Converting Your Bird to a Healthy Pelleted Diet
Compiled by… Dr. Maxwell Conn, DVM
Seed diets are deficient in most major nutrients and contain excessive fat for the pet bird. Formulated Diets (extruded, pellets, crumbles etc) are designed in an attempt to provide a balanced diet to your bird much like commercially prepared dog and cat foods.
It is important to note that a conversion should only be started with a bird that is not underweight and is not ill. Consult with your veterinarian if you are uncertain if it is best to convert your bird at this time.
You can offer some of the new foods as a side item event to an ill or underweight bird. Small birds like budgies, can starve to death with food in the cage if they do not eat the food. So if the bird does not eat put the bird back on the original diet immediately.
Discuss with your avian veterinarian what body weights are appropriate for your bird while converting the diet. If you have not already, schedule an appointment with your avian veterinarian to discuss what pellets are best for your bird, and how you should approach switching the diet. You should also have a general health exam at this time to decide if your bird is healthy enough to undergo a diet change.
Purchase an accurate gram scale and learn how to use it correctly.
Option #1 (for conversion):
Target percentage of the diet is 75-80% pellets. The key to conversion is initially limiting the seed quantity available to your bird to one-half of what the bird will eat per day. To find out how much seeds are eaten in one day:
- Measure, in teaspoons or tablespoons quantity of seed mix you place in clean cage first thing in the morning. All Seeds (including millet spray and seed trees) MUST be included in your measurement!
- The next morning (24 hours later) measure, in teaspoons or tablespoons the quantity of seed mix, which is left uneaten (include un hulled seeds that have been dropped to the ground).
- Subtract remainder from the initial quantity to determine the actual amount of seed your bird eats in 24 hours.
- Start feeding only one half of the calculated amount of seed to your bird on a daily basis. Place an equal quantity of the new formulated diet (Zupreem, Harrison’s, Pretty Bird, Rowdybush, etc.) in the same bowl.
- Gradually, over a number of days, decrease the seed percentage. Worried your bird isn’t eating enough? We suggest purchasing an inexpensive “perch equipped” gram scale to track your birds weight. Record the initial weight and then weigh your bird every morning. During conversion, a 5% weight loss is ok. A 10% weight loss, except with obese birds, is excessive over 2-3 weeks, and your veterinarian should be consulted. Most birds on formulated diets will tend to be a little leaner, due to a lower fat diet. They will, however, continue to have a regular dropping output, containing both green feces and white urates (kidney waste).
Weaning your pet bird off seed can be a frustrating experience. Just like any child, your pet may not readily switch from the “Twinkie and M&M” seed diet to a healthy and nutritious pellet diet. DO NOT DESPAIR! There are ways to ‘ease’ your pet into a healthier diet by gradually decreasing the number of seeds your bird has access to over a period of time. While you are decreasing the seeds, you will offer good quality pellets in a SEPARATE dish at all times. It is also worth grinding up some pelleted diet and sprinkling it on top of the seeds during the transition. This helps introduce your bird to the new taste. If you must offer table foods, do so at the family table only (see more below).
The first step is to decide how long you want your bird’s transition to be. We recommend 30-60 days. This may seem like a long time, but rapid dietary changes can be very stressful. The longer the transition time, the easier it will be on your pet. Do consider however, that the sooner your pet is on a better diet, the sooner he/she will reap the benefits of good nutrition. Taking 120 days to transition your bird is too long.
Next, find out EXACTLY how much of the seed your pet is eating in a day. Measure the quantity of seeds you place in the cage each day in teaspoons or cc’s and write it down. Ask your veterinarian for some syringe barrels, they make good cubic centimeter (CC’s) measuring devices. One CC is one fifth of a teaspoon and is a very good unit for this project. At the end of the day subtract the amount of spilled and uneaten seeds from what you wrote down in the morning. This tells you the accurate volume of seeds the bird eats in a day. Do this for several days until you have an accurate idea of your pet’s Actual consumption. This is the quantity you will offer on the initial day of the program.
Now calculate the amount of seeds you will decrease by each day. Take the amount of seeds eaten in one day and divide that number by the number of days you’ve chosen as your transition period. You can adjust the number of days to make the calculation a little easier. If the amount is easily divided by 30, great, but if some slightly larger number of days works better, go for it! For example, if the patient eats 6 ¾ teaspoons, that’s 34CC’s a day, so set up a 34 day plan.
