Margaret A. Wissman, DVM
There is often a lot of talk about vitamins: vitamins added to seeds; vitamins in an extruded pelleted diet; vitamins that can be added to soft food or in the drinking water. But what are vitamins, anyway?
Vitamins are organic substances that are essential in minute quantities for the nutrition of most animals, including birds. They are present in natural foods and sometimes can be produced inside the body by vitamin precursors. Vitamins are involved in the regulation of many metabolic processes that go on inside the body, and can act as coenzymes and precursors of coenzymes, but they do not provide energy or serve as building units. Without vitamins, the body can’t work properly. Deficiencies can cause such varied clinical signs as the inability to clot blood properly, form normal blood cells, grow normal bones or even cause infertility.
Vitamin E is found in plants in several forms. In the active form, it acts as an antioxidant by scavenging the dangerous free radicals, preventing cell damage. Working with vitamin E are several enzymes that incorporate manganese, zinc, copper, iron and selenium as active components. Vitamin E is another fat-soluble vitamin.
Vitamin E is necessary for proper breeding and for normal conduction of impulses along nerves. Deficiency can also result in anemia and can contribute to heart disease. This vitamin is also involved in antibody production and the immune system.
Often treatment involves an injection of vitamin E and selenium. A veterinary evaluation and correction of the diet can help prevent future problems.
African parrots, such as Congo and timneh African greys, and the Poicephalus species, seem to be especially prone to low blood-calcium problems linked to the inter-relationship of the uropygial gland, vitamin A deficiency (resulting in squamous metaplasia of the uropygial gland so that it doesn’t make the correct vitamin D precursors), calcium levels and full-spectrum light exposure.
I recommend that all African birds receive either natural, unfiltered sunlight from time to time or be provided with a good quality artificial light source that produces UVB. Place this light at the correct distance from the bird and change frequently, based on the manufacturer’s recommendations.
Excerpt from BIRD TALK Magazine, November 2010 issue, with permission from its publisher, I-5 Publishing LLC.
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