We hear it touted on a regular basis that we need to make sure to feed our beloved birds more greens, “make absolutely sure you get those greens into your bird’s diet any way you can!”and “Our birds need the fiber in those greens and besides they are packed full of great minerals.”
Not. So. Fast.
How many times do we hear of birds just dropping over dead for no explainable reason? Even after a necropsy is done there are no clear answers.
Again I am forced to bring up the subject of a “balanced diet”. It is absolutely imperative to know and understand “food combining” and know how ALL of the macro and micro nutrients along with the “hidden” naturally occurring food “constituents”, otherwise known as naturally occurring “food chemicals” play with and against each other in your bird’s diet.
Folks we must have an in depth knowledge of how we are combining our birds’ diets when we go to mix up the next batch of mash or whatever it is you call your bird’s fresh mix. It is paramount to their very life.
I haven’t talked much about nutrients other than calcium and magnesium mainly due to reasons that calcium has always been a super-hot topic in the avian community. And yes, while calcium supply, absorption and metabolism is very important, all of the other trace minerals are just as important in our birds’ overall health.
Take potassium for instance. If our birds don’t receive enough potassium they are subject to an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes, but if they receive too much potassium they are subject to the same risks and even more.
I’m actually more concerned about too much potassium in our birds’ diets due to the fact that we are dealing with small creatures with systems that rapidly absorb nutrients because of their short and narrow digestive tracts. Nature designed their digestive tracts in this manner so they could absorb nutrients “on the run” so to speak. Birds in the wild often have to be able to eat, digest, absorb and metabolize in flight. For this reason they have very efficient digestive systems that absorb and metabolize nutrients rapidly. This is my concern where a high potassium diet is concerned.
When a bird suddenly perishes after one minute seeming to be perfectly fine, playing and eating and the next minute has crossed the Rainbow Bridge we must ask ourselves about what we have been feeding. Or if we have noticed our bird to be on the lethargic side recently, sleeping more than usual, falling off its perch, displaying a droopy head and wings, acting depressed, or having a lack of appetite all of this could potentially be due to too much potassium in the diet from the overfeeding of GREENS.
People have asked me why I feed so many fruits to my birds and why our formulated Origins Wild Diet™ foods are heavy on the side of tropical fruit, here is yet another reason; balance.
I know some nutritional advisors claim it isn’t necessary to test foods for balance; I strongly disagree. Mixing foods in personal kitchens, not knowing what the balance of nutrients are in each new batch can be like mixing a chemical mess similar to a bomb. Whether you’re feeding a formulated food and adding your own side dishes to that formulated food, or mixing your own foods from raw ingredients, or adding commercially made snacks to your bird’s overall diet, you need to know how all of the nutrients add up in the end. This is why commercial bird food manufactures instruct not to mix or combine several pelleted mixes in one diet for any one bird. Once we begin mixing two or more commercial pellets in one diet for any one bird we are throwing the “balance” of nutrients so far off we can cause nutrient toxicity. Would you offer your child 2, 3 or 4 different brands of one-a-day multi-vitamins each and every day? Would you, yourself take as many different brands of multi-vitamins each and every day? No. And so it is when we begin adding two or more commercial pellets or an array of fresh foods to our birds’ daily diets. We still need to be careful even if we are only adding fresh foods, although it is not as much of a hazard. But don’t let that last sentence cause you to throw caution to the wind…
When we begin stacking green on top of green, on top of green, on top of green…and to that add high potassium foods in general we asking for disaster. And this can happen with other nutrients too, but today I am focusing on potassium because this mineral is in high content in so many of the foods that are so popular in so many of the groups who believe in feeding chopped up vegetable mixes high in greens.
Hey, I believe in healthy diets for our beloved birds too, but knowing and understanding nutrition in the way I do I totally get that potassium is found in very high levels of the trendy foods many of us are feeding to our parrots. Those trendy foods happen to be greens and herbs both tremendously high in potassium.
Potassium Toxicity Symptoms
Look at the symptoms of potassium toxicity:
“Potassium toxicity manifests in significant, characteristic, acute cardiovascular changes with ECG abnormalities. Besides cardiovascular effects, neuromuscular manifestations in the form of general muscular weakness and ascending paralysis occur. Gastrointestinal symptoms manifest as nausea, vomiting, paralytic ileus (paralysis of the digestive tract), and local mucosal necrosis (progressive enzymatic degradation of the mucosal lining) which may lead to perforation.” (1)
Vomiting does not always present itself in a bird, paralysis does not always present. Many times you will see nothing more than lethargy, lack of appetite, or the bird will simply expire.