Begin the seed reduction program by offering only the amount of seeds previously eaten in one average day (see your results above) and then decrease each day thereafter by the amount you calculate. So as in the example above, if the patient eats 34CC’s a day, set up a 34 day plan.
Day 1, 34 CC’s
Day 2, 33 CC’s
Day 3, 32 CC’s
…and so on, until they reached zero! (34 days in this example!) You can pre-measure the seeds and store them for each day of the program in an ice cube tray or egg carton.
In the meantime, offer good, complete pelleted foods in new feed dish locations. You can mix the pellets with the measured daily quantity of seeds, but the pellets tend to get tossed out of the dish. This makes a bigger mess for you and just wastes the pellets. It also makes it much more difficult to monitor whether your bird is beginning to eat the pellets. Examples of good pelleted diets include “Lafeber’s”, “Harrison’s Bird Diets”, “Zu-Preem”, “Roudybush”, and “KT Exact”. Produce, fruits, breads, cereals and other table foods can be offered by family members during the family’s regular mealtime(s), but not placed in the cage. Bring your bird to the breakfast and dinner table with you and share your food, they love it! Do not feed avocado, onion, chocolate, or butter/margarine (these can be toxic to birds)!
If you have an accurate Gram scale with which you can weigh your bird, consider another method;
Weigh the bird in Grams (not Ounces, they are too big. Each Ounce is 28 Grams) 3 or more times daily. Remove the seeds and offer a good balanced avian pelleted diet instead. If the bird loses no more than 2 percent of its body weight, your are done!
If your pet bird loses more than 2% of its weight, let it have its high fat seed diet in small increments until the weight stabilizes. Measure the seed increments carefully by weight (grams) or volume (1/4 teaspoons, cubic centimeters, etc.), and note the daily seed consumption in grams or CC’s. Then start a calculated 5, 10, 20, or 30 day reduction plan as described in option #2 above.
Weigh your bird at the same time every morning for two weeks to establish normal fluctuations in weight. Report any serious fluctuations (10% or more) to your avian veterinarian. ·
Start mixing half pellets and half the regular diet. · Expect your bird to throw the pellets at you, scream, yell, and throw tantrums. Talk to your bird about it’s new diet, they do listen. As the bird starts to eat the pellets, gradually reduce the amount of the regular diet and increase the pellets.
Other Tried and True Tips:
Place a bowl of pellets near the highest perch. Most birds will eat from the highest bowl first.
Let your bird see another bird that is eating pellets. We call this: “birdie see, birdie do”.
Feed the regular diet for 30 minutes in the morning, take it out and replace with pellets for rest of day, then feed regular diet for 30 minutes at night if pellets are not eaten.
Grind up the pellets in a blender, or buy a mash/crumble product, and mix blended millet in the mash. After a few days use less ground millet. Some birds will do it with just the whole millet especially if you use the white-hulled millet from a health food store. The bird has to go through the mash to get the millet. This works well with smaller species such as budgies, lovebirds and cockatiels.
Mix your bird’s favorite fruit into the pellets so the bird gets a mouthful of pellets with its fruit. Mushy fruit works best, as it sticks to the pellets very well. Remove it after 4-6 hours to avoid spoiled food being eaten.
If your bird continues to be leery of the pellets, remove all perches from the cage so the bird has to sit on the food dish.
Try going back to hand feeding a juvenile formula with a syringe and then re-wean to pellets. This should only be done under the guidance of an avian veterinarian.
If you have a bird on pellets put your two birds in the same cage if they tolerate each other. Offer no seeds. At night separate them and if the budgie has not eaten pellets give it seeds.
Find a seed that is less palatable such as hulled white millet from the health food store. Bust the seeds up in a blender with the pellets.
Don’t give up and Don’t starve the bird! This can be monitored by getting the birds weight in grams regularly.
When all else fails- board your bird with your vet and allow them to switch the diet. This is often the best way to switch your bird! Your vet will carefully monitor the birds weight and health. Most birds switch diets very quickly when removed from the “comfort” of home and your vet will have more experience with diet changes. It also takes the stress away from you the owner if you are afraid of adverse health effects from trying to do it yourself.