The biomolecules needed for bodily functions include carbohydrates, lipids, nucleic acids, and proteins. Not surprisingly, new owners are uncertain how much protein parrots need to stay healthy.
You should limit protein to less than 20% of your parrot’s caloric intake.
High-protein foods that are safe for parrots include cooked eggs, legumes, tofu, feeder insects, lean red meat, cooked poultry, low-mercury seafood, and fish.
Although you should moderate your parrot’s protein intake, this macronutrient is essential for the muscles, feathers, bones, organs, and skin.
Protein also assists the metabolism, oxygen flow within the blood, wound healing, and the immune system. Amino acids, the building blocks of protein, are present in some foods but are missing in others.
The Function of Protein in Parrots
Proteins are involved in chemical processes throughout your parrot’s body.
The leading functions include:
- Physical build (muscles, skin, feathers, organs, bone)
- Chemical processes (metabolism, immune system, energy formation, and wound healing)
According to the Australian Wildlife Rehabilitation Conference Inc., proteins form and grow:
Without proteins, parrots may have:
- Limited mobility
- A sickly appearance
- More sickness and injury
Proteins indirectly impact the immune system as they can be metabolized into hormones and antibodies, and the latter is important for a strong immune system.
These molecules can also assist in:
- Oxygen transportation throughout the blood
- Water regulation
- Wound healing
Best Protein Sources For Parrots
These foods are safe for parrots to consume in moderation and are high in protein:
- Cooked eggs
- Legumes (peas, beans, lentils, etc.)
- Whole grain breads
Vegetables (romaine lettuce, dandelion leaves, green beans, broccoli, spinach, carrot tops, beet greens, squash, carrots, red and green peppers)
Egg whites and egg yolks are good sources of protein for parrots.
Parrots are omnivorous, so lean red meat, cooked poultry, and boneless fish are safe options. As with cooked eggs, if you’re feeding your parrot meat, ensure that you cut these pieces of meat into small, easy-to-swallow chunks.
Proteins are responsible for forming bodily structures and ensuring different chemical processes occur. However, these molecules wouldn’t perform these functions without amino acids.
The 9 essential amino acids for parrots are:
All proteins are constructed from a long chain of amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein.
Foods have different sources of amino acids. For example, according to the UF College of Veterinary Medicine, plant foods lack 2 amino acids: methionine and lysine. So, a vegetarian diet for parrots would be incomplete.
Plant foods can be good protein sources for parrots, such as legumes. However, these are insufficient for the amount of protein that parrots need in their diet.
The meats that parrots are allowed to eat, such as lean red meat and cooked poultry, contain these missing amino acids. Therefore, provide a wide variety of protein sources for your parrot to keep them healthy.
How Does Too Much Protein Affect Parrots?
Protein is a molecule that’s essential for a parrot’s survival. However, excess protein can cause sickness.
Excess dietary protein can lead to:
- Kidney and liver damage
- Decreased bowel movement efficiency
- Altered growth rates of the body
- Bone abnormalities
- Low resistance to colds
When protein is ingested, your parrot’s body breaks it down into amino acids.
Any excess amino acids are converted into energy and stored in the body, and the liver processes these amino acids in complex chemical reactions to break them down further.
When your parrot ingests too much protein, the liver becomes overworked, leading to liver damage. Your parrot’s kidneys will also become overwhelmed.
The kidneys are primarily responsible for filtering and eliminating waste products. Amino acids in overly high levels can cause the kidneys to work harder to remove this surplus.
Certain protein-rich foods, such as cheese and yogurt, can alter their bowel movements and gastrointestinal health if fed in large amounts.
The digestive systems of parrots aren’t good at processing lactose, which is found in dairy products, leading to your parrot producing watery stools.
When Is Extra Protein Necessary?
Excess protein may be necessary for certain stages of your parrot’s life.
Situations that your parrot may need extra protein include:
- During the molting stage
- Living in a colder climate
- As a juvenile parrot
Parrots molt 1-2 times a year, typically during the fall and spring seasons. During this time, your parrot will need to consume more protein than usual to grow in strong, healthy new feathers.
Feathers consist of at least 90% protein, so it’s important to have extra protein while molting. In fact, 25% of the protein that parrots ingest is used to aid feather formation.
Not only are feathers important for flight, but they are also vital for maintaining insulation. If you live in a colder climate, maintaining their body temperature is important. Therefore, you must give your parrot extra protein so that it can maintain its feather insulation to live comfortably at home.
Furthermore, younger or juvenile parrots may require more dietary protein. That’s because young parrots are growing at a much faster rate. They’re developing internal structures (organs and skeleton) and external structures (such as their feathers and skin).
Do Elderly Parrots Need More or Less Protein?
Elderly parrots need less protein than during adulthood because they’re less active as they grow older and metabolize these vitamins at a much slower rate.
Too much protein can lead to serious illnesses, such as gout, which is a common ailment in elder parrots.
Gout can cause the following problems:
- Watery stools
- Unhealthy feather
- Feather plucking
- Swollen feet
- Excessive thirst
Recovery from gout in parrots involves reducing the amount of dietary protein.
How Does Insufficient Protein Affect Parrots?
Parrots rely on protein for body structures and chemical processes. So, a lack of protein will hinder their growth, development, and overall bodily function.
When parrots lack dietary protein, they may:
- Become lethargic
- Have poor bodily growth (weak muscles, bones, slower functioning organs, dull feathers)
- Have decreased healing ability and increased risk of injury and illness
- Lose weight
Protein is key in producing healthy muscles, bones, feathers, skin, and organs. Without protein, your parrot will have a malnourished body. For example, with less protein, their bones may become more brittle.
Less protein also means weaker feathers, which are important for maintaining their body temperature. Therefore, a lack of protein also means that your parrot will have difficulty retaining heat and get sick more easily.
Furthermore, proteins are important for energy production, water retention, and immune system maintenance.
How much protein do parrots need each day? Set aside 20% of your parrot’s diet for protein.
You can fill out these meals with animal and plant proteins, depending on what your parrot likes and how much of each type of protein it’s willing to eat. Give your parrot a mixture of foods so that it enjoys dietary balance.
In some cases, your parrot may need protein supplements due to insufficient protein.
Signs that your parrot needs extra protein include:
- Poor body structure
- Weight loss
This indicates that it needs protein supplements recommended by an avian veterinarian.
According to Veterinary Corporation of America Inc., vitamin supplements are in powder form. Don’t mix these into the water, as this can degrade any beneficial minerals. Supplement powders should be added to moist foods.