Birds can make wonderful household companions with their intelligence, long lifespan, and ability to become part of the family. Because they are such great friends—pet parents often share food with their birds.
While sharing food with pets can have some benefits, it is important to understand that pet birds are not humans and do not process food like humans or other pets. Some human foods are highly toxic to birds. Pet parents should use extreme caution to never feed a pet bird anything that could cause it illness.
Toxic Foods for Birds
Like most pet species, birds have specific caloric and nutritional needs. These needs vary based on the type of bird, so thorough research is essential. An inappropriate diet can cause severe conditions and even death in pet birds.
Pet parents should never feed seed-based diets, which commonly result in malnutrition and obesity. When fed seed-based diets, birds typically select only their favorite items, avoiding the nutritious parts.
Likewise, birds should not eat only human food. Work with your veterinarian to determine the best diet for your pet bird. Ideally, 80% of a pet bird’s diet should be formulated or extruded pellets, such as Zupreem® bird foods or Harrison’s bird foods. These diets are balanced to meet specific dietary vitamin and mineral requirements necessary for pet birds.
While pellets should make up most of a pet bird’s diet, they can enjoy having tasty human food as treats. Sharing snacks with their human family is a great way to train and bond with a pet bird. However, birds are not small humans (even though sometimes they talk just like us.) Some foods are highly toxic in birds, resulting in long-term costly illness and even death. Your veterinarian can help you determine which foods are best for your bird based on weight, species, and overall health.
The following foods are considered toxic in all bird species and should be avoided:
Avocado leaves, fruit, stems, bark, and seeds are highly toxic to birds—especially the leaves. The specific toxin in avocado is called persin and causes heart conditions, respiratory distress, and death in birds. Small birds (like canaries and budgies) may be more susceptible; however, avocado toxicity also occurs in other bird species. Birds may show distress within hours of ingestion and die within 24–48 hours.
Chocolate contains theobromine and caffeine, which are methylxanthines that can cause heart rate and rhythm changes, hyperactivity, seizures, and death. In general, the darker the chocolate, the higher the amount of toxins.
Fruit pits and seeds, including apples, cherries, apricot, plums, and peaches, should not be fed to birds due to their level of cyanide. Many birds enjoy eating fruit, but pet parents should carefully remove all seeds or pits to prevent cyanide poisoning.
Onion and garlic toxicity is well documented in many mammal species including dogs and cats. In birds, too, onions and garlic can cause issues with blood cells, liver, and kidneys.
High-fat and high-salt foods like sunflower seeds are some of a pet bird’s favorite foods. However, seeds are incredibly high in fat and equivalent to human fast food. Prolonged exposure to high-fat and high-salt foods will have similar results in birds as in humans—heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and liver disease.
Xylitol is an artificial sweetener that causes severe low blood sugar and liver disease in dogs. There is limited data on the toxicity in most bird species, but it is generally assumed unsafe for birds.
Other food items that may not be inherently toxic but can still cause issues with pet birds include:
Birds are susceptible to mold, so foods such as peanuts, corn, and other grains are discouraged.
Dairy products should also be given in small amounts, as birds cannot process large amounts of lactose.
Certain plants in the nightshade family (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, and peppers) may be safe for birds to consume, but pet parents should observe not to feed any part of the plant.
What To Do If Your Bird Eats Something They Shouldn’t
Unfortunately, birds cannot vomit, so attempting to make a bird vomit will only result in additional toxicity or trauma. Do not induce vomiting at home. If you know your pet bird ingested something potentially toxic, immediately call your veterinarian or an emergency veterinarian. If safe, your veterinarian may have you check the bird’s mouth first to see if the food is hiding in the cheek or under the tongue.
Some human foods are highly toxic to birds. Pet parents should use extreme caution to never feed a pet bird anything that could cause it illness.
Some birds can recover from eating toxic foods; typically, the amount they eat makes a difference. Small quantities of toxic foods are not necessarily a death sentence, but the faster your pet receives treatment, the better.
The veterinarian and staff will likely ask questions about the pet bird’s living conditions, including their typical diet and lifestyle, to determine any other underlying health concerns. They will also want to know exactly how much and specific information regarding the consumed toxin. Bring any packaging that may be helpful.
Most of the veterinary care involving toxicity involves supportive care—fluid support, heat support, oxygen support, heart support, and nutritional support. Depending on the species and the ingested toxin, veterinary staff may pass a feeding tube to administer activated charcoal, which can absorb some toxins preventing it from entering the bloodstream.
Birds are typically very sensitive creatures. Pet parents are encouraged to use caution whenever feeding food sources outside a bird’s typical routine. Seek veterinary attention if a pet bird is lethargic, stops eating, has difficulty breathing, or is otherwise unwell.
Featured Image: iStock.com/Sviatlana Barchan
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