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Nutritional Problems In Cockatiels

Find out what to feed your cockatiel to avoid health issues such as obesity, liver problems and vitamin-A deficiency.

By Margaret Wissman, DVM


Cockatiels, Popular Birds Series
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Wild cockatiels tend to fly long distances while foraging for food, so they burn off the calories they consume when eating a higher-in-fat, seed-based diet. Generally, our pet cockatiels lead a much more sedentary life and tend to become obese when fed a seed-only diet. Instead, offer a balanced diet of foods such as pellets, seed, sprouted seed, fresh vegetables, some table foods and small amounts of fruits.

I still see cockatiels suffering from malnutrition, vitamin-A deficiency and obesity. Introduce pellets to weaning cockatiels at an early age so that they become accustomed to eating them, in addition to other healthy foods. It is very important to not abruptly change the diet of a cockatiel without first ascertaining that the cockatiel is healthy. A cockatiel harboring a sub-clinical illness may break with a medical problem due to the stress of attempting dietary conversion. Check with your avian veterinarian before attempting serious dietary changes.

I do believe that pet cockatiels can consume a portion of seeds in their diet, in addition to pellets. However, a seed-only diet is not nutritionally balanced or complete. The more the diet is varied, the better.
Obese Cockatiels
An obese cockatiel needs to lose weight, and this can prove difficult unless the diet is changed and the cockatiel is encouraged to exercise more. Sprouted seeds tend to be lower in fat and have a texture more like vegetables, which may help a cockatiel convert over to trying new foods.

Cockatiels that are consuming some seed should always have access to cuttlebone or a mineral block and should receive supplemental vitamins (but not in the drinking water). Discuss supplements with your avian veterinarian before adding any to your cockatiel’s diet.

Obese cockatiels may develop lipomas, which are benign fatty tumors. These may be found over the crop area, the chest, or most commonly, the abdomen. Xanthomas, which are yellow benign fatty tumors, are also common. Surgery may be necessary, especially if the skin over the tumor ulcerates, but often the tumors may reoccur, unless changes are made in the cockatiel’s diet and activity level.

Obese cockatiels have some degree of liver problems. When fat is deposited in the liver, normal liver cells are replaced with fat and, over time, if enough normal liver tissue is destroyed, the liver can become cirrhotic. cockatiels with fatty liver, also called hepatic lipidosis, usually suffer from some degree of liver dysfunction and may bleed excessively, as the liver is responsible for providing clotting factors in the blood. Hepatic lipidosis is very serious and can be fatal. Birds on a seed-only diet with restricted exercise are prime candidates for hepatic lipidosis.

Thyroid dysfunction can result in obesity; however, this has been rarely documented. Toxins, such as aflatoxins (found in moldy grain), can result in damage to the liver. Steroid administration (from topical ointments) or hormone injections (with methylprogesterone, for example) can cause a cockatiel to gain weight.

Cockatiels with liver disease may develop overgrown toenails and beaks; however, there are other non-liver-related causes for these problems. The best indicator for liver disease in cockatiels is the bile acids test in plasma. To definitively diagnose liver disease, an avian veterinarian should perform a liver biopsy.

To read more about cockatiels, click here.

Excerpt from the Popular Birds Series magabook Cockatiels with permission from its publisher, BowTie magazines, a division of BowTie Inc. Purchase Cockatiels here.

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