Let's Celebrate Pet Birds!
T.J. Lafeber D.V.M.

Vitamins. Minerals, Grit


Vitamins. Minerals, Grit

Vitamins are interesting "micro nutrients" found in food. Small as they may be, they are involved, however, in virtually all body functions. Without them, metabolism of protein, fats and carbohydrates could not take place. Vitamins are essential for the development, health, growth and maintenance of normal tissue. In essence, they are the promoters of good health. Birds require 13 vitamins none of which can be manufactured by the bird, and, therefore, must be obtained exclusively from the diet. The exceptions are Vitamin D, which may be synthesized by ultraviolet radiation from the sun, and niacin which may be made to some extent from tryptophan, an amino acid.


  • SKIN

Because of the intensity of a bird's metabolism, vitamins are "use up" at a faster rate than in most other animals.

The 13 Essential Vitamins needed by pet birds in their diets are:

Vitamin A
Pantothenic Acid
Vitamin D3
Vitamin E
Vitamin K
Vitamin B12

Birds manufacture their own vitamin C, so they do not need it in their diet. The other vitamins come from the food eaten daily. Pet birds being fed anything less than a certified balanced diet probably should have vitamins supplemented to their diet. Choose a vitamin preparation that will adequately protect your bird-such as one containing all 13 essential vitamins.

Purchase vitamins from your pet store or veterinarian and then follow the directions closely.

Vitamin products can be administered to birds in their drinking water or in their food.

In Water: Place the amount of powder or liquid in the water as directed by the manufacturer or your veterinarian. A fresh solution should be made daily.
In Food:
When mixing vitamins into a food that will be completely eaten, a smaller amount can be used than with drinking water. In general, only 1/3 of the amount placed in the     drinking water needs to be mixed in the food.


Warning: Vitamins or any other supplements sprinkled on the seed gradually sift to the bottom of the dish, or else are lost when the bird hulls his seed. The bird undoubtedly ingests some, but how much? Too little? Too much? At best, it's a guess.

Commercially balanced diets are now marketed that contain all the essential vitamins in adequate amounts. These diets do not have to be supplemented with additional vitamins.

For good health vitamins are needed daily.


Don't Overlook the Importance of Minerals

Gold may be the most important mineral to people, but the value of calcium and 12 other minerals far surpasses gold in the life of birds. Every one of the billions of cells in the bird's body requires minerals to survive. Besides their involvement in body chemistry, minerals form the basic component of the bone skeleton.

The skeleton of the super athlete bird is made up of thin, lightweight bones designed to rigid specifications. Any structural defect caused by shortages of minerals, allows fractures and other painful abnormalities to occur.

Readily overlooked, mineral deficiencies occur surprisingly often. Like other dietary nutrients, they too, must be supplied in the proper volume and ratio to each other; and under or over supplies can be harmful.

Those elements of most concern in pet bird nutrition are calcium, phosphorus, sodium, chlorine and potassium. The other eight elements are required in micro-amounts and for that reason are named trace minerals.

Of particular importance are relatively large amounts of calcium and phosphorus in the diet. These minerals are required mainly for the formation and maintenance of the skeletal structures and in egg production.

Contrary to life in a cage, birds in the wild have few mineral deficiencies. Access to soil, ash, insects and other sources provide a convenient supply of minerals. In captivity, many pet birds are fed diets mainly of seeds, greens, fruits and vegetables. These foods are mineral deficient and birds need other foods or supplements as sources of minerals.

The mineral supplements most commonly used are-

from your pet store: from your kitchen:

cuttle bone

milk (in very small quantities)

mineral block

chicken bones

oyster shells

egg shells

mineral mixtures

These are placed in the cage and the bird chews or eats at them free choice. As with foods, birds have neither the instinct nor ability to pick the proper amounts of minerals from the group of preparations placed in front of them. In any evaluation, it is a "hit or miss'' system that works, but is not dependable.

As with vitamins the best source of vitamins is a balanced diet. Birds that are eating commercially prepared diets will receive all the mineral requirements in their food.

Besides being a source for minerals these products are also used as chew toys by birds. The beak activities associated with chewing on cuttle bones, chicken bones, etc. are beneficial. Birds eating balanced diets will chew mineral supplements, but will not overeat on them.

Grit as Part of the Diet

Birds have a superior digestive system partially due to their gizzard. Non-existent in other animals, the gizzard has the power to crush and grind pieces of food into a smooth creamy paste. In this form food can be rapidly digested, thus allowing the bird to process relatively large volumes of food daily.

Grit aids the grinding process. The small pieces of sand, tiny pieces of rock or even granite provide the gizzard with ''teeth" to help chew the food.

While not essential in pet birds who hull their seeds, or are on manufactured diets, nature seems to tell pet birds to keep some grit in their gizzard.

In chickens, it has been shown that the size and strength of the gizzard is related to the hardness of the food and the presence of grit. With a well-developed gizzard, a stronger, healthier and larger digestive system occurs. The feeding of grit to pet birds may have these same advantages.

Commercially, grit is sold in pet stores as sand, fine pieces of granite or in grit mineral mixtures.

Birds on deficient diets when trying to find nutrients lacking in their diet will often overeat grit. Excessive grit can irritate and even obstruct the gastro-intestinal tract.

Grit placed in a dish or sprinkled on the floor-to be eaten free choice-presents no problem to birds on balanced diets.


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