Thursday, 3 February 2011

Why Meat Is A No No

I read way too often that people feed their parrots meat. I very much disagree with the idea. There are a few reasons for that.

1. Meat, if not organic, contains residue amounts of antibiotics, hormones and other drugs the farm animals are regularly fed. Humans are quite large and those minute amounts might not do any harm to us, but can anyone say for certain they wouldn't to our birds which are 100% smaller than us?

2. Meat is not just high in protein but it is also high in fat, especially red meat. White meat, like chicken or turkey are often prepared with a large amount of fat additionally to what it already contains. The fat in meat is mainly saturated. Parrots' system is quite accustomed to digesting and procession vegetable fats, but what parrot has ever eaten a cow in the wild? This excess amount of fat is damaging to the birds' arteries and heart. The heart attacks and strokes are on the rise among parrots, especially African Greys. Why take risk?
Photograph by Karen Shaw 

3. Meat is not a natural food for parrots. I hear a lot people say parrots eat insects in the wild, so they consume animal protein and it is only natural to give them meat. But insects and cows are very very different types of animals and their bodies represent very different kinds of protein (and its amount). The bugs have thick keratinous shells, which are a source of calcium, rather than meat, for example. The amount of meat in a bug is miniscule.

4. Protein stimulates hormonal/breeding behaviour in parrots. If you have a lone parrot and there is no way for him/her to vent this behaviour out, it can lead to serious behavioural problems, including feather plucking. Again, why take chances

5. Protein is high in amino acid called methionine, the excess of which has to be processed by the liver and kidneys. These organs are already relatively weak in pet parrots since they have to deal with so many toxins in our environments you really don't want to make it worse for them.
Photograph by Dan

6. Protein is an essential nutrient for healthy muscles, skin, feathers and of course internal organs. Parrots in the wild are very active, they fly for miles in search of foods, fly over from one tree to another, breed, raise youngs, etc. Their protein requirements are probably quite high. Our pet parrots however fly in about 3 meter stretches (compare that to a mile distance in energy expenditure - walk for 3 meters and then walk for a mile and see just how different it feels), they mainly climb about and are supplied with large quantities of food they don't have to do anything about. They really do not require all that extra protein and fat from meat.

7. I have recently read on a parrot forum such argument for meat is that some cockatoos were observed to eat dead animal's bones in the wild. This is a ridiculous argument since bones are not meat. The parrots must have used them as a source of calcium, and not protein. It is quite likely that it was the breeding season too. Our parrots can get all their calcium from their pellets and UV light or direct light exposure will help them to metabolise it properly.

8. And finally the World Health Organisations recommends that people eat red meat no more than 3 times a week for health reasons. To me it says something.

Here is research paper by Dr Debra Mcdonald on protein requirements for parrots, which pretty much says that meat is not good for parrots http://www.drmacs.com/ProteinRequirementsofBirds.pdf
There is a reason why the best parrot pellets don't contain meat - there is no need for it.

When I hear an excuses for giving meat (or in fact any other bad for parrots food) which goes like "my parrot loves meat so much I can't resist giving it", "or when I am having a piece of chicken my parrot screams the house down if I don't give it some meat" or "I want to make my parrots' life as rich as possible so I want to give them everything I am having" or "A little bit once in a while won't harm" I cringe. I don't understand any of those excuses. Would you give your child a piece of lead to play with if he was really really asking for it? Parrots are like children, they can't make informed choices about their diet, but we can and we must be strict about this one of the most important aspects of their lives.
There are so many more health and parrot friendly protein sources to be had - cooked or sprouted pulses or grains, nuts, seeds and of course good quality preferably organic pellets.
I refuse to believe that without that piece of meat your parrot's life will suddenly become boring and unvaried. It just can't be true when there are dozens of varieties of vegetables, leafy greens, fruit, seeds, nuts, dried fruit, herbs, spices available. It is up to you to make it as fun as possible without harming your pet's health.

Here is Digby enjoying his source of protein which is also a source of natural live enzymes, vitamins and minerals with a zero fat content, but plenty of fibre to keep his arteries free of plaque and his heart healthy.


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