Essential Vitamins for Bird Feathers: Healthy Bird 101

Essential Vitamins for Bird Feathers: Healthy Bird 101

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One of the most common mistakes that first-time bird owners make when it comes to feeding their birds is to offer a diet mostly composed of seeds. Although birds like parrots eat seeds, this is not entirely sufficient to provide the necessary nutrients that your pet needs daily, especially to keep its feathers sparkling healthy.

Captive birds are susceptible to malnutrition because of the poor knowledge of their owners when it comes to the ideal type of food to eat. When a bird lacks important vitamins in its diet, it can lead to different health and mental issues. A bird’s body is unlike other animals; it is complex and should always be kept balanced. When a bird’s nutritional needs are not met, it can cause poor feather health and malnutrition.

A smart pet owner considers healthy food choices and supplements for his pet bird.

Here are the most important nutrients that your bird needs to keep its feathers healthy

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is one of the most important vitamins for overall good health in birds, not just feather health. Unfortunately, most bird owners overlook this vitamin and its importance, especially when a bird eats only nuts and seeds. Vitamin A is necessary for a variety of functions including

  • Hormone production
  • Development of epithelial and vascular membranes as well as mucous membranes
  • Enhanced immune system response
  • Improved vision
  • Good feather health

Symptoms of vitamin A deficiency in birds

  • White spots located around the beak
  • Abscesses around the beak area
  • Respiratory symptoms like wheezing, sneezing and gagging sounds
  • Lack of appetite, lethargy, and diarrhea
  • Dull, lifeless feathers
  • Restlessness

When a bird is deficient in vitamin A, three major body systems could fail the digestive, respiratory, and reproductive systems. When this condition is overlooked, a bird can have shorter lifespans and may even die without any warning. To treat vitamin A deficiency, remember the following

  • Provide vitamin A supplements, choose beta-carotene since this is easily converted to vitamin A
  • Instead of seeds and nuts, feed your pet more fruits and food high in vitamin A such as egg yolks, papaya, carrots, sweet potato, broccoli leaves, collards, and cantaloupes.
  • Avoid overheating under direct sunlight or UV lighting
  • See an avian vet immediately

If you notice any of these symptoms and you suspect vitamin A deficiency in your pet bird, don’t hesitate to take it to the vet before it’s too late. Your pet will also be treated for other symptoms that may be present such as diarrhea, wheezing, and abscesses on its beak. When treated early, birds are able to beat vitamin A deficiency problems.

Vitamin D

Deficiency in vitamin D is due to a lack of exposure to the UV rays of the sun. All animals, including humans, may suffer from this deficiency, and it is mostly due to poor UV exposure. Most domesticated birds are deficient in vitamin D, especially when the bird’s cage is kept indoors.

Meanwhile, some parrot pet owners try to augment their pet’s vitamin D needs by placing the cage near the window, but this is still not enough. The glass of the windowpane still blocks UVB lighting that your pet needs. Opening the window is a good idea, and positioning the cage nearer can help.  Vitamin D is important because

  • It aids in the absorption of many nutrients in the food your pet eats
  • It helps in taking nutrients from the food your pet eats
  • It is important in the absorption of calcium needed for healthy bone formation and egg formation.
  • It is needed to enhance brain activity.
  • It is necessary for healthy feathers, eyes, and mucous membranes.
  • Sunlight is also important in regulating your pet’s sleep and wake cycles.
  • Sunlight enhances mood and behaviors in animals.

Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency

  • Poor bone strength and density.
  • Occurrence of fractures
  • Loss of weight
  • Abnormalities in the bird’s physical appearance like bent keels, soft beaks, and splayed feet or legs
  • Susceptibility to cancers and a condition is known as Conure Bleeding Syndrome
  • The presence of thin feathers, feather picking, and grouchiness
  • Diagnosed organ conditions, immune system problems and many more

The best way to treat vitamin D deficiency in pet birds is to provide a vitamin supplement. This is important, especially for severe deficiencies. This supplement should be given daily and should be provided together with good, adequate lighting for a quick recovery without any complications.

  • Vitamin D supplements are available in pet shop supplies and from your vet. Consult your doctor about the right amount of supplements to give.
  • Install a good cage light with UVB and UVA lamps. This is the kind of lamp that your pet bird will need.
  • You may also take your pet outdoors to get fresh air and warm sunshine. Don’t just rely on an open window from inside your home. This is not enough, especially when your pet has been diagnosed with vitamin D deficiency.

Most cases of vitamin D remain undetected until it’s too late. So, you must learn how to read these important symptoms early so your pet can receive treatment early too. For any of the mentioned symptoms, take it to the vet at once.

You can also start modifying your pet’s diet, and lifestyle including changes in its cage lighting to provide ample vitamin D. You can buy high-quality UVB and UVA lamps from local pet stores, or you can purchase this kind of lamp cage accessory online. 


If your pet is deficient in vitamin D, then it’s likely deficient in calcium as well. This mineral is very important in feather health as well as the management of various metabolic needs of the bird’s body. Consider that some species of birds are more susceptible to calcium deficiency and, thus, must receive regular doses of calcium supplements. One of these birds is the African grey parrot.

