds are very sodium sensitive. These include salty snacks such as chips, crackers, pretzels and preserved meats.

Light green vegetables such as celery or lettuce are high in water content and low in nutrients, so they should be minimized or eliminated from the diet. “Crunchy water” is a great description for these items. For birds that refuse vegetables other than lettuce, romaine is the best variety.

Seed is excessively high in fat and low in many vital nutrients. Recent nutritional studies have shown that our domesticated seeds no longer resemble seeds from the wild – they are too high in energy and omega-6 fatty acids while proteins, vitamins and minerals are low.

It is also the most common source of bacterial infection in birds, since rodents contaminate it during storage on farms. Freezing, refrigerating and microwaving seed will not eliminate the bacteria. For these reasons, it can be advantageous to eliminate seed from the diet entirely. However, very small amounts may be used as treats for birds that have not experienced bacterial problems or for those whose owners feel seed is a “quality of life” issue.

Birds that consume at least 50% of their intake in formulated food do not require vitamin and mineral supplements and further supplementation can actually be toxic. Supplements include vitamin and mineral powders and drops, grit, gravel, cuttlebone, and mineral blocks.

Cage birds do not need grit – it can be contaminated with toxic metals or may cause a blockage. We do not recommend feeding grit.

Conversion to Formulated Food
Some birds convert to formulated food quickly and willingly while others may take weeks or months. Owner persistence is the key to successful dietary conversion.

During the first few days of the diet change many birds express their anger by screaming or throwing food. These behaviors usually stop as they adjust to the conversion process. The initial aversion many birds have to formulated food gradually turns to acceptance and then to enjoyment. Initially, the formulated food should be offered in a separate dish and left in the cage at all times.

Usual food items (such as seed and table foods) should be restricted to one hour twice daily, preferably morning and night. This is sufficient to maintain the bird’s normal body weight so the owner need not worry. Most birds will start to nibble the formulated food within a few days to a few weeks and the usual foods are gradually withdrawn until they compose 25% or less of the diet.

Another method can be tried in birds that refuse to consume formulated food after several weeks. The formulated food is softened in water and small amounts of the usual foods (such as seed) are mixed in. The bird must dig through the mixture to obtain the seed and usually develops a taste for the formulated food in the process. The amount of seed is gradually reduced or eliminated.

Birds can be hospitalized for dietary conversion when owners are unable or unwilling to undertake the process at home. In a strange environment, the conversion process is usually fast, taking only 7 to 14 days. If you are interested in this option, please contact the front desk to schedule your bird for boarding. Please be sure your bird has had a recent veterinary exam before changing the diet, in order to screen for any underlying health problems and to obtain a current weight.

Bacterial Infections

Bacterial Infections in Pet Birds
Bacterial infections commonly cause illness in pet birds.

Birds are susceptible to a variety of bacteria in the environment or carried by mammals, including humans. Poor nutrition, unsanitary cage conditions and the stress of captivity can all contribute. Even well cared-for pets are at risk since exotic birds are not well adapted to the types of bacteria found in the home or aviary environment.

An avian veterinarian should examine every bird at least yearly. The doctor can screen for bacteria, establish a sound nutritional program and offer preventative advice. Carrier-state bacterial infection is a time-bomb situation! Left untreated, it can lead to severe illness or death.

Medical Treatment of Bacterial Infections
Even the best care is not always enough to prevent occasional bacterial infections. Birds can carry bacteria for a long time without symptoms and then appear to get sick very suddenly. For this reason, it is always safest to eliminate infections before the bird shows obvious signs of disease.

Supplements of normal bacteria may be recommended if the infection is very mild, or as a preventative for a bird with recurrent problems. More often, a course of antibiotics will be prescribed and cage disinfection may be recommended. An infected bird should always be rechecked after treatment to be sure the problem is gone.

Treatment failure can result from bacterial mutation and antibiotic resistance, incomplete treatment or from persistent sources of bacteria in the environment. These must be found and eliminated in order for treatment to be effective in the long run.

