Veterinary Viewpoints


Question #l: I understand that
African Greys need more calcium than
other parrots. Why is this and how can
I supply this in the diet if all the birds
will eat is a seed diet?
C. Hysell, California
Answer #1: It is not that African
Grey Parrots need more calcium than
other birds, but rather that African
Greys, for some unknown reason,
have a high incidence of hypocalcemia.
Hypocalcemia is a lower than
normal level of circulating calcium in
the blood. Adequate calcium levels
are necessary for normal muscle functioning.
When calcium levels drop to
levels well below normal, the patient
exhibits weakness, trembling, seizurelike
activity and collapse. Seeds are
deficient in calcium. For birds to
utilize calcium, vitamin 0 3 must be
present in adequate amounts. Birds
housed outdoors with sufficient sunlight
exposure produce adequate vitamin
0 3
. Since window glass filters out
ultraviolet light rays, birds kept
indoors need vitamin 0 3 supplements
as well as calcium.
Calcium can be provided in a number
of ways. I would implore you to
make the effort to convert your birds
to a more complete and well balanced
diet of pellets, fruits, vegetables and
protein foods. Additional calcium can
be supplied in the form of mineral
blocks and cuttlebone for birds to
chew on. Calcium can also be added
to the drinking water. NeoCal glucon
syrup, a soluble product used by nursing
women and available at your local
pharmacy, can be added to the bird's
drinking water at the rate of one teaspoon
per four ounces of drinking
James M. Harris, D.V.M.
Oakland, California
Answer #2: African Grey Parrots
appear to develop signs of calcium 

deficiency including seizures, fractures
and egg binding in adults and
folding fractures in juveniles, quicker
than other types of parrots on the
same imbalanced diet. Calcium
absorption from the diet requires the
presence of Vitamin Dl and is inhibited
by large amounts of phosphorus
and fat in the diet. It is unknown if
Greys require higher quantities of calcium
or vitamin 0 3 in their diet than
other parrots, or if they are unable to
remove calcium from their bones
when needed as other parrots are
more able to do. Regardless of which
mechanism is at work, both adult and
juvenile African Greys do not become
calcium deficient on most commercial
pelleted diets containing 0.5 to l.Oo/o
calcium dry weight. Most Greys can
be converted to a commercial pelleted
diet, or a seed diet can be supplemented
with calcium utilizing cuttlebone,
mineral blocks or mineral grit
(oyster shell), as well as cheese and
other dairy products, kale, collards,
and other high calcium vegetables.
Greys that are already deficient or
who have been unwilling to convert
to a balanced diet can be supplemented
using a readily absorbed
calcium product such as Avimin,
Neocalglucon or calcium gluconate.
These products can be given directly
or added to the drinking water; however,
they are expensive when used in
the correct dosage and a better alternative
in the long run is to convert the
birds to a balanced diet. Regardless of
which calcium product is used, it is
imp01tant to supplement with vitamin
0 3 and to limit the fat and phosphorus
in the diet.
Nicole VanDerHeyden, D.V.M.
Indianapolis, Indiana
Answer #3: African Greys are
seemingly unique in their utilization of
calcium. As calcium metabolism is a
fairly complex subject involving potentially
different forms of calcium, 

vitamin D, and phosphorus, a simple
understanding of an apparent calcium
deficiency in an African Grey Parrot is
not readily available.
It is thought that African Greys
excrete excessive amounts of calcium
through their kidneys and, hence, out
of the body. This, therefore, renders
them easily deficient in the amount of
available calcium circulating in the
body that is available for sustaining
and maintaining the body's normal
functions. Further, it has been suggested
that African Greys arc not able
to mobilize (remove) calcium from
their bones as readily or efficiently as
can other avian species. African
Greys, then, may actually require
more calcium in their diets as they
lose more in their urine!
Providing a well rounded and balanced
diet is optimally the ideal
method for ensuring that an African
Grey will not develop problems
related to low circulating blood
calcium. Converting these birds to a
supplemented pclleted diet should be
strived for. My personal recommendation
involves converting birds to a free
choice commercially available pelleted
diet that is supplemented with a
protein based soft food mix, such as
"Soak and Cook." A variety of fruits,
vegetables and other nutritious table
food can be added to this daily offered
soft food mixture, as well as dry
kibbled dog food and a powdered
vitamin supplement.
The supplemented pelleted diet
approach has worked well in numerous
Greys to maintain them in good
nutritional status in both pet and
aviary situations. Supplementation of
breeders prior to and during breeding
season with cuttlebone or mineral
blocks should also be considered, as
this recommendation is also applicable
in any egg producing birds.
Amy B. Worell, D.V.M.
West Hills, California