By Dr. Laurie Hess, DVM, Diplomate ABVP (Avian Practice)
Just like us, birds love to eat treats. Whether you are rewarding your bird for performing trained behaviors or just giving him a little extra love, a treat can help you both build strong bonds. There are a variety of different foods that can be given as treats, as well as bird-specific treats like ZuPreem Real Rewards®, but it is important to consider your bird’s health when treating him. It can be difficult to know when to treat, how much and what to feed. Check out these tips to know the best practices for treating your bird.
What kind of treats should I give my bird?
Not all treats are alike, and some are healthier than others. The best way to identify what treats are best for your bird and how much of them to feed is to talk with your veterinarian. In general, vegetables and fruits are a good option, as many are rich in vitamin A, which is essential for a bird’s diet. Some options include carrots, bell peppers, tomatoes, leafy greens, as well as snap peas, broccoli and string beans, which are easily held by most birds and simple to munch on. Small amounts of fruit, such as berries, grapes and pieces of melon, mango, papaya, apple and pear are also a good option for birds. Bird-specific treats found in pet stores are another option. ZuPreem Real Rewards treats offer four varieties for all species of pet birds, including Trail Mix, Tropical Mix, Orchard Mix and Garden Mix. Real Rewards are a mix of fruits, vegetables and nuts that provide a healthy snack for your pet bird. High-fat, high-salt items, such as chips, pretzels and pizza are not appropriate for birds and should be avoided. Some foods, such as those containing artificial sweeteners, alcohol, chocolate and caffeine may be toxic to birds and should never be given as treats. Seed, in general, is high in fat and low in nutrients, which is why it should only be offered as an occasional treat, if at all.
How many treats should I give?
The key to providing healthy nutrition for pet birds is to ensure that at least 60 percent of their diet is made up of nutritionally complete and balanced pellets. Up to another 30 percent can be comprised of fresh vegetables and fruit, with the remaining 10 percent containing treats such as ZuPreem Real Rewards or less nutritious options like unsalted nuts, popcorn, crackers or small bites of bread and limited quantities of seed.
When should I treat my bird?
Before you provide your bird with treats, it is important that he has eaten his pellets – the staple of his diet that contains all the nutrients he needs to stay healthy. You shouldn’t offer treats before he eats pellets, or he may fill up on treats and not want to eat pellets. Many birds are social and look forward to eating special treats with their owners at a predictable time each day. If your bird likes to eat with you, you can also leave pellets in your bird’s cage all day, so that he can graze on them, and save the treats until dinner time. Then he can eat them in your company.
How do I avoid overfeeding?
Most pet birds spend much of their time each day sitting in their cages, expending very little energy and eating out of boredom. This behavior predisposes them to becoming overweight. As a result, it’s critical that bird owners pay attention to how much food they offer their pets and follow the advice of their veterinarians regarding the quantities of pellets, produce and treats they offer. How much any particular bird should be given depends on his age, activity level and reproductive status. Growing, breeding and nursing birds generally require more calories each day.
Treats as rewards and bonding experiences
Just like humans, birds will work hard to get treats, which is why they are excellent rewards for training. Find foods that your bird loves and offer them as rewards during behavior training. If you only give him those foods during training, he is likely to be more motivated to learn new behaviors. His favorite treats can also be used to help with bonding. Many birds are initially afraid of people’s hands, however, pairing the sight of you and your hand with receiving a treat will build your bird’s trust and encourage him to interact with you to get a treat. Sometimes birds are tired or not hungry and won’t obey commands, even for their favorite foods. The key is to be patient and let your bird take the lead. If your bird seems disinterested or irritable, stop and try again later. Even successful training sessions should be kept short – no more than five to ten minutes once or twice a day. Training should be fun for both you and your bird.