Risk Factors For Bacterial Infections
Seed diets, especially if sprouted
Wild rodents in environment
Dirty cage, food or water bowls
Water containers/spray bottles not changed daily
Unwashed or improperly stored produce
Perishable food items left out too long
Under-the-sink water filters or dirty filters
Direct contact with an infected cage mate or other bird
Corn cob or walnut shell cage bedding
Emotional stress or lack of sleep
Exposure to toxins including heavy metals
Other underlying illness
Excessive use of disinfectant
Kissing people or facial grooming
“Hanging out” in the bathroom
Fish, reptile or amphibian tanks in the same room
Kitchen sponges or rags

Ways to Prevent Bacterial Infections
Feed a balanced diet of pellets and healthy table food
Eliminate wild rodent exposure
Use paper products on cage bottom (black & white newspaper, paper towel, paper bag or recycled ground paper products)
Change cage bottom daily and provide a clean environment
Use disinfectants only if directed by your veterinarian, not for routine cleaning
Wash produce before feeding but not before refrigerating
Store refrigerated produce in airtight containers such as Ziploc bags or sealed plastic containers
Remove uneaten perishable food items from cage after a few hours
Avoid using water from “under-the-sink” water filters
Change water filters regularly per manufacturer’s recommendations
Boiling water for 10 minutes will kill bacteria
Water bottles should be changed daily and soaked weekly for 1 hour in a 1 part bleach to 10 parts water solution, then rinsed thoroughly
Spray bottles used for “misting baths” should be emptied and allowed to dry between uses
Avoid the reuse of sponges and rags to clean bowls
Clean food and water bowls daily with a paper towel and soap and water, or wash in an automatic dishwasher
Allow 10-12 hours of uninterrupted sleep at night, and some privacy in daytime
Do not allow bird to roam loose unsupervised and chew on paint or other structural materials
Avoid exposure to birds of unknown health status
Avoid contact with dogs, cats and other mammals and their bowls, food and water
Keep fish, reptile or amphibian tanks in a separate room and wash hands after handling
Prevent bird from kissing people’s mouths or grooming nostrils
Close toilet lid at all times, especially when flushing
Wash hands after blowing your nose or using the bathroom and prior to handling your bird
Have a yearly veterinary exam to rule out bacteria and other health problems

Egg Laying - Too Many Eggs!

Egg Laying in Pet Birds
It often comes as a surprise to the owner of a female bird that their pet can lay eggs without the presence of a male. Such eggs are, of course, infertile and will not hatch even if incubated. This can occur in any breed but is more common in cockatiels, lovebirds, budgies, canaries and finches. Egg laying can start anytime from 5 months to over 10 years of age.

Egg laying is a natural seasonal process in wild birds, breeding birds and some pets. However, it can also become an obsession that drains the bird of vital nutrients, ruins her pet quality, and predisposes her to life-threatening health problems such as egg binding and yolk peritonitis.

A bird in the peak of health on an ideal diet may be able to sustain egg production of up to 10-20 eggs per year without serious harm. Beyond that number, egg laying will have serious consequences sooner or later, no matter how the bird looks. For a bird that eats a seed based diet or has an underlying health problem, any egg laying at all is dangerous.

An avian veterinarian should examine every egg laying bird. The doctor can screen and treat for any underlying disease, establish a sound nutritional program, and offer prevention advice. Excessive egg laying is a time-bomb situation!

Environmental Factors
Certain environmental factors predispose the pet bird to lay eggs. Correction of these, when possible, will often reduce or eliminate the egg laying.

Factors That Encourage Egg laying
High-fat seed diet
Access to nest box or nest material
Access to dark enclosed spaces
Presence or sound of male bird
Allowing free flight
Petting the bird’s lower back or abdomen
Removing the egg immediately will stimulate her to lay another within a few days

Ways To Discourage Egg laying
 Convert to a low fat formulated diet (pellets)
 Place a wire grate in the cage bottom to avoid access to newspaper, bedding or  other potential nesting material
 Remove nest box if present
 Remove items or toys that stimulate sexual interest
 Restrict access to dark enclosed spaces
 Clip wings to reduce number of potential nest sites and discourage instinctual  behavior
 Limit petting to the head, neck and upper body areas
 Move or remodel the cage when she starts to act “nest” – this may provide just  enough stress to distract her
 If she has already laid one or more eggs, allow her to lay a full clutch of 3-5  eggs and sit on them for 3 weeks or until she abandons them. This usually  reduces the total number laid in a given time period

Medical Prevention of Egg laying
Environmental manipulation is sometimes impractical, unsuccessful, or just not enough. The bird may then require medical treatment to control egg laying. There are several safe, effective hormonal treatments available, which your veterinarian can tailor to your bird’s needs.

If all else fails, surgery can be performed to stop egg laying. The procedure is highly effective in the rare case that the bird is unresponsive to either environmental or hormonal intervention. The risk of surgery is preferable to the certain death that will result from the continual laying of eggs.