It has come to my attention that many of us may actually be over-nourishing our beloved exotic companion feathered friends. Most of the time we all discuss mal-nourishment of our birds, but rarely do we specifically discuss over-nourishment. I would like to address this topic in this article.
Over-supplying of individual nutrients is easier to do when we are feeding commercial foods laden with synthetic vitamins. Commercial bird food manufacturers who use synthetic vitamins and laboratory-produced mineral salts in their foods may over-supplement those nutrients in their foods. If you happen to be a caregiver that believes in feeding two, three or more different brands of commercial pellets to your flock you are flirting with nutrient toxicity. Would you feed your children or yourself several multi-vitamins each and every day to ensure that all bases were covered to meet your RDA of all vitamins and minerals? I seriously doubt it. When you feed two or more commercial pellets containing synthetic vitamins this is exactly what you are supplying to your feathered friend. This is one reason why the manufacturers of commercial bird foods instruct to feed only their pellet diet and no other pelleted diet; the mixing of two or more commercial diets throws the nutritional profile so far off that a bird can literally become ill from vitamin and/or mineral toxicity.
But wait, there are other ways in which you can over-supply nutrients to your beloved bird.
We don’t often think that we can over-supply nutrients simply by feeding fresh foods, but I am here to explain that we certainly can.
The avian digestive tract is uniquely designed by Nature to efficiently extract all of the nutrients from food sources in a very quick amount of time. This is so a bird can take to flight in a matter of seconds should it need to escape a predator in the wild. Even though our birds are safe in captivity the intrinsic DNA is still alive and well; Nature hasn’t changed anything about the digestive tract and its ability to rapidly extract and utilize nutrients.
If we over-supply nutrients the liver and kidneys become over-burdened and unable to eliminate those nutrients building up toxicity. Those nutrients then circulate in the blood system rather than remain in the cells where they should be, or get excreted if the kidneys or liver are suffering damage, diagnosed or not. Once floating around in the blood stream the levels can potentially rise to levels that create all sorts of havoc including, but not limited to respiratory failure, stroke and/or cardiac arrest.
When we stack nutrient upon nutrient by over-feeding certain foods high in certain nutrients we can contribute to blood level or organ level toxicities that then can potentially cause an acute episode leading to near death or death.
I can give one such example in the case of over-feeding “greens” and cooked legumes. Both of these items contain high amounts of potassium. Potassium is a very important mineral which regulates heart rhythm, but in high doses this dietary mineral can also cause acute respiratory or heart failure with no warning. You would think a living body would be able to metabolize potassium from natural, raw sources of food, but a mineral is a mineral is a mineral regardless of where it comes from. Minerals do not easily degrade in the processing of pellets even at high heat. Whether you are feeding commercially prepared, highly processed pellets, or you are feeding an all raw diet, if the ratio of potassium in the foods you are feeding is too high compared to all of the other individual nutrients within your bird’s diet you could potentially be poisoning your bird with potassium toxicity. Especially if you are feeding a base diet of cooked or highly processed ingredients that are naturally high in potassium and then “stacking” additional foods on top of that diet that are also high in potassium.
This is where my caution about feeding too many greens and/or cooked legumes comes in.
First of all if you are feeding a pelleted diet high in grains and/or legumes you may already be feeding a diet high in potassium. Secondly if you are feeding a self-made diet high in vegetables and greens you are already feeding a diet high in potassium. Third, if you are feeding a diet you make yourself that includes cooked legumes you are feeding a diet potentially high in potassium. Then if you add any greens in the way of more chopped greens or veggies or herbs on top of any of those diets you are stacking even more potassium on top of the already high potassium content in your bird’s diet. –Do you see the potential problem here?
Anyone who tells you that you can basically throw caution to the wind when feeding a totally raw diet to your bird is giving you license to feed an unbalanced diet to your bird that could potentially land your bird in your vet’s ER at minimum, or cause your bird to experience acute kidney, liver or heart failure potentially leading to immediate death. People who should know and understand nutrition and food combining, those who give advice about feeding our beloved birds need to be educating the avian public regarding the potential hazards, pitfalls and downfalls of mixing foods in our own kitchens without truly knowing and understanding combining foods and the nutrients they contain. Simply mixing a highly diverse blend of foods to achieve a great variety of ingredients is akin to playing with fire. When it comes to feeding such small creatures whose systems are uniquely designed by Nature with such efficacy to extract and absorb nutrients from the very foods they consume we must take every ounce of caution to ensure we are getting it right. Piling food on top of food in hopes of covering all bases is not how we achieve proper nutrition for exotic species.
First of all it is each and every bird caregiver’s responsibility to know the overall health status of their bird in detail. If their bird has kidney, liver, heart or other problems in depth research is required to understand what nutrients should be limited in the diet to help prevent antagonizing any further illness. Yes, some nutrients can actually add to the problem of many illnesses and/or diseases. While many nutrients can help reverse illness and disease, some nutrients can actually make the situation worse. It is the responsibility of each of us to know this information. Next it is of extreme importance to know and understand what foods contain the very nutrients our birds need to have limited in their diet if they are suffering any illness or disease that require certain limitations of those nutrients.
Whenever one of my customers/clients tells me they want to feed additional foods I try to encourage them to make sure those extra foods are first tropical fruit. If they want to feed additional greens I instruct to feed greens in extremely limited amounts. While all diets should contain some amount of greens, too many in an imbalanced amount may contribute to the addition of high amounts of trace minerals in the overall diet. Potassium is one such mineral we need to pay close attention to where over-supplementation is concerned. Fruit contains much less potassium than greens. And you will never hear me encourage the feeding of cooked legumes and grains (except maybe in the case of healing a seriously damaged digestive tract, but then my client would not be feeding unlimited amounts of raw foods high in potassium).
Potassium over-supplementation in the way of mineral salts added by commercial bird food manufacturers or by the stacking of raw greens and/or cooked legumes in our own kitchens in your bird’s diet is only one example I can give to you. Potassium toxicity is a serious situation for any healthy bird, but if that bird is suffering from diagnosed or undiagnosed kidney problems potassium toxicity can present life-threatening circumstances in the blink of an eye.
“Food combining” is a serious topic and one that needs to be addressed in our avian community to ensure the proper nutrition for our beloved companion birds. “Throwing the whole kitchen sink in” to our birds’ diets is not something we should be doing to create diversity thinking we are ensuring a total and complete diet to meet all of their nutritional requirements; nutrition doesn’t work like that for a captive bird. It may work like that in the wild, but that’s because in the wild birds have thousands of foods from which to use their natural ability to instinctively choose. In captivity we only have hundreds of foods to choose from and that mandates that we know and understand how to balance the nutrients we are putting into our birds. The fewer the foods, the more important it is to balance those nutrients. And if we only have 20, 30 or even 50 different foods at our disposal requires that we make absolutely sure the individual nutrients are balanced in order to prevent both under-nutrition (mal-nourishment) as well as over-nutrition (toxicity).
I will soon begin a workshop at www.ExoticBirdClubOnline.com regarding “food combining” that is practically free of charge; only a nominal fee of $5.00 will be charged. It will be an ongoing workshop that will basically never end. You pay a one-time fee and you’re in for the long haul. My mission is and has always been to “feed birds really, really well” so that they may thrive in our homes. Please join us once we begin. The workshop will be designed so that you can work at your own pace and you can join at any time; there are no time restrictions.
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