Foods High In Potassium
Now take a look at greens tremendously high in potassium that we, as an avian community commonly feed in large volume to our birds:
Per 28grams (almost 4 teaspoons)
- Beet Greens: 213mg
- Purslane: 138mg
- Watercress: 92.4mg
- Swiss Chard: 106mg
- Spinach: 156mg | Calcium: 27.7mg
- Parsley: 155mg
- Pumpkin Leaves: 122mg
- Cilantro: 146mg
- Zucchini: 129mg
- Kale: 125mg | Calcium: 37.8mg
- Bamboo Shoots: 149mg
- Garden Cress: 170mg
- Dandelion Greens: 111mg
- Brussels Sprouts: 109mg
- Arugula: 103mg | Calcium: 44.8mg
- Mustard Greens: 99.1mg
- Sweet Potatoes (raw): 94.4mg
- Plantain Herb: 78mg
- Sweet Potatoes (baked): 133mg
- Sweet Potatoes (boiled): 64.4mg
- Broccoli Flower Heads: 91.0mg
- Endive: 87.9mg
- Turnip Greens: 82.9mg
- Celery: 72.8mg
- Mung Beans (sprouted): 41.7mg | Calcium: 3.6mg
- Mung Beans (cooked): 74.5 | Calcium: 7.6mg
- Lentils (sprouted): 90.2mg | Calcium: 7.0mg
- Lentils (cooked): 103mg| Calcium: 5.3mg
Nutrient levels obtained from: http://nutritiondata.self.com
I have included the calcium content of a few of the items to show how ridiculously high the potassium level is in comparison to other basic minerals.
In addition, I have included a couple of legumes to show that cooking increases the mineral levels, which in this case is not such a good idea where potassium is concerned when we are feeding diets high in greens containing high potassium levels. We are literally stackingpotassium upon potassium potentially causing potassium toxicity. And then we wonder why some of our birds are falling over dead for no apparent reason. (Remember, cooking foods may increase the mineral content because heat doesn’t destroy minerals so much, but cooking does destroy digestive enzymes, delicate Omega 3s, and many of the vitamins such as B vitamins and Vitamin C.)
What To Do In Case Of Potassium Toxicity
In the case of potassium toxicity there is too much potassium circulating in the blood instead of remaining in each individual cell where it is supposed to reside. We need to get the potassium back into the cells and/or eliminated from the overall system of our bird. It seems that by feeding a diuretic we could help our bird eliminate potassium through increasing urine output. Unfortunately any natural diuretic we would feed would also be high in potassium, so that method is out of the question.
Instead we can add 1/8thteaspoon of baking soda to about 5 to 8 ounces of Fiji or Evian spring water as our bird’s drinking water. The baking soda draws potassium back into the cells and out of the blood system. I believe it is safe to offer this water recipe for about 3 days and then stop. In addition it is suggested to increase the blood level of glucose to counteract potassium in the blood. I recommend feeding lots of fresh mango which is low in potassium and high glucose, one of the necessary and most important monosaccharides for exotic birds. Fresh mango is also in moisture which will increase urine output. Stop feeding all greens and any high potassium foods for at least 3 to 5 days. I recommend feeding fresh mango, ceasing all greens until your bird seems like it is back to its normal, active and alert self.
The great takeaway here folks is this; we must educate ourselves on proper food combining and correct balancing of all nutrients, micro, macro and naturally occurring food constituents. We cannot throw caution to the wind thinking that we can throw an entire kitchen sink into our birds’ diets to meet all of their nutritional needs. It’s totally unrealistic to believe there is absolutely no nutritional balancing necessary for such a small, delicate system such as an exotic creature whose system was designed by Nature to absorb and metabolize nutrients so efficiently!
We often discuss how under-nourished or mal-nourished our birds have become; now it’s time to begin discussing complications that arise due to over-nourishment of nutrients; “toxicity.”
When we are feeding diets consisting of high potassium foods, especially greens stacked upon greens, upon greens…along with cooked foods where potassium levels are artificially increased due to the heat process we must be even more vigilant about food combining than ever. If we happen to be caring for a bird who has kidney disease, or undiagnosed kidney disease and is unable to eliminate excess potassium from its system we could easily have a “Rainbow Bridge” case laying in our arms in the blink of an eye.
Ref: (1) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2689836
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