Since birds lack the enzyme needed to digest lactose (the sugar found in dairy products), they should not eat dairy. Birds that eat dairy may experience the same gastrointestinal upset symptoms as people who are lactose intolerant.
What You'll Learn
Many people incorrectly assume that dairy is a good food source or snack for wild or pet birds. However, birds do not have the enzyme needed to break down the sugar found in dairy products. Because of this, dairy is not a good food source for birds to consume.
What Happens if I Feed My Bird Dairy?
Let’s start by talking about what sugar is made of. The primary sugar found in dairy is lactose, and the enzyme needed to break down this sugar is lactase. Without lactase, lactose cannot be broken down in the body.
Fun fact – did you know that lactase production decreases drastically during the weaning phase for most mammals, including humans? This means that most humans cannot break down lactose and are lactose intolerant.
However, I’m sure you are thinking that almost everyone you know consumes dairy products with little to no issue. That is because the more dairy you consume, the more lactase your body produces to break down lactose and the more lactose tolerant you become.
Birds, however, are not mammals. As a result, they never produce lactase and cannot break down lactose or teach their bodies to become tolerant to lactose by increasing lactate production.
Dairy is not toxic to birds, meaning that if they consume it, it shouldn’t cause serious harm or death. If a bird ingests dairy, it will experience differing degrees of gastrointestinal upset, including diarrhea, lack of appetite, regurgitation of food, and general signs of illness.
Parrots Have a Slight Tolerance to Dairy
Parrots are one species of birds that seem to tolerate dairy in very small portions. If you have a pet parrot and choose to provide dairy products as a snack, it is important to monitor for signs of intolerance.
What SHOULD My Bird’s Diet Consist of?
Although birds should consume a large variety of food, each species of bird will have different dietary requirements.
For example, it is recommended that a Conure’s diet consist of 80% pellets, whereas a Finch’s diet should only consist of about 15-25% pellets.
As a general rule, it is essential to provide whole grains, fresh fruit and vegetables, and protein. A varied diet helps with feather production and healthy skin.
Typically a bird’s diet should consist of about 25-40% whole grains, 25-40% fresh vegetables, 15-25% pellets, 10-15% protein, 5-15% fresh vegetables, and less than 10% seeds.
Always consult your veterinarian before switching your bird’s food or if you are unsure of the right mix of foods to provide.
Seeds and Pellets
Seeds are very high in fat, and contrary to popular belief, should not be the primary food source for your bird.
Pellets are made to be nutritionally complete and have a balanced selection of vitamins, carbohydrates, proteins, and minerals.
Whole grains contain all elements of kernels and are a great source of dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals, and unsaturated fat.
Some common whole grains that you can give your bird include barley, brown or wild rice, bulgur, couscous, oat bran, quinoa, whole grain pasta or bread, oatmeal, rye berries, and low-fat granola.
Fresh Fruit and Vegetables
Most birds love fruits and vegetables, but fruits are best kept at a minimum. Vegetables contain vitamins A, B6, B12, C, D, and E and potassium, iron, calcium, and magnesium.
Fruits contain vitamin C, carbohydrates, folic acid, fiber, and potassium. You can use fresh, frozen, or thawed fruits or vegetables.
Some common vegetables birds typically enjoy include dark, leafy greens, broccoli, squash, zucchini, carrots, snow peas, bok choy, yams, pumpkin, cucumbers, romaine lettuce, and parsley. The darker the color, the more nutritious the vegetable is. Steer clear of avocado, onion, and garlic as these are toxic even in small amounts.
Common fruits birds enjoy include papaya, kiwi, banana, orange, melon, apple, and mango. If the fruit has a lot of seeds, it is a good idea to remove these before giving them to your bird as they can be a choking hazard and some fruit seeds are toxic to birds.
Protein is crucial to muscle growth and healthy beaks, feathers, and organs. Foods that are a great source of protein include fully cooked eggs, beans (like kidney, garbanzo, pinto, and mung), fully cooked chicken, tuna, lentils, and peanuts.
Other Feeding Tips
Don’t forget to provide plenty of fresh water, as water helps with many vital functions in the body. Water is also found in fresh fruit and vegetables and even in some grains. This is another reason it is crucial to feed your bird a varied diet.
Some soft cheeses can be considered a choking hazard for birds, primarily due to their gummy texture. Common foods and household items that are toxic for birds, even in small amounts, are chocolate, avocado, onion, garlic, and some common household plants.
When possible, organic produce should be provided to minimize exposure to toxic contaminants, especially since things like berries are extremely difficult to clean and can harbor insecticides and bacteria if not grown organically.
Dairy is NOT Bird-Friendly
Since birds do not have the enzyme needed for their body to digest the primary component of dairy, it is not good for them to consume. However, some birds (such as parrots) have a small tolerance to dairy products and can safely consume dairy in small quantities. Like humans, birds require a diet composed of various options to ensure they get the proper nutrients they need to survive and thrive.
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I am Bryan Powell and I own BirdHour.com. I love bird watching; in fact, I have a parakeet of my own. I enjoy spending time outdoors and observing the natural world around me. This website is a means of sharing my passion for birds with others who may be interested in this activity.