Switching from a Seed-based to a Pelleted Diet

posted: 05/15/12
More InformationBasic Nutrition for Psittacines, Grit, Switching from a Seed-based to a Pelleted Diet, Vitamin A Deficiency, Feeding & Nutrition Main

Switching your psittacine bird from a seed-based diet to a quality commercial food will take time and patience, but is well worth the effort. Your bird will be happier and healthier.

Consult with your veterinarian

Perhaps you are changing your bird's diet on the recommendation of your veterinarian; or maybe you have decided on your own to convert to a formulated diet. If so, have your veterinarian examine your bird to make sure he is otherwise healthy and able to handle the diet change.

Choose a "pelleted" diet

Pelleted diets actually come in the form of pellets, crumbles, or nuggets. They are readily available from many reputable manufacturers, pet stores, and veterinarians, and include Harrison's, Zupreem, Kaytee, Pretty Bird, and Roudybush. There are commercial foods for different species, so be sure to select the one appropriate for your bird. Some have higher fat levels for many macaws and Golden conures, whereas others may be lower in fat and higher in protein to provide better nutrition for cockatoos and Amazons. Ask your veterinarian if you are unsure of which formulation to use.

Determine your bird's intake

Before switching your bird to a commercial formula, you will need to determine the average amount your bird eats per day. Each morning, measure out and record the amount of seed you place into your bird's clean food dish. The next morning, measure how much is left. Subtract that amount from what you had placed in the dish, to determine how much your bird ate. Repeat this procedure for a week. At the end of the week (7 days), add the daily amounts eaten and then divide that amount by 7 to determine the average daily intake.

Determine your bird's weight

Since your bird may be reluctant to eat the new diet, it is important that he does not lose too much weight too fast. The best way to monitor this, is to purchase a small scale that weighs in grams. Weigh your bird before starting the switch to the new diet, and then daily during the switch. Your bird should not lose more than 1-2% of his body weight per week. If he does, contact your veterinarian. Weighing your bird regularly after the diet switch will help you fine tune the amount you are feeding, and also alert you to weight changes that could indicate an illness.

Determine your bird's dietary components

Various methods of switching to a pelleted diet have used different time frames and amounts, but they all agree on one thing: it needs to be done slowly.

Large psittacines (parrots, macaws):

Week One: Feed 75% of the seed your bird normally ate and substitute pelleted food for the other 25%. Mix the pellets with the seed.

Week Two: Feed 50% of the seed your bird normally ate and substitute pelleted food for the other 50%.

Week Three and thereafter: Substitute pelleted food for 75% of the seed your bird normally ate. The remaining 25% of the diet can consist of fresh fruits and vegetables (mostly veggies) and maybe a small amount of seed.

Small psittacines (budgies, cockatiels, lovebirds) and finches:

Week One: Feed 75% of the seed your bird normally ate and substitute pelleted food for the other 25%. Mix the pellets with the seed.

Week Two: Feed 50% of the seed your bird normally ate and substitute pelleted food for the other 50%.

Week Three: Feed 25% of the seed your bird normally ate. The pelleted food can make up 50% of the diet. The remaining 25% of the diet can consist of fresh fruits and vegetables (mostly veggies).

Week Four and thereafter: Of the amount your bird normally ate, feed 25% as seed, 25-50% as pelleted food, and 25-50% as fruits and vegetables (mostly veggies). The exact percentages vary according to the bird. Many small birds will not consume 50% of the diet as veggies, and therefore need to eat a larger percentage of pellets.

Tips for converting to pelleted diets

Just as human parents use "tricks" to get their children to eat new foods, a little psychology can help convince your bird to try the new diet.

- Try hand feeding some of the pellets as a treat.

- Allow the bird to see another healthy bird eating the pellets.

- If your bird likes certain fruits or vegetables (try cooked yams) sprinkle seed on that food. Then try sprinkling pellets.

- Offer the new, pelleted food in the morning when the bird is the most hungry. Add the calculated amount of seed later in the day, or for only two 15-minute feedings per day.

- Tips for feeding fruits and vegetables

Try the tips mentioned above, plus:

- Eat the fruit or vegetable in front of the bird and offer a small taste.

- Choose highly-colored foods at first.

- Cut the food into very small pieces.

- Tuck the food in a top corner of the cage, in a toy, or next to a mirror in the cage, as an enticement.

- For a bird who likes water, attach a wet piece of romaine lettuce or other green to the cage. The water may attract the bird.

- Some birds may prefer vegetables in a liquid form, at first. Try carrot juice.

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