Question #1: My pet parakeet is about 8 years old and eats seed. We have recently found out that seed diets are unhealthy and that pelleted diet should be given. With my bird being so old, is it still safe to switch?
D. Sutherland, Kansas
Answer #1: Seed diets are not "unhealthy" but are not well balanced. They are high in oils and carbohydrates and deficient in proteins, calcium, and vitamins. It would be worth trying to improve your bird's diet. Pelleted diets are an effort at producing well-balanced foods. Even these should be supplemented with some vegetables and fruit. Converting birds to better diets can be accomplished but the switch must be done slowly.
James M. Harris, DVM
Answer #2: I assume your pet parakeet is a budgerigar. There are many different parakeet species, but the budgerigar is commonly called a parakeet. These birds can live into their teens, so it is worth improving the nutritional plane of your bird to help him live longer and feel better. Converting your bird to pellets at this age is a challenge, but it can be done successfully as long as you are careful and patient. We usually start the conversion process by mixing the pellets 50:50 with the seed for at least two weeks. This is when the bird starts to recognize the pellet as food since it is mixed with the seed. He will touch it and throw it out of the dish, but probably will not eat it. After the introduction, then we
remove the seed for 1-2 days (no millet or seed treat either) and just have pellets in the dish. He can have fruits, vegetables and table food during this time, just no seed. Watch the droppings to see if he is eating enough. Make sure they are normal in number and substance. If he is not eating the pellets after two days, mix again the seed and pellet for another two weeks and try again. It can take up to a year to get a bird converted to pellets, so do not give up after one try. After the bird is converted, I still give a small amount of seed 2-3 times a week for the small birds, but the majority of the diet is pellets.
Rhoda Stevenson, DVM, DABVP-Avian Jacksonville, Florida
Answer #3: I strongly think that feeding a bird pellets is the single most important thing that one can do for a pet or aviary bird. I equate feeding seeds to eating a fast food diet for life and expecting to be healthy. It just won't happen! Recent work with fast food diets, for example, demonstrates that the child population of this country is becoming obese which is linked to the high fat content of these foods. Similarly is the case with high fat seed diets that are offered many parrots. We rarely see in the clinic sick birds that are being fed pellets and almost always see sick birds that are on seed diets. Even when the seed diet is partially composed of table food, these types of diets have been shown to be not nutritionally sound and a poor plane of nutrition for our feathered friends. All birds will switch to pellets. I find that most will convert within a three week time
period. This of course if accomplished with a gradual switch from all seeds to all pellets. I find that parrot type birds switch to pellets faster if they are simultaneously offered a soft food bean mixture. With the lifespan of budgies approaching 15 years, a 8 year old budgie is not too old to be converted to a more nutritional diet.
Amy B Worell, DVM, DABVP-Avian West Hills, CA