Calcium For Birds

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default Calcium For Birds

Post  FinchG on Wed Dec 15, 2010 3:18 pm

Critical calcium

Of all the nutritional deficiencies in modern bird keeping calcium is by far the most common. Sadly it is often missed by both bird keepers and vets. To understand calcium we firstly need to have an idea of how important it is to the bird so lets look at all the different roles of calcium in our birds:

Calcium is the primary building block of the skeleton. So calcium deficient birds have a greater tendency to break bones or have bones bend (rickets).
Calcium has other structural roles in claws, beaks and feathers so calcium deficiency can affect these things too though other deficiencies and illnesses are more common causes of these problems.
Egg shell is nearly all calcium carbonate. Lack of calcium in the diet of breeding hens leads to thin shelled or soft eggs. These tend to dehydrate (or waterlog) during embryo development so few babies in thin shelled eggs will ever hatch.
Diverting calcium to egg production leads hens to run out of calcium in two other important organs - nerves and muscles. This leads to egg binding which is caused by the calcium deficient hens simply being unable to push the egg out of the reproductive tract. Such hens tend to be found on the floor with droopy, shaking wings looking very unwell. Many die. This is probably the primary reason why hens tend to be more vulnerable than cocks in most bird collections.
Two other groups of birds have bigger than normal needs for calcium these are:
Rapidly growing young chicks in the nest who will show problems like rickets or breaks (lack of bone calcium), or splayed legs and stargazing (lack of nerve/muscle calcium)
Nearly fully grown babies who are pumping large quantities of calcium into the bones to harden them up and so they suffer nerve/muscle deficiencies that lead to poor co-ordination, twirling, inability to fly etc. Some of these birds will die too.
In pet birds the most common physical symptoms are poor co-ordination, fits and seizures. These are so frequently blamed on things like epilepsy that few of the birds get the correct treatment - good calcium supplementation.
All the symptoms and problems listed above are physical but the biggest issue with calcium deficiency is actually behavioural. In small birds like finches, canaries and parakeets excessive fear and aggression may be hard to pick but in pet parrots these symptoms can be severe.
All sorts of psychological problems have calcium deficiency at their heart:
Feather plucking and other forms of self-mutilation
Biting and other forms of aggression
Fear and difficulty being trained
Why is calcium deficiency so often mis-diagnosed?
Both vets and bird keepers tend to assume that calcium carbonate is a good calcium source - so they tend to assume that a 'balanced diet' will provide enough calcium. If they do look for calcium deficiency vets regularly miss the problem. There are two reasons for this:

Nearly all the blood tests that are used to produce the 'normal ranges' are from birds that are sick. Most are calcium deficient!
Most vets test 'Total Blood Calcium'. TBC measures all the calcium in the blood but much of it is bound to protein molecules and is unavailable for nerves, muscles or bones to use. As blood protein levels tend to rise in sick or stressed birds the calcium level rises too. This compounds the problem. Ask your vet to measure 'Ionic Blood Calcium' !
Bird keepers (and vets) have been brought up on the myth that cuttle bone, oyster shell grit, bone and limestone are all good sources of calcium. This is rubbish. Yes they are all made of calcium carbonate, which is 40% calcium, or calcium phosphate, but the ability of the bird to absorb the calcium from these inorganic sources is severely limited. You simply don't see wild birds munching away at a limestone cliff - and would owls regurgitate bones if they were a really good calcium source? Both wild and captive owls often suffer calcium deficiency. Look at your parrot pellet ingredients list and these are the calcium sources you will find listed! Over the years loads of calcium deficient birds have been found eating diets with high levels of these traditional calcium sources.

Wild birds get their calcium from fresh green and sappy plant foods. In these foods the much smaller amounts of calcium are bound up with molecules like sugars and amino acids which are actively absorbed by the gut into the bloodstream. The calcium goes with them. So calcium supplements that work mimic this process. This is the principle behind CalciBoost.

The calcium/phosphorus myth
Occasionally you will read that it is important that the bird gets the right balance of calcium and phosphorus in its diet and so this or that food or supplement has added calcium and phosphorus. In an ideal world the bird will ingest t units of calcium for every one of phosphorus so you will find supplements and pellets that have these two minerals added in this ratio. But all seeds and grains are packed with phosphorus and have very little calcium. So to redress the balance you need a supplement with NO PHOSPHORUS!

On the other hand magnesium should always be supplemented with calcium so don't buy a calcium supplement without magnesium - like cuttle bone!

How much and how often?
The bones of birds act as a vast storage reservoir for calcium. It is one of their most important jobs. So calcium does not have to be given every day. In fact we believe that it is best given less frequently than that. Giving breaks from calcium supplementation forces the natural system that regulates blood calcium levels to work properly. So for most birds we recommend giving CalciBoost just twice a week. If you live in a very soft water area or you use bottled or filtered water you may need to increase this. But for most people twice a week should be perfectly adequate.

When hens start to lay we increase the frequency to five times a week. This prevents depletion of their reserves and generally increases clutch sizes. It certainly helps keep them fit and healthy. This frequency is maintained, for the benefit of chicks and weaned youngsters, right through the breeding season.

Please choose your own form of calcium by researching all articles on the subject.


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