Parrots need your voice
Question: why do we believe that feeding a pelleted/kibbled diet is healthy for our companions, but not ourselves?
It’s not like we don’t have fortified foods, neatly boxed, and easy to serve. If we really thought that eating Total Cereal and supplementing with dark leafy greens were healthy, everyone would stop telling me I eat too much cereal. Just take a look at the nutritional label:
That label says Total Cereal has almost 100% of the nutrients I need every day; however, we know people can’t thrive or live well on a diet of fortified cereals. A varied diet, including fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins is what’s recommended for a healthy human diet.
Oddly, we don’t use the same logic for companion animals. For a long time, pet food companies have discouraged consumers from using anything but their dog foods, even to the extent of not changing foods for fear of stomach upset (What the heck is in dog and cat food that makes them sick if you change foods??). We’re told to feed kibbled diets to dogs and cats because it cleans their teeth. Wait…. what? You mean I’ve been brushing my teeth all this time, and I only needed Milk Bones? Hmmm, but so many dogs and cats suffer from excess tartar and dental disease. So, what’s really going on?
We are inundated with pet food commercials boasting about how one company’s food is better than all the rest. There’s a person with a warm voice telling us how much they care for our companions, and only they can provide the nutrition they need. And we trust them. We trust them because what low-life scum wouldn’t have the best of intentions when it comes to these family members, right? As a parrot breeder recently said in an HSUS article, “I’m a capitalist,” and to be a capitalist means selling a product that earns you the highest return for you, your company, and your stockholders. Our feathered and furred family members are not the most important factor in this equation. What is most important is the bottom line.
I’d love to go into the specifics of how dog and cat foods are made, but it’s already been done (read “What’s Really in Pet Food“), and not really the point here. I’m using dog and cat foods because there is much more information on the foods and companies than those for companion bird foods. The idea is the same, however, and we’re told that the bird diets being sold, particularly pelleted diets, are “scientific,” “balanced,” “complete,” and “the best.” They are the same marketing strategies that have been working for the pet food industry, but these strategies do not work for our animals.
Avian pelleted diets are basically grains like corn and wheat, seeds like sunflower, and peanuts. Because most pellets are cooked at a high heat (as kibbled dog and cat food) most of the vitamins and minerals, plus other essential nutrients like enzymes, are destroyed. In order to balance the diet, these are added back in the form of synthesized supplements…. essentially a multivitamin. But what we’re told is that this a scientifically balanced diet. I ask how this can be. We don’t feed ourselves like this, so I don’t understand why we can feed parrots this way. Parrots have such a range of diets, yet we are told that health is guaranteed if you feed such-and-such pelleted diets. Yet, avian vets are starting to diagnose companion birds with kidney disease, and this is very much like what we see in many dogs and especially cats being diagnosed with kidney disease at the ripe young age of seven years old. It’s a good thing Hill’s Science Diet makes those prescription formulas for when their regular adult diet causes kidney disease, so your vet can prescribe Hill’s prescription renal diet.
Because of all the years parrots have been fed seed-only diets, we know what the problems are. A seed-only diet is deficient in some essential vitamins and minerals which causes problems like hypovitaminosis A, hypocalcemia, and an assortment of liver diseases. We’re all familiar with fatty liver disease in parrots who eat a seed diet, and this is caused by the high fat content in seeds, peanuts and nuts. But there’s also other liver problems, mainly toxicity of the liver and cirrhosis. The oils in fats, no matter how good for you, can become health issues if not stored properly. The fats/oils in parrot seed mixtures can easily go bad, called rancid, from improper storage (for more reading, “Health Effects of Rancid Oil“). This would include heat and light, to which many pet foods are subjected. Imagine the storage in warehouses from manufacturer, to wholesaler and then to retailer. Imagine the heat in storage areas, and on delivery trucks. Add in that there are no real regulations for pet food, and especially bird food, and you’re probably dealing with an inferior product from the start.
I’m not saying that all pet food companies have bad food, but it certainly should make consumers think about a company’s first priority. A superior product will cost more, and many pet food consumers are just not willing to pay the extra money. What would be ideal is if we could all make our own informed decisions, but that would mean many of these companies disclosing their practices, and until they are forced to, I don’t think they will.