Ask Lafeber


November 16, 2021


Endless debate about the merits of seeds vs. pellets (as opposed to providing chop which appears less controversial). My tiel is 19 and for the last 3 years has displayed excess thirst and watery droppings but no other symptoms and was raised on both; kidney disease etiology? Appears to be no consensus.


Hi David,

When it comes to nutrition, it is best to follow the advice of Avian Veterinarians and experts who actually have a degree in nutrition. No matter the pet – or even person – there are countless self-proclaimed experts who will debate nutrition to no end – it seems everyone has a theory or a new fad diet. It’s not that these people are wrong, but until proven by science, a theory is just a theory. You can’t take one person’s experiences as proof that their method is the best. Even most Vets have a lot to learn about nutrition – in fact there is a Nutrition specialty they can now earn, much like becoming board certified in Avian medicine. However, there are many Avian Vets who have studied nutrition and work with nutritionists, because so many issues with pet birds are caused by poor nutrition. And their studies are based on decades-long research on flocks of captive parrots, which are still ongoing. This means that there are and will be new advances in Avian nutrition, and companies change diets based on new findings. When you consider how many species of parrots there are all over the world, clearly they do not eat the same foods. But there are enough similarities in their needs that food makers have been able to develop diets that do provide the nutrition that works well for most species. So the short answer to any nutrition debate is that most Vets and Nutritionists recommend that 80% of the daily diet consist of a nutritionally balanced staple based on science and not on theory. This generally means a high quality pellet or a food like our foraging diets, which are basically a pre-pellet – the same ingredients as pellets, but they have not been ground up and pelleted or extruded.

What about seeds versus pellets? There truly should have never been a debate over this. Pellets were developed as a nutritionally balanced alternative to seed mixes. Seed mixes were long supplemented by either coating the seeds with vitamins or adding vitamins to the water. The problem is, parrots remove the hull from seeds, so the vitamins are lost with the hull. Parrots have a dry mouth, so the dry vitamins remain on the hull. And parrots do not drink enough water for vitamins to be effective if only dosed in the water, and many vitamins quickly lose stability in water. So pellets were made by grinding the seeds along with grains and other ingredients and adding additional nutrients. Therefore, nearly all pellets are made from seeds. But some companies promoted and continue to promote pellets as a seed alternative and either imply or come right out and say seeds are unhealthy and fatty. Seeds actually are neither. Fresh seeds can be packed with nutrients and the fat content is not excessive. However, most seed mixes do not contain fresh seeds. Parrots eat to satisfy their nutritional needs, so when eating loose seeds, they overeat because they are not satisfied. Thus, the “seeds are fatty” myth. In the case of our foraging diets, we use fresh, hulled seeds combined with other whole ingredients and coated with a binder which provides balanced nutrition in every bite. While some people, and even some Vets, feel that this allows the birds to selectively eat – pick only their favorite bits from each berry or cake – the binder is equally distributed so the bird gets the full nutritional benefit even if he won’t eat all of the berry or cake. The fact is, many parrot species are granivores, meaning their natural diet contains a lot of seeds and grains. Not only are the whole seeds more natural for them, they are important for the digestive tract. We did a webinar last year where Dr. Lafeber describes why the whole seed going through the system helps with their digestive health. I will provide the link to our nutrition webinars, and that webinar is on the playlist.

Now to address CHOP diets. They are indeed controversial, and most Vets will warn against offering them as the primary diet. Why would a fresh diet not be the best? Because fresh foods begin to lose their nutrients from the moment they are harvested. In fact, produce that is flash frozen within minutes of harvest contains more nutrients than fresh produce at your local market. Short of growing all of your own food, there is no way to be sure of the nutritional value of fresh produce since it can vary significantly depending on where and how it is grown, and when and how it is harvested and stored before being sold. The other concern with feeding a mostly fresh diet is digestive health. Parrots are not intended to eat a mostly soft diet, with the exception of a few species. Parrots have a very muscular ventriculous, and food goes through two other organs before reaching that point. Each step of the digestive system is important, and when fed a mostly soft diet, there is concern for their digestive health since all of the functions are not being utilized. At most, CHOP should be offered as 20% of a parrot’s daily diet. The 80/20 percentage has been successful in research groups of parrots, so this is the recommendation.

As for your cockatiel – congratulations on 19 years! He is a senior, and has already lived longer than the average cockatiel these days. As Dr. Lamb mentioned, the color mutations along with too much inbreeding has caused the average life span to be shorter, but some still defy the odd. Generally it will be a normal Grey cockatiel, and many of those are still living into their 20’s and early 30’s. No matter how well you feed and care for your bird, you can keep age related issues from happening at some point. Kidney disease is a common age related issue, but diabetes is actually fairly common in cockatiels. I’m not sure if you have taken him to an Avian Vet, but both disorders can be treated and can add years to his life. I would highly recommend a Vet check if he isn’t already under Vet care. We do make a Senior bird diet, and we have a lot of customers who report that their senior cockatiels have seen improvement in common age-related issues once they changed them to the senior diet. So this is something else you might want to try your bird on. As I mentioned, we have had several nutrition webinars, so here is the link to that playlist:

Thank you for asking Lafeber.


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