The Dangers of Grit in a Parrot’s Diet

By Sybil Erden, Founder – November, 2004

Many birds arrive at The Oasis with a box filled with seed, pellets, toys… the things the bird had used in their former home.

Homer is a Citron cockatoo who arrived with, among other things, a bag of grit. Grit is generally a calcium fortified sand, rock and/or shell mix. Grit is an important aid in helping certain birds digest food but NOT parrots!!

Birds such as finches and canaries (Passerines) and even chickens, must have access to grit or sand to help digest seed, as their system does not have the powerful muscles that the parrot”s (Psittacines) system has. Passerines also have a larger opening to pass these non-digestable particles out into the intestine. Parrots have strong muscles to grind their foods internally, but a small exit opening, so that rocks, sand and shell can remain trapped within the bird.

Homer”s blood tests prior to his arrival at The Oasis six months ago appeared normal. However, we noticed he displayed faint neurological problems. His neurological problems intensified over time. A few days ago it was obvious something was seriously wrong and we realized that he had begun to lose weight and was quite thin. We immediately took him to our veterinarian in Phoenix, Dr. Todd Driggers who did new bloodwork on him and took x-rays of the sick bird. The diagnosis was not good. Homer, fed this long-term diet of grit, is impacted …

He cannot get enough nourishment to sustain himself. Food is not properly digested. He cannot even get enough fluids to keep his kidneys functioning properly. As his kidneys became involved, and high uric acid levels were released, calcium began to be deposited throughout his body, attaching to his spine, fusing vertebrae.

Homer is in foster care at our Veterinarian”s office, on life supporting gavage feedings and fluids. We do not know what his prognosis is at this time; i.e., we are not sure whether the grit will pass through and the kidneys will regain full use.
Homer may die ….

We ask you to take note! If you are feeding your parrots grit, throw it away. If your bird – including little ones like Parakeets and Conures – no matter what the “pet store” told you – has been on this diet for any sustained period, please take him to your avian Veterinarian for an exam and, if necessary, an x-ray.

The life you save may be the life of the bird you love!