Dr. Stephanie Lamb, DVM, DIPL ABVP (Avian Practice) with the Arizona Exotic Animal Hospital is an expert in parrot health and nutrition. We recently had a chance to catch up with her and find out more about what parrot owners should consider when planning their companion's diets, and why she likes cold-pressed pellets.
TOP's: You have a long history of working with birds. Have you always been a bird lover? Why?
Lamb: I have been an animal lover since as long as I can remember but I started to gain a love specifically for birds at the age of 7 when we had our first budgerigar. As I got to be around birds more I was fascinated by their amazing and variable personalities. A relationship with a bird is different than with other animals. I feel like I can connect with them on such a personal level, almost the same way I connect with the people I love. I also love birds for the diversity of species that are out there. With birds there is always something more to learn and you can never get bored.
TOP's: What makes for good parrot nutrition?
Lamb: A balanced diet is EXTREMELY important for parrots. Without a balanced diet various problems can occur. For example, many people know that too much fat in the diet can lead to obesity, liver problems, may be associated with the development of heart disease, and it can aggravate arthritis and bumblefoot problems. But fats are not all bad and they are needed as an energy storage, are required to make up the structure of cell walls and have very important cellular signaling functions. Certain fats are essential and lacking them can result in poor growth, impair immune system function and also lead to a poor nervous system. When it comes to different nutrients like proteins it has been found that too much protein can cause fatty changes to the liver in cockatiels. On the contrary to that, too little protein will result in weight loss, changes to feather structure and even effect the immune system. For most nutrients there are problems with excesses and problems with deficiencies. The important thing is to find a balance between these nutrients so the body is able to function optimally. Good parrot nutrition is all about a balanced diet. Too much or too little of one thing isn't great and in order to achieve the correct balance you have to know what your individual bird needs and what foods can provide these appropriate nutrients.
TOP's: What should parrot owners consider the number one priority when planning their birds' diets?
Lamb: Parrot owners need to consider their individual parrots' needs as the number one priority. I will often hear people say things like, "all birds need X, Y or Z in the diet" or "this particular ingredient is bad and should be eliminated from the diet." Just as we humans have different and individual dietary needs so do birds. What may be good for one bird may not be as important for another. Additionally, you will hear people say a particular diet is appropriate for all different types of birds. The reality is, although a particular diet may supply certain nutrients that many birds require, not all individuals may have the exact same needs. Age, sex, reproductive status, underlying disorders, and species are just some of the variables that need to be considered for each and every bird. Even two birds of the same species in the same household may have slightly different needs.
TOP's: What types of ailments do you see most often with your parrot patients?
Lamb: Common problems we see include liver problems, cardiac disorders, reproductive problems, gastrointestinal infections and respiratory issues. Many of these problems can have a basis in nutrition or be effected by nutrition adjustments to some degree. An appropriate and balanced diet is often a key part to preventing, resolving or helping to manage the issue.
TOP's: How harmful can ingredients like artificial colors, sugar, corn, gelatin, etc. be to a bird's health?
Lamb: This is honestly a hard question for me to answer. As a veterinarian, we are taught to refrain from immediate judgement and use the scientific method to help determine if something is harmful or not. The reality is we don't have many studies in pet birds to let us know how these things might negatively (or positively for that matter) effect them. I would have to say from an anechdotal perspective I have seen some birds have what appears to be a sensitivity to artificial colors. Things like sugar and corn in and of themselves are not necessarily bad, it's just that they really probably aren't necessary to be added to our pet birds' diets. With both of these being simple carbohydrates they are easily digested, absorbed and used as an energy source. With the relatively sedentary life style that our pet birds are afforded in captivity compared to their wild counterparts, they probably don't need a lot of simple carbohydrates. Rather, maybe the carbohydrates that they get in their diet should require more work to obtain (such as by having to rip through a hard outer coating of a fruit to obtain the pulp inside) or be a slightly more complex carbohydrate. Again though, our diets for parrots are based off of minimal studies on parrots and more on information we have available for chickens. When it comes to chickens, corn has been shown to be a good source for simple carbohydrates. If you are interested in growing a chicken to obtain a good body weight for market or to allow a hen to be more productive in making eggs then corn may be an ingredient you want. However, if your goal is to have long term health for a full life in your bird, then maybe this nutrient isn't the right one. Simply put, the reality is we need more information on the individual dietary needs of parrot species that allow for good long term health.
TOP's: OK, one bonus question. Why do you use TOP's Parrot Food and recommend it to your patients?
Lamb: I use TOP's because I like the whole food ingredients. These ingredients are supplying various nutrients in their natural state. Additionally, with the way the processing involves being cold pressed this should mean that many of these nutrients are maintained and not damaged.
I do recommend parrot owners try TOP's with their birds for the same reasons I have used it as part of a balanced diet for my own birds. The ingredients that are used, the fact that the items are all whole foods and the processing. When used in conjunction with other dietary items it can be part of creating that balanced diet an individual parrot needs.