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Archive for May, 2012

Stuff your Parrot Probably (or absolutely) Doesn’t Need

May 28, 2012 3 comments

All sorts of products produced for pet parrots are useful and make caring for them a bit easier. These include toys, pellets, and perches. However, there are several products on the market that most parrots really don’t need and that may, in fact, be harmful. Others may be useful for birds like quail or pigeons, but not for parrots. Here are a few examples:

1. Sandpaper Perches

These are usually dowel perches coated in sandpaper and are supposed to help keep a parrot’s nails short. In theory, when the parrot walks or lands on the perch, its nails may touch the sandpaper and be gradually filed short. However, these perches are actually quite rough on a bird’s foot and are best avoided.

2. Vitamin Supplements

Vitamin supplements do have their use, but a parrot that eats a diet of pellets and healthy fresh foods (like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables) will not need a vitamin supplement. There are a few vitamins and minerals that can actually be harmful if overdosed.

A vitamin supplement can be useful for a bird that is eating a primarily seed-based diet. Ideally, parrots on a seed diet should be encouraged to eat other foods but this can take time. A vitamin supplement may be needed until the bird learns to eat a better diet. Some vitamins, like “Prime” (Hagen) are designed for birds on a primarily seed-based diet.

3. Grit

Parrots generally don’t “need” grit (i.e. pieces of hard substances like oyster shell), but birds like pigeons and quail can benefit from receiving small pinches of it. Pigeons and quail do not hull shells off of their food and the grit will help grind the shells off in the bird’s crop. However, parrots and finches will typically hull seeds before eating them and they don’t require grit for digestion. Parrot pellets and most of the fresh foods people feed to parrots are soft enough that a parrot’s digestive system can grind them without grit.

Some breeders offer pinches of calcium-rich grit (like ground oyster shells) to their parrots as a mineral supplement. Offering grit is also quite common among Australian bird keepers. Wild parrots often do consume some clay or dirt, but this is typically to gain minerals lacking in the rest of their diet. A pet (non-breeding) parrot on a pellet-based diet should receive sufficient minerals. However, small pinches of grit (a few grains) will not hurt a healthy bird. Even so, I do not offer it to my parrots or finches. My egg-laying finches receive extra calcium in the form of ground-up egg shells. The egg and shell are cooked, ground up in a food processor with vegetables and given to the finches. I also add “Prime”  to their egg mix.

My quail do receive pinches of oyster shell. Avoid offering a bird on a seed-based diet a large amount of grit at once. The bird may eat too much of it and can end up with an impacted crop or badly irritated digestive system.

4. Cedar, Walnut- or Corn-based Bedding

Plain newspaper is perfectly fine to use as a liner for parrot cages. Some places sell other types of liner for animal cages, and some are actually harmful to small animals. Cedar-based bedding, for example, can cause respiratory problems in parrots and small mammals. Other types (such as corn-based bedding) may grow mold if it becomes damp. Walnut litter may actually be ingested by birds, so I do not recommend using it in bird cages.

My quail do require some type of soft substrate since they are ground-based birds. I use a paper-based one such as care fresh or ecobedding. I use the unscented or coloured types. Aspen shavings are also fine as bedding for quail and other birds.

5. Mite Protectors

Mites are actually quite rare in indoor parrots, so avoid using any of the mite protectors that are sometimes sold in pet shops. They generally do more harm than good. If your bird actually appears to have parasites, consult with a veterinarian to figure out the best treatment for your bird. Don’t rely on anti-mite cage protectors.

The types of mites that sometimes infect pet budgies or finches should not be treated with the mite strips sold in pet shops. Such mites include air-sac mites, which are sometimes seen in finches (particularly canaries and Gouldians). These are mites that infest the bird’s air sacs, and birds that have them may breathe with their mouths open, and they often produce a ‘clicking’ sound when breathing. Products such as SCATT (Vetafarm) or S76 can be used to treat this problem.

“Scaly-face mites” sometimes infect birds (primarily budgies) on the featherless parts of their bodies (cere, beak, legs). The mites will burrow in the bird’s skin, which will irritate it and cause it to thicken and develop a scaly appearance. Severe deformities can result, so a bird with a suspected mite infestation needs to go to a veterinarian as soon as is possible. A vet can diagnose the problem by examining a skin scraping under a microscope. The mites can be treated with oral or topically-applied insecticides.

6. Bird bath spray

Many pet birds like to be bathed or showered. However, birds don’t need any special bath solutions, so save your money and offer your birds plain water to bathe in or shower with.

Birds suspected of having a skin irritation should be taken to a veterinarian.

Image

Lineolated Parakeets having a shower.

Items to be cautious with:

7. Toys or perches with rope.

Many bird toys and perches sold at pet stores have rope in them. These can be fine for birds who do not unravel the rope. For birds that do chew ropes, they can present a hazard. A mass of threads from a chewed-up rope can become wrapped around a bird’s neck, leg or foot. This can cut off circulation to the leg or even strangle the bird. My Jenday Conure, Peggy, actually lost a foot she got wrapped up in thread, and she’s not the only bird I know of who lost an appendage that way.

My finches and small parakeets have a few rope perches since they do not chew them. I placed all rope toys of my stronger chewers on the outside of their cages, so I can keep an eye on how they use them. My birds are typically out of their cages only when I am home.

Image

Chiku playing on a rope swing.

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