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is cheese bad for parrots?

Can Parrots Eat Cheese? (Lactose Intolerance + Dairy)

Last Updated on January 2, 2024 by Carrie Stephens

Some parrots like the rich, creamy taste of cheese. If a parrot smells cheese, it might squawk to tell you it would like to partake. However, cheese (cooked or uncooked) consumption should be limited.

Parrots don’t have lactase to process lactose, an enzyme in cheese, milk, and other dairy products. Lactose is processed poorly by birds’ digestive systems, leading to stomach upsets, gassiness, and diarrhea.

Most parrots can safely eat a small amount of cheese. It’s a good source of protein, calcium, zinc, and vitamins A, B12, D, and K. However, cheese is high in saturated fat and calories.

Risks And Benefits of Giving Parrots Cheese

Despite its beneficial nutrients, it’s better to avoid feeding parrots cheese. If a parrot gets diarrhea (watery feces), you shouldn’t give them cheese and other dairy products.

Unsaturated Fats

Cheese contains high amounts of saturated fat that raises LDL cholesterol levels.

Also, too much dietary fat leads to weight gain. MSD Veterinary Manual describes how a high-fat diet is directly linked to obesity and health problems in parrots.

While a small amount of healthy fat is essential, too much bad fat can cause the following issues:

  • Cardiovascular disease.
  • Type 2 diabetes.
  • Cancer.
  • Degenerative joint conditions like arthritis.
  • Fatty liver disease.
  • Tiredness and lethargy.
  • Digestive problems.

Saturated fat can coat a parrot’s organs, preventing them from functioning.

Lactose Intolerance

Parrots are lactose-intolerant because they hatch from an egg and consume regurgitated food.

Because parrots aren’t nursing animals, they don’t produce lactase, the enzyme responsible for breaking down the lactose in cheese, milk, cream, and other dairy products.

So, parrots can develop an allergic reaction or obstructive disease from eating cheese and are also vulnerable to secondary bacterial and fungal infections.

If a parrot consumes cheese, it may experience gastric distress like diarrhea.

is cheese good for parrots?

Salt (Sodium)

Parrots like salty food due to its flavor, but it’s not good for their health. Too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure (hypertension), heart failure, stroke, kidney problems, and fluid retention.

Bacteria

Most cheeses undergo fermentation, during which they can accumulate bacteria. While uncommon, a parrot can become unwell if it consumes cheese that harbors bacteria.

Signs of infection are when a parrot produces watery, foul-smelling stools and grows sluggish.

Additives And Preservatives

Additives and preservatives are included in cheeses to keep them on the shelves longer. For example, processed sliced cheese is unhealthy for parrots.

Calcium

Calcium is essential for parrots, but many don’t get enough of this mineral.

African greys and macaws need more calcium because they’re larger parrots. Egg-laying birds also require more calcium to ensure their eggshells are strong and healthy.

Calcium is responsible for strong bones, muscle regulation, and nerve transmission. Without sufficient calcium, parrots can experience the following:

  • Poor eggshell formation.
  • Hypocalcemia.
  • Feather plucking.
  • Heart disorders.
  • High cholesterol.
  • Muscular pain and contractions.
  • Lack of coordination.

Other good calcium sources are sugarcane, cuttlebone, and ground eggshells.

Protein

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, allowing for the growth and repair of cells and tissues. Cheese is a complete protein source, containing all 9 essential amino acids.

The table below has a breakdown of the protein content of popular cheeses:

Type of CheeseProtein (Per 100 Grams)
Cottage cheese15.4 grams
Cream cheese8.2 grams
Brie18.6 grams
Edam27.5 grams
Swiss cheese28.4 grams
Parmesan35.1 grams
Gloucester25 grams
Cheddar25 grams
Mozzarella28 grams
Gouda25 grams

Vitamin A

Vitamin A (retinol) is needed for eye health, bone growth, and healthy secretory glands.

Niles Animal Hospital explains that parrots experience more severe respiratory and sinus infections, scaly, flaky feet, and skin thickening without sufficient vitamin A.

The signs of a vitamin A deficiently include the following:

  • A white plaque on the roof of the mouth.
  • Excessive oral mucus.
  • Watery eyes.
  • Sneezing.
  • Coughing.
  • Abscesses and legions in the oral cavity.
  • Fading feather colors.
  • Failure of young birds to gain weight.
  • Low hatchability rates.
  • High hatching mortality.

Parrots can get vitamin A from leafy green vegetables like sweet potatoes, carrots, and bell peppers.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is essential for brain and nerve function. If a parrot deficient in vitamin B12 experiences blood loss, it can become anemic.

Many parrots are deficient in B12 because their owners put them on a seed-only diet, which has low levels of B12. A small amount of cheese adds vitamin B12 to a parrot’s diet.

However, parrots can get vitamin B12 from eating some meat and fish.

Vitamin K

Parrots need vitamin K for bone health and eggshells. Without it, hatching mortality is increased.

Vitamin K also promotes the blood clotting process. A lack of vitamin K causes excessive bleeding that won’t stop, even when the cut or injury is only small.

Parrots can experience internal hemorrhages if they’ve been deficient in vitamin K for a long time.

Good sources of vitamin K include lettuce and turnip greens.

Minerals

Cheese contains zinc, phosphorous, and riboflavin.

Zinc helps produce insulin and allows vitamin A to function. It also improves feather quality, molting, and cartilage/bone development.

Phosphorous is necessary for tissue growth, maintenance, and repair. A phosphorus deficiency can lead to anemia, appetite loss, coordination issues, and muscle weakness.

Riboflavin supports energy production and the formation of healthy red blood cells.

can you give parrots cheese?

Parrots Shouldn’t Eat Cottage Cheese

Cottage cheese (and all other white cheeses) can cause proventriculitis and secondary bacterial and fungal infections. Proventriculitis is also responsible for severe nervous disorders and digestive dysfunction after destroying the nerve fibers.

However, one upside is that cottage cheese contains no lactose, so it’s easier for parrots to digest. While small amounts are likely okay for parrots to eat, it’s not worth the risk. 

Parrots Can Eat Some Swiss Cheese

Swiss cheese is lower in fat and sodium than other cheeses but high in vitamin A and calcium. So, it’s among the healthier cheeses to feed parrots.

Whether parrots enjoy the taste comes down to preference.

Parrots Should Avoid Mozzarella Cheese

Mozzarella requires surgical removal more often than all other types of cheese. Due to its high gum content, it becomes obstructed in the intestinal tract.

Even small, bite-sized pieces can be a problem due to cheese’s stringiness, which expands in the gut.

Parrots Shouldn’t Be Fed String Cheese

Like mozzarella cheese, string cheese can get stuck in the digestive system.

Some string cheese varieties contain colors and flavors, giving them a bright orange hue. So, scrutinize the ingredients list to ensure it’s free from harmful colorings and additives.

Parrots Can Eat A Little Cheddar Cheese

Cheddar cheese contains lactose, so it’s hard for parrots to digest. It’s also high in LDL cholesterol and fat.

Cheese contains many vitamins and minerals that benefit a parrot’s health. Unfortunately, parrots can’t digest cheese properly because they lack the enzyme lactase to digest lactose.