20 What Are Three Main Reasons Animals Need Fat Sources Essential Fatty Acids for Parrots

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Essential Fatty Acids for Parrots

You may hear more talk these days about “Essential Fatty Acids” (EFAs) and our birds need them in their diet. (That word “essential” is a gift, isn’t it?) So what are they and how do we supply them?

We all hear a lot about “good” fat and “bad” fat – basically, the bad stuff comes from animal sources, is saturated and hard on arteries and cholesterol levels, while the good stuff comes from plant sources , are insatiable, in fact. GOOD for cardiovascular health and lowers cholesterol. Well, essential fatty acids are the best!

So let’s get technical for a minute – fats (chemically known as lipids) are the most concentrated source of energy found in the diet. I won’t go into the classification of fats here, but will only cover the essential fatty acids that pertain to our parrots for now.

Essentially, fatty acids differ in saturation and chain length. “Essential” fatty acids are those that cannot be synthesized by the body and must therefore be obtained from the diet. There are three – Linoleic, Linolenic and Arachidonic (are you on board yet?).

Because these must be nourished, they are “Essential” – for growth, for the health of nerves, arteries, blood, for visual function and elasticity of healthy skin and feathers. Their “queen” is Omega 3 fatty acids (linolenic) abundant in flaxseed oil and fish. Omega 6 (linoleic) acids are important for the transport and processing of cholesterol and are found in corn, safflower and soybeans. Both Omega 3 and 6 should be supplied, of which the best combined source is canola oil. Blending flaxseed oil with other oils helps maintain a balance of Omegas for good health. Arachidonic acid is synthesized from linoleic acid when fed in the diet.

African grays have been found to have a greater need for EFAs than other species and I always recommend supplementing their diet with linseed oil 3 or 4 times a week. Molting and plucking of feathers also add to the need, as do the growth and development of babies. Macaws also have a higher need for fat and I recommend 3 to 4 mixed nuts per day which are high in monounsaturated fats and actually lower saturated fat in the body. Vitamin E is needed for EFA to be absorbed and nuts provide the right balance. Additional sources of EFAs are many seeds and legumes (including peanuts).

It is worth noting that oils can break down very quickly when exposed to air, heat and light. All oils should be refrigerated after opening. Freezing or refrigerating before opening will also help extend shelf life.

Always check nuts and seeds for freshness and examine peanuts for aflatoxin (discard any that look moldy or otherwise suspicious).

Watch fat intake for amazons, warblers, overweight birds, but be sure to regularly include some EFAs for ALL birds – just use in moderation if necessary. Better feathers, immunity and overall health and vitality will be the reward for including these vital nutrients in the daily diet.

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