Salt in Bird Diet

I recently got a question about bird diets and what they can/should eat.

This question came from a Macaw owner, who read that you never give your birds “human snacks” suck as potato chips, French fries, or other highly salted foods. They were told that salt is extremely toxic to birds and could kill them. Was that true?

Well, my first thought was no, because if it were true I would have a whole lot of dead birds lying around our aviary. We always share our snacks with them, including salty snacks. I’m not talking about dumping a sack of chips into their food dish…just an occasional chip or two.

I thought about it some more……if salt kills birds how do sea birds that live around oceans survive? Obviously someone is wrong here.

And nearly every animal on earth needs salt! Why would such a vital mineral be highly toxic to birds?

I took a careful look at the formulated food products available for birds, and sure enough, right there in the ingredients is Natural Trace Mineral Salt and Sodium Selenite. Sodium Selenite is added to many poulty foods to promote growth and prevent selenium deficiency disease. But both of these salts are added to Harrison’s food diet, and this (it seems) is the de-facto diet to feed recommended by many bird enthusiasts.

So ok….salt is good, right?

SALT GLANDS

Sea birds have evolved with a digestive system that combines their kidneys, GI tract, and special salt glands to regulate the amount of salt in their body. Their system is designed to maintain a total body fluid homeostasis, which allows them to live off the high sea salt diet native to their environment. Unfortunately, this is not the case with most tropical birds. Their system is dependant on their kidneys to remove any excess salt in their system. Too much salt will also increase the urination, resulting in hydration problems.

Well hey! That’s the same problem humans have, isn’t it? If you eat too much salty foods, your body craves for fluids, and your urination increase dramatically! But salt doesn’t kill humans….?

The problem lies with the birds kidneys, and their inability to produce hypertonic urine (urine with lots of sodium). In other words, they have more difficulty removing high amounts of salt, unlike Sea Birds which accomplish this with their salt glands. Therefore, too much salt will quickly dehydrate a bird.

So OK, am I now saying salt is bad? No!

Any time you eat a diet high in salt or sugar, you are going to have health problems. The same goes for birds! Too much will cause health issues, as I just discussed…..but not enough salt will cause a number of deficiencies also! A diet with little sodium will result in loss of weight, iodine deficiencies, and (for breeders) lower egg production and a higher loss in egg size and growth. There are also a number of skin diseases traced to salt deficiencies.

The problems begin when you start feeding diets with excessive amounts of salt! But what is “excessive”. Unfortunately, the folks sounding the warning bell are using terribly unrealistic diets. They point to work done in Illinois and Maryland, where studies were done on birds being fed diets containing 4% salt! Well Holy Cow! What do you expect from that sort of diet!!!

So the warnings went out…bird lovers heard the sirens and assumed that too much salt means “all salt” and they cut back on loads of food items. Bread? Well of course…we use salt to make bread. So now all bread products are bad. Processed food? Yup, more salt…gotta stop giving my birds that too!

RELAX

You can feed your bird salty items without worrying about them dropping dead in their cage. Just keep in mind that heavily salted items must be given only occasionally.

If you gave your bird 3-4 potato chips, the salt content he is receiving is equivalent to a human eating 2 teaspoons of salt. Obviously any more then that would begin to have some serious dehydration problems. But that small amount isn’t going to hurt your bird.

It’s like I preach over and over…birds have the exact same nutritional requirements as humans do. You obviously are not going to eat 4-5 bags of potato chips or fatty snacks…but a small bowl is just fine. Therefore, 2-3 snack chips or crackers will not cause your bird problems either. And they will enjoy their occasional treat!

Use your common sense! Quit listening to these doomsday scientists who run test designed to find something wrong with any product. Once you look at the actual test results, and get past the doomsday news flashes, you will relax and give your birds their snacks.

I know that if I wanted to start a birdy-riot in my aviary, the sure way to do it would be to stop putting salt on their popcorn!

Related posts:

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  3. Parrot Diet – Are Pellet Food Diets Safe?
  4. 10 Amazing Tips For Living With A Feathered Friend
  5. Never Had A Bird, But Would Love To Get One!

Comments

10 responses to “Salt in Bird Diet”

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  1. penni says:

    Hi, I adopted a Sun Conure a couple of weeks ago that has been on nothing but a sun flower seed diet. I am giving him some antibiotics in his water and have taken the seeds away completley. I now am giving him the Zupreem. The Avian Maintenance diet. Fruit blend flavor. Its now been a couple of days and I cant seem to get him to eat it. He is very kranky! The first few days I was beginning to touch him just a little and now he seems like he is mad at the world!!! I have been fixing him some scrambled eggs everyday to keep him eating something. The white spots in his mouth are gone but he is still having diarreha. Any suggestions on how to get him to eat his new food would be greatley appreciated. I raised a son, I thought taking care of this bird would be a breeze and I am finding it to be a big challenge. Thank you very much,
    Penni

  2. Sapphyre Cross says:

    Did a Vet put him on Antibiotics? or is that something you got at the store? I can not stress enough about why it could be dangerous to your bird to buy over the counter medications.
    As you know a diet of just Sunflower Seeds is a bad for the bird. They are more of a narcotic then a healthy diet.

    You can’t just take away the food that it has been used to eating most its life, you will have a really angry bird. What you need to do is give him back what he was eating, but first mix it 50/50 with the Zupreem for about a week. Week 2, have 2 separate dishes, one full with the Zupreem, and the other dish with its seed, just put in enough to cover the bottom of the dish.

    We wrote a section in “:The Easy Parrot System” about how to convert your bird to a healthy diet You can buy the book here http://www.thetameparrot.com/cb/

    Since birds can see and smell it is important to us that the food be fun and draws the bird’s interest.

    As for snack foods go sparely with them because you first need to get him on a correct balanced diet.

    All of our Conures love fresh Corn on the cob and especially Apples.
    Once you get him to accept his new diet you will find he will be in a better mood. But you can not just take away what he has been used to eating and expect him to welcome something new. He may rather starve to death first.

    So just take it slow and let him get used to the new changes.

    Sapphyre
    Certified Avian Specialist

  3. christine says:

    I don’t have any pet parrot at home but my friends have. This is a nice article. Thank you for sharing this relevant information!

  4. Joe says:

    Well that takes a load off my mind. I went camping and was eating salted sunflower seeds when a bunch of chickadees came over and started eating out of my hand. I left after 1 day and wondered if I’d hurt the little birds but I guess not.

  5. Lola Lansky says:

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  6. [...] a link from back in 2007 that I've thought did a pretty good job of explaining parrots & salt: Salt in Bird Diet | TheTameParrot.com – Let's Try To Solve Your Parrot Problems One of the problems with un-verifiable information is that you often don't find any scientific [...]

  7. valerie kindle says:

    My cockatiel Prince is now 4. I’ve been mixing salted sunflower seeds with his regular bird food since he was 6 weeks old snd hr is fine.

  8. ami says:

    i havnet had the time [or a ride] to go get new bird food, do you know if the salt content n sunflower seeds meant for humans would be alright for a day or two? (i have a young cockatiel if that makes a difference)

  9. Kaylee says:

    Hello I was wondering if you can bathe a Macaw in salt water? We have our own well so we have salt water and I git thinking is it bad for the bird?

  10. wendy says:

    my amazon blue faced parrot loves a bit of toast with butter on, my partner says not to give it to him … is this a problem? usually i will give him 2 or 3 pieces about 1/2 inch long from the edge with less butter on can i still do this?