Gimme an "A"
by Valerie Lietzke
The Importance of Vitamin A in your bird's diet.
Vitamin A is one of the fat-soluble vitamins that is stored in the liver. It belongs to the group of vitamins known as carotenoids. It is an antioxidant that helps your bird’s growth and repair of tissues, and is important for proper functioning of the eyes, hearing, skin, bones, and mucus membranes. It is essential for resistance to infections, particularly in the sinuses. It also aids in emotional health and feathering. It’s what gives your birds their glow. Vitamin A plays an important role in avian health and is crucial for a healthy immune system.
Beta-Carotene is a precursor to vitamin A. Enzymes in your bird’s gut break down beta-carotene into vitamin A as their body needs it; the rest is excreted unchanged. Plants don’t make vitamin A, but they do offer beta-carotenes.
Vitamin A deficiency (hypovitaminosis A) is the most common single dietary deficiency or problem seen in companion birds. When vitamin A deficiency occurs, the cells that line the respiratory, reproductive and digestive tracts undergo structural changes, making them unable to secrete mucous. Since mucous acts as a protective blanket to prevent invasion from pathogens (disease-causing agents), vitamin A deficiency allows environmental bacteria and other microorganisms to penetrate the mucous membrane barrier and set up "housekeeping" within these tissues.
The respiratory system is the most often affected. Since the mouth and sinus are also lined by the cells that are compromised, you need only look inside your bird's mouth to see the early signs of this deficiency. Initially, you see small white plaques on the roof of the mouth and/or at the base of the tongue. The plaques ultimately become infected, forming large, obvious abscesses. The abscesses can distort the glottis (opening of the windpipe), causing labored breathing and eventually mechanical suffocation. The abscesses can even grow so large that they block the choana (the slit in the roof of the mouth). When this happens, your bird will exhibit profuse nasal discharge and obvious swelling around the eyes. The pain from these pockets of infection will eventually cause your bird to starve. The microorganisms can also spread throughout your bird's body. A bird with vitamin A deficiency may show any of the following symptoms: sneezing, wheezing, nasal discharge, crusted or plugged nostrils, lethargy, depression, diarrhea, tail-bobbing, thinness, poor feather color, swollen eyes, ocular discharge, lack of appetite, gagging, foul-smelling breath and "slimy mouth."
Most birds don’t die as a direct result of the vitamin A deficiency. They usually die from the secondary infections common to birds with weakened resistance and the inability of the body to go through normal cellular regeneration (to heal itself). The secondary infections may cause organ damage that will then lead to the bird's eventual death.
Vitamin A malnutrition is nearly always present in birds fed an all-seed diet because seed diets have almost no vitamin A.
Even mixed diets including pellets do not contain an adequate amount of vitamin A. That’s why it’s so important to feed lots of vitamin A rich foods such as:
Red chili peppers (fresh or dry)
Squash (especially those with orange flesh)
Why Red Palm Oil?
How well your bird breaks down beta-carotene into vitamin A depends on your bird’s health. An unwell body is less efficient in converting vitamin A than a healthy one. Because of this, beta-carotene should always be fed in abundance. This is most easily done with the addition of red palm oil as it contains such high amounts of beta-carotene. Adding red palm oil to your bird’s diet 2-3 times a week will help maintain vitamin A levels in your bird.