Speaking For Parrots

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Parrots, Incorporated: The Big Business of Pet Food

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:

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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.

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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.

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10 comments on “Parrots, Incorporated: The Big Business of Pet Food

  1. Sandy Lender
    May 19, 2013

    Bravo. A couple of years ago, when I was switching my sun conure off Kaytee Exact, I was told not to mix pelleted diets because I’d end up over-providing one vitamin or another. I prefer the idea of reading labels, mixing what provides the best for my species, and supplementing with the fresh things I make in the kitchen. Now, what’s a shame is that not all parrot owners read this with the same paranoia that I do…we should all take this stuff to heart.

    • Shari Mirojnick
      May 19, 2013

      I used to hear that, too. Another thing I found interesting on Shelly Najjar’s blog, Nutrition Nuts and Bolts was about antioxidants. She recommends eating foods high in antioxidants, like dark leafy greens to fight the effects of oxidized, ie, rancid fats. Dr. Harrison, after his pelleted diet had been on the market for several years, announced that a complete diet consisted of HBD and dark leafy greens. Considering there are no preservatives in his diets, it makes you wonder.

  2. Shelly Najjar
    May 19, 2013

    Thanks for linking to my blog. 🙂

    • Shari Mirojnick
      May 19, 2013

      Thank you, Shelly for such an interesting post. I will be following you.

  3. Julie Hamilton
    January 15, 2014

    Perfect sense!

  4. Julie Hamilton
    January 16, 2014

    Antioxidants are essential. Not enough emphasis on them.

  5. xoxfrompnw
    October 15, 2016

    Loved this post and wanted to contribute some insight. The recommendation for a dog to slowly change foods is preventative advice ‘just in case’ your dog gets an upset stomach. This is because some dog foods contain ingredients, additives, or specific dietary compounds that could shock their system. But this isn’t true for all dogs. For example, by Pomeranian can eat a multitude of different things and unless extremely greasy or fruity she never gets diarrhea. Our golden retriever can eat a few bites of a type of dog food or human food and get the shits for days. I feed my dogs human grade food and bush their teeth. This is a huge industry trick!!! Do not buy Greenies as they can make your dog sick if they have a couple too many. I brush my dogs teeth every other day and the days I don’t they get a frozen raw marrow bone to strengthen their teeth and gums. I believe that dogs should eat a healthy balance of human grade food if they choose to feed a kibble based diet. And TBH…unless you’re paying $60 for a bag of dog food…you’re probably buying awful dog food. Science Diet is not that great and veterinarians have contracts with them to promote them. That “Vet Recommended” slogan should actually say “Vet Bribed”

    • Shari Mirojnick
      October 15, 2016

      Thank you for saying this, because it tells me I should be more specific. I had to reread the post, and I didn’t mean to imply that every dog will get gastro-upset when changing food. I also should mention that certain breeds, eg, pit bulls, have sensitive stomachs.

      However, over the years I’ve been involved in selling dog, cat and bird food to the public. I’ve worked in small, boutique stores, as well as a vet tech for vets who sold better foods (not Hills, in particular). As the person who talks to clients, I get their accounts of how diet and supplementation goes, and adjust accordingly (this is pretty specific with regard to mammals). Overwhelmingly (and of course this is anecdotal, as there is little objective literature on the subject), if the dog was on an inferior diet, the chance of stomach upset was great. It’s not until the gut is repaired from all the bad food that they are then able to tolerate change. My guess is that it’s because all those indigestible ingredients in so many foods strips away the things in the gut that make healthy absorption. When food isn’t properly metabolized, it will pass through undigested and upset the system. And since much of the immunity is found in the intestinal tract, this lack of digestion can also trigger skin/ear/dental problems, ie, a poor immune response. My dogs eat a raw diet (generally), and I can switch protein sources and brands at will. I don’t think it’s because they have, or had, good stomachs, but healthy ones. For some dogs, just the change (slowly, if needed) to a healthy diet is all they need to get their gut back, but many will need supplementation, and what kind depends on the individual.

      I’m stealing “Vet Bribed.” 😉

  6. Csilla
    November 29, 2016

    I have been kicked out from many parrot groups because I cited the same problems when it comes to feeding pellets. People love convenient food and feel good about pellets thinking it’s a balanced diet for them. So easy to just throw that in the bowl and not worry about chopping up veggies, fruits, etc. which takes effort. People can barely feed themselves health…that is why junk food companies thrive…how do we expect them to feed their pets well them? 😦

    • Shari Mirojnick
      November 30, 2016

      I guess we just keep up with getting out there info, and hope it reaches over person. Yes, there are many people who just want convenience, but some who only know what the industry is telling them. (We should start our own group of people who get kicked out of groups 😜)

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This entry was posted on May 19, 2013 by .