Sharing meals with your cockatiel is one of the pleasures of the pet bird lifestyle. Many cockatiels even enjoy a special place at the table, especially at breakfast time. And one breakfast item in particular is loved by people and cockatiels alike: cereal.
Because cereals intended for human consumption aren’t routinely tested on cockatiels, and therefore can’t be recommended without reservation, we consulted several experts. Dr. Donna Muscarella, senior research associate at Cornell University’s Veterinary Medical Center in Ithaca, N.Y., often feeds cereal to her pet cockatiels. "I see nothing wrong with feeding, in moderation, some of the low-sugar, whole-grain cereal to cockatiels,” said Muscarella, who advises cockatiel owners to "look for genuine, whole-grain cereals like shredded wheat.”
"Most commercial cereals are somewhat fortified and/or more enhanced than others. A tiny amount is not likely to be a problem, but we know that human vitamin requirements are not comparable to the requirements for cockatiels’ high iron content, so I would not advise feeding cereals with high-iron content to softbills. If you’re concerned about additives, there are organic cereals on the market. Many do not contain the added vitamins that are present in the common cereals.”
Board-certified avian veterinarian Robert Monaco of the Old Country Animal Clinic in Plainview, N.Y., concurs. "I think that natural, unsweetened cereals like Cheerios or shredded wheat are fine. I usually give my cockatiels a little cereal a few times per week.”
Many pet bird owners worry about the presence of zinc in cereal. Monaco said, "Zinc is an essential element in everyone’s diet. If the body gets a little too much, it will compensate. Too little, and there are major problems. There will not be a zinc toxicity problem by feeding a ‘tiel cereal.”
Muscarella also feeds cooked cereal to her cockatiels. "I usually cook oatmeal in water and add a dab of soy milk,” she related. "One advantage is that, at times, I’ve had to medicate a ‘tiel, and mixing the medication with oatmeal seems to work well.”
Moderation is the key to success, according to board-certified avian veterinarian Greg Burkett of the Avian Veterinary Services Clinic in Durham, N.C. "In small quantities, and fed just as a treat, even the sweetened cereals are not a health risk, but do not put a big bowl in your cockatiel’s cage.”
Burkett pointed out that high levels of sugar can lead to yeast infections and recommended whole-grain, sugar-free cereals with no artificial colors. If you share your cereal with your ‘tiel, be aware that they cannot digest the lactose (found in milk) and may develop some temporary diarrhea.”
Although Avian Veterinarian Elisabeth Simone-Freilicher of the veterinary medical Center in West Islip, N.Y. is not "wild about feeding cereal to pet ‘tiel,” she believes it is probably fine if offered in small amounts or as a treat.
Freilicher said that the main problems with cereal are carbs, fiber, low protein and added vitamins and minerals. Most cereals on the market list sugar as the second or third ingredient, and the first ingredients are always starches. "[Parrots], with the possible exception of lories, just don’t need that much sugar. Cockatiels eat for their energy requirements, and most cereals also don’t have very much protein as a percentage of their weight to balance out all that sugar and starch. Most pellets are about 10- to 15- percent protein,” she said.
Freilicher also noted that a lot of the "healthier” cereals are high fiber – because people need more fiber than cockatiels do – and a high-fiber cereal can make a cockatiel feel full without adding much nutrition.
The consensus about cereals is: Read labels, avoid those enhanced with sugar and vitamins, and feed in moderation. Provide your cockatiel with a broad-based diet, and consult your avian veterinarian for specific advice.
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Excerpt from the Popular Birds Series magabook Cockatiels with permission from its publisher, BowTie magazines, a division of BowTie Inc. Purchase Cockatiels here.