If you’ve browsed the bird supply aisle at your favorite pet store, you’ve probably noticed a lot of grit bags lining the shelves. This seemingly simple product can easily confuse avian owners since many of us don’t know its purpose.
Should you actually feed your parrot grit? Wild birds eat grit to help remove the thick, outer layer of seeds, making it easier to digest. Typically, parrots do not eat a diet high in seeds. When they do eat seeds, they are capable of cracking them open. Therefore, if your parrot eats a proper diet, it does not need to consume grit.
Not sure if this product is right for your parrot or could even harm him? Continue reading to learn more.
What exactly is grit?
Grit is a digestion tool for birds that is composed of ground-up minerals and organic material. It is described to have a “teeth-like” function, meaning it helps birds grind up seeds for easy digestion.
Grit also has many names. Sometimes it is packaged as grit, but it is also called sand, gravel, and digestion aid. There is more than one type of grit available for birds which will be discussed later in the article.
How does a bird use grit?
As previously mentioned, grit helps birds to break down whole, fibrous seeds. They need help breaking down food because they do not have teeth to chew their food.
Interestingly, birds do have a means for “chewing” their food, and it’s quite different from how humans do so. It is all made possible because of a unique organ- the gizzard.
A gizzard is more than a funny-sounding word- it is a muscular organ used for digestion. In birds, food passes from the stomach to the gizzard. Their stomachs produce enzymes that help to digest food, and the gizzard uses its strong muscles to pulverize the food.
Birds are able then to pass the ground up food from the gizzard back to the stomach. From the stomach, they can regurgitate their food.
Here’s where eating grit comes into play. Birds swallow grit and it remains inside of this incredible organ. Grit is useful inside of the gizzard because it acts with those tough, muscular gizzard walls to grind up food.
A gizzard is capable of grinding food on its own, but the small bits of sand and stone make digestion easier and more efficient.
A fun fact about gizzards is that birds aren’t the only species to have this organ. Crocodiles, alligators, some fish, and earthworms also have gizzards. Even dinosaurs had this interesting organ to help them digest!
What are the different types of grit available?
It is important to know that there are two types of grit available- soluble and insoluble. Both types affect your bird’s digestive system differently. Insoluble grit, often referred to as gravel, looks like sand or tiny stones. It is typically made of silica or sandstone.
As the name implies, insoluble grit does not digest easily. It passes to the bird’s gizzard. It sits in the gizzard and helps to break down whole seed. Eventually, your bird will pass the grit in its stool or regurgitate it.
Soluble grit comes in the form of cuttlebones, oyster shells, gypsum, and limestone. This form of grit contains calcium and other vitamins and minerals.
Birds are able to digest soluble grit with the acids present in their digestive systems. It does not stay in their gizzards like insoluble grit.
Which birds benefit from eating grit?
If you were looking to find out if your parrot needs to eat grit as part of a healthy diet, then you already know that your parrot will not benefit from this digestion aid. This goes for all psittacine birds including cockatoos, cockatiels, parakeets, and any other hook billed birds.
This is mainly due to two reasons.
First, these birds have beaks that allow them to easily crack open seeds. They have no trouble hulling a seed, swallowing the morsel in the middle, and discarding the fibrous outside.
Second, these birds usually do not eat a diet that is mostly seeds. They should also get a healthy mix of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains, which are all easy to digest.
The birds that benefit from eating grit have a high seed diet. This includes birds such as doves, pigeons, chickens, and wild birds. It makes a great addition to outdoor bird feeders.
Is there a risk of consuming grit?
The main health issue associated with grit is impaction. This is a serious issue that develops if a bird that does not need grit eats too much of it.
Insoluble grit remains in the gizzard for an extended period of time. If a bird eats too much, then the grit can irritate your bird’s sensitive digestive tract. Even worse, your bird can develop impaction.
This can be fatal.
There are plenty of warning signs that your bird may have an impacted gizzard. If your bird has eaten grit and shows any of the symptoms described above, promptly visit your veterinarian.
First, there will likely be a change in your bird’s food and water consumption. They will consume more water than usual and may have a change in appetite. This is because the impaction affects food absorption. Your bird will not be nourished.
In addition, your bird may appear fluffed out and show signs of intestinal discomfort, such as leaning forward. Your bird’s feces will be loose and watery if impaction is an issue. Also, vomiting may occur – more on vomiting in this article!
It is important to act quickly if you notice these symptoms. Your vet will issue an x-ray to determine if blockage is an issue. Your vet will first try to flush out the blockage. They will also administer fluids. If the flush does not work, surgery is the best option for clearing a grit blockage.
The best way to avoid this problem is to not feed grit to a bird species that do not need it. Always consult with your vet if you are not sure if grit is right for your bird’s species.
How do you properly introduce grit to your bird’s diet?
If your bird is one of the species that require grit in its diet then it is best to incorporate it as effectively as possible. Listed below are some tips on how to add grit to your bird’s diet.
- Don’t place grit on the cage floor. If grit is left on the cage floor, it can easily be contaminated with fecal matter, feathers, and old food.
- Don’t fill the bowl. It’s best to offer your bird a small amount of grit in its dish. If your bird eats too much grit, it can risk obstruction.
- Use a high-quality product. Opt for a high-quality product and do your research. Avoid buying grit that contains charcoal since it affects how your bird absorbs certain essential vitamins.
- Offer soluble grit. If your bird is not one of the species that require grit in its diet but you would still like to provide some, then consider soluble grit. A cuttlebone is an excellent option. It safely aids digestion, contains vitamins and helps to keep your bird’s beak healthy.