Friday, June 3, 2011

Pellets & Color Mutation Parrotlets

I have a blue mutation parrotlet named Izzy. He’s about three months old. I am very confused about what to feed him. The breeder gave us a diet that includes pellets, Goldenfeast, and a dried mixture to cook that includes beans, dried carrots, seeds and nuts. The vet thinks that there’s too much fat in the diet, and wants him to eat mostly pellets and fresh or cooked vegetables (so far he won’t touch them, he just picks out the seeds), with a small amount of the less fatty seeds. On the other hand, I keep reading about suspected issues with mutations and pellets. The breeder says that she’s never had a problem.

I don’t know what to do. I would like to find documentation to give the (avian) vet on the kidney issue with pellets, but so far all the evidence I can find is anecdotal. So I have two questions. First, what would your advice be on feeding Izzy, and second , do you know where I can find documentation such as studies on this issue? The anecdotal evidence seems suggestive, but the vet is (rightly ) going to want something more objective. I would feel better myself with stricter evidence.

You have probably gone over this in the past, so I’m sorry to ask it again if you have.

Thanks for your time,

Dear Raisl:

Thank you for your email. If I had a dime for every time I have had to discuss this issue and that includes my chapters in books, magazine articles I’ve written, web-pages I’ve published, seminars I’ve given, countless phone and in person conversations and hundreds of emails, I would be almost as rich as the pellet manufacturers. However, because there is so much misinformation and misunderstandings about this subject, I am happy to answer the question again. I am going to go into the history and basic understanding of parrot nutrition and the invention of pellets and you can make your own decision about it.

There are over 350 different species of parrots and over 9,000 species of birds. The only concrete information we have on bird nutrition is for poultry not companion birds. In fact, in hook bills, the only species we know anything about as far as nutritional requirements are lysine in cockatiels. These studies were done by Dr. Tom Roudybush (one of the few vets who is also an avian nutritionist) back in the 1980s. No other studies have been done. This is because if you can find an university doing research on companion birds its for diseases not nutrition. Even then, any honest vet will tell you that disease diagnosis and treatment is more of an art than a science. Nutrition studies are done by commercial food manufacturers, i.e., the pellet distributors. To say they have a conflict of interest when it comes to bias in this area is a gross understatement. That would be like having tobacco companies fund cancer research.

I have bred birds for almost 30 years and witnessed both the advent of pellets and the certification of vets with regard to avian medicine. It doesn’t mean I know more than vets but it certainly does give me both the opportunity for empirical (not anecdotal) data as well as remember why pellets were invented in the first place. Very simply it was for commercial use in making the feeding of caged birds the same as feeding dogs and cats. Of course, this is impossible since, again there are more than 350 species of parrots and only 1 species of dogs and cats. Pellet manufacturers felt that the correct feeding of birds – a diet made up primarily of whole foods (including seeds) but also fruit, vegetables, sprouts, whole grains and legumes was ‘too much work’ by bird owners. They decided if they could make a diet you can simply pour in a bowl they would deal with the usual problem with seed diets, which is the lack of vitamin A and in some species such as Amazons and cockatoos, the high fat content that often leads to fatty liver syndrome. Btw, when most parrotlets are diagnosed with fatty liver syndrome it is usually related to toxins and over vitaminization or medication not diet. So the invention of pellets was really for the convenience of the owners and breeders and, of course, to open up the market so feed companies could make a lot of money. Nothing wrong with that but if you think they were doing something altruistic to help make birds healthy that is incorrect.

One thing a lot of people do not realize is that pellets are made from seed, and it is almost always corn. Corn is one of the least nutritious grains on the planet and it is mostly made up of sugar. I myself do not eat corn for that reason. Moreover, in birds, it is not a natural food. But it is cheap and plentiful. There is one pellet, ironically the one promoted by vets, that is not made from corn. It is made from sunflower seeds. The same dreaded sunflower seeds that vets claim has too much fat when it is in whole form but apparently its ok when it has been processed into a pellet – or perhaps that has more to do with the monetary incentive that vets get for selling that pellet.

In any event, when you are told to feed pellets instead of seed, you are still feeding seed. Highly processed, artificially colored, flavored, often full of preservatives and vitaminized seed. We know with humans that processed foods are not recommended for top nutrition. This is true for just about all animals and it certainly must be true for birds. Birds have better eyesight than humans, they have a sense of smell, have a sensitive tongue for feeling textures and can taste food. I know I wouldn’t like living on something like “Ensure” even thought it is ‘nutritionally complete’ and I’m sure our birds wouldn’t like it either. More importantly, you will not convince me that drinking a highly processed, overly vitaminized, artificially flavored and colored food like Ensure is better for me than say a bowl of fresh salad made with lots of leafy greens, vegetables and lean protein. It also is more interesting and tastes better which adds to my enjoyment and well-being. I would say my birds would feel the same.

On another interesting note, since I know almost all the owners of feed companies personally, the honest ones have told me “Sandee, if you are feeding fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains, cooked legumes, sprouted seed, supplements such as bee pollen and calcium in addition to whole seeds, we can’t make a pellet that nutritious. We make pellets for people who either can’t or won’t take the time to feed their birds whole fresh foods.”

As for the issues with mutations, I have dozens of necropsy reports and had countless (off the record of course) conversations with vets, biologists and researchers and they have documented the problems with color mutations and the kidney problems. These have been given to me in confidence so I will not share them nor will I give the names of the vets who have entrusted to me their opinions. My feeling is that it really doesn’t matter. The fact is I have yet to have anyone convince me that feeding highly processed artificially flavored, colored and preserved seed is a better diet than feeding one rich in fresh whole foods including seeds, irregardless of the uric acid problems in mutations. I know I don’t eat that way and I’m not going to feed my birds that way. After all, there are no pellet trees in the wild.

I hope you understand I’m not trying to tell you how to feed your bird. Only you can make that decision. However, you should have all the facts available so you can make appropriate decision for you and your bird. You asked my opinion and the reasons therefore and I hope this meets your expectations. Best of luck to you and your bird.

Sincerely yours,

Sandee L. Molenda, C.A.S.
The Parrotlet Ranch, Owner,
Join the International Parrotlet Society, – the World’s Largest and Oldest Parrotlet Organization
A Chattering Bird Builds No Nest.
Camaroonian Phrase

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