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Nutrients and Supplements for our avian companions

What to feed our pet birds have been a controversial topic for decades now in certain parts of the world. Many owners prefer to give their birds a seed-heavy diet which don’t provide the necessary nutrients they need to remain healthy and happy. Birds need a balanced diet that consists of protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, and water. This can be achieved with the use of a pellet-based diet and supplements.


Pellets rose to popularity in the UK during the 90’s but fell out of favour not long after when breeding results plummeted. Pellets provided the balance in diet that a bird needs to prevent illness but ended up being rejected by many owners. Instead, the serving of them lessened and what was served was mixed with seeds, soft foods and fruits, and supplements. Things have changed again however in the last few years.

With recommendations from veterinarians and the increased accessibility of information and research, pelleted diets are now more often used by pet owners. Vets are educating pet owners on the benefits of pellet-based diets and that seeds are high in fat and low in essential nutrients so the owners can begin to understand the importance of pelleted diets and supplements.

There are two different processes used when pelleted diets are manufactured: bound and extruded. Bound pellets in general are not as palatable as extruded, with the food material uncooked and having a longer fibre chain length. Extruded pellets will have the mixture forced through an extruder, taking on the shape of the ‘die’, allowing the pellets to be made into different shapes and colours. 

Due to the variety of shapes and colours of extruded pellets, owners are advised to be watchful of the bird’s diet and that they aren’t avoiding certain pellets. The bird must eat the whole portion of food provided to gain all the nutritional benefits that the pellets will offer. 


Supplements are a key feature in the bird’s diet to ensure that all the necessary nutrients are being met and that the bird isn’t becoming either malnourished, obese, nutrient deficient, or high in levels of fat and cholesterol. To be sure that feeding our avian companions an accurate diet with all the needed nutrients, it is best to consult the local vet to create an accurate diet that works best for the individual bird to boost their health and make them happy and healthy.

This provides the nutrition to the birds that their diets may miss out or the pet generally lacks. Some of the essential vitamins that birds need and can be provided through supplements are vitamin A and D, calcium, amino acids and water and fat soluble vitamins B, E, K, and C. 

Supplements can be provided to the avian through either soluble or non-soluble ways. The soluble version must fully dissolve in the water the bird drinks so that it spreads evenly and thoroughly, otherwise it will gather at the bottom and will go unconsumed. However, some birds prefer eating moist food and like to avoid drinking water, getting their liquid intake through their food. This would make the soluble supplements used in the water to be unintentionally avoided because of the bird’s aversion to drinking. A solution to this is to use a supplement pellet or to mix in an ‘on-food’ supplement. 

Vitamin D and Calcium

Deficiency in vitamin D is incredibly important to watch out for with pet birds as they’re primarily kept indoors. Some symptoms of vitamin D deficiency in birds are easily fractured bones, significant decrease in weight (which could be an indicator for weaker bone strength), and physical abnormalities such as overgrown or soft beak, bent keels, and splayed legs. 

Keeping the bird cage near the window where the sun comes through is assumed to provide enough vitamin D but modern windows block out a lot of the UV rays which prevents a lot of the nutrient a bird needs. To ensure that the bird is getting the vitamin D they need a UV bulb can be used that produces UVA and UVB light. Alternatively, vitamin D pellets can be mixed in with their food.

Calcium is directly tied to vitamin D and if vitamin D is low, odds are that so is the calcium levels. Calcium is needed for blood clotting, muscle function, and attachment of feathers. Low levels of calcium can lead to the avian being more susceptible to a wide range of cancers, organ disorders, and immune system dysfunctions. 

To absorb calcium, D3 and magnesium is needed. To make sure that the calcium is being absorbed, an option is to provide calcium pellets or an all-in-one calcium-magnesium and vitamin D pellets.  This will make sure that the calcium levels remain healthy and consulting a vet will help to make sure that the owner isn’t providing too many, too little or unnecessary supplements. 

Fats and essential fatty acids

Fats are a source of energy in the birds’ diet while fatty acids are required for the formation of membranes and cell organelles, hormone precursors, and the basis for psittacofulvin. Fats and fatty acids are key to a pet bird’s diet, but the owner must be careful that the bird isn’t fed a too high energy diet, especially with a restricted amount of exercise, in case the bird develops an illness associated with hepatic lipidosis. 

High fat levels also cause obesity, congestive heart failure, diarrhoea, and oily feather texture. It can also interfere with the absorption of other nutrients, such as calcium. On the other hand, low amounts of fat can lead to weight loss, reduced disease resistance, and overall poor growth. 

A combination of adequate fat consumption and daily exercise can prevent build-up of fat- 1-2 times out of the cage a day provides the needed exercise and mental stimulation. 

Amino acids and protein

Proteins are broken down into amino acids, acting as building blocks for muscle formation and being used to make tissues for skin, feathers, and keratin. Birds must avoid an excess and deficiency of proteins. Too much protein is associated with renal disease, behavioural changes, and regurgitation. Too little is associated with anaemia, weakness, poor reproductive performances, and plumage colour changes. 

Protein pellets are a good way to provide any missing protein and amino acids. Some birds can be picky however and won’t eat pellets. An alternative to this is to use small living organisms like insects, boiled eggs, and monkey biscuits. 


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