Humans need calcium as much as birds do. This nutrient is responsible for

  • For normal blood clotting and to control bleeding
  • For good muscle function
  • For the formation of bones, eggs in egg-laying birds
  • For the formation of feathers and good feather growth
  • For mood improvement
  • To regulate the levels of manganese in the body. Manganese is needed for egg formation and reproductive health.

Symptoms of calcium deficiency

  • Poor bone strength and mass
  • Easily fractured bones
  • Loss of weight
  • Changes and abnormalities in the bird’s physical appearance such as  bent keels, soft beaks, and splayed feet or legs
  • Susceptibility to cancers and a condition called Conure Bleeding Syndrome
  • The development of thin feathers, feather picking, and irritability
  • Diagnosed organ conditions, immune system problems and many more

To treat calcium deficiency, improve your pet’s diet, and add food rich in calcium. Support its diet with calcium supplements, which are mostly available at your avian vet’s office. Do not use calcium without consulting your vet because calcium will only work when it is given at the right ratio, according to phosphorous. Also, calcium in excess can be dangerous as well so you must consult your vet for the ideal calcium to phosphorous ratio, especially in sick birds. Take note of the following:

  • Add calcium-rich foods like broccoli, sesame seeds, carrots, leafy greens, dandelions, and other leafy greens. Include yogurt and almonds.
  • Vitamin D and calcium supplements are available in pet shop supplies and from your vet. Consult your vet regarding the right amount of supplements to give.
  • Install a good cage light with UVB and UVA lamps. This is the kind of lamp that your pet bird will need to increase vitamin D intake.
  • Take your pet outdoors to get fresh air and direct sunlight. Don’t just rely on an open window from inside your home. This is not enough, especially when your pet has been diagnosed with calcium or vitamin D deficiency.

As with vitamin D deficiency, you should take your pet to the vet as soon as you spot the symptoms of calcium deficiency. Consult a dietician regarding the ideal diet for calcium-deficient birds.

Vitamin B complex

B-complex vitamins are a group of water-soluble vitamins. These vitamins are thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pyridoxine, and pantothenic acid. Birds need these vitamins to boost feather health and to prevent many health conditions, including poor development and growth and restlessness.

  • Thiamin – This B complex vitamin is important to birds as it is necessary for the transmission of nerve signals in the brain and spinal cord. Birds that have adequate amounts of this vitamin are alert, very responsive to training, and can easily learn new tricks. If your bird is deficient, it will display various symptoms like feather picking, which is a sign of restlessness and stress in birds. It will also display loud shrieking behaviors if your bird is a species that can emit sounds, and in extreme deficiencies, seizures may happen.

    Treatment of thiamin deficiencies is to use vitamin B complex supplements or thiamin supplements if this is available. Ask your vet regarding the correct dose of thiamin to support a bird’s natural diet.

    Adding thiamin-rich foods like soybean meal, peanut meal, and cottonseed meal can help increase the level of this vitamin in the body.
  • Riboflavin – another vitamin B complex vitamin needed by birds is riboflavin. This is necessary for the formation of many enzymes in different metabolic functions of the body. When a bird lacks riboflavin, it can display poor growth, dry and rough skin, and rough feathers.

    Just like thiamin deficiency, riboflavin deficiency may be treated by taking correct amounts of vitamin B complex supplements or riboflavin supplements. Your vet can help you with the right amounts of this vitamin to help your pet avoid complications.  
  • Niacin – Niacin is vital to energy production at the cellular level and tissue formation. Birds that receive correct niacin amounts in their diets are active, can follow training very well, and are meeting their growth milestones. Meanwhile, birds that lack or have low niacin amounts tend to display poor growth (height and weight) and neurological symptoms. 

    To treat niacin deficiency, consult your doctor about vitamin B complex or niacin supplement use. Consider adding niacin-rich foods in your pet’s diet. Although most sources of niacin are meat, some niacin-rich foods will fit your pet’s food preference, including brown rice, and peanuts. You can also feed your bird whole wheat products such as whole wheat pasta and bread.   
  • Pyridoxine – Pyridoxine is needed by the body to make use of amino acids that your pet gets from food and to form antibodies in the blood. Birds that have normal pyridoxine levels are rarely sick, are eating well, and have a happy and healthy disposition. Those that have a deficiency in Pyridoxine are often sick since they may suffer from a dysfunctional immune system.

    Treat pyridoxine deficiency with supplements. Your vet will provide the right kind of supplement, including correct doses, according to your pet’s needs. Adding pyridoxine-rich foods can also help like cereal grains, alfalfa meal, and yeast.
  • Pantothenic acid and biotin – pantothenic acid is necessary for many metabolic reactions, metabolism of carbon dioxide, and the formation of different enzymes necessary for various metabolic interactions. The deficiency of pantothenic acid and biotin can lead to metabolic system problems.

    To correct deficiencies, your vet may recommend taking supplements. Also, add foods like yeast, nuts and seeds, sweet potatoes, peanut meal, alfalfa hay, rice bran, fish solubles, cane molasses, green leafy vegetables, and many more.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin and is a combination of many compounds created by plants called tocopherols. To birds, vitamin E is important for good health, lovely and bright feathers, and longevity. This vitamin is useful for

  • Maintains the integrity of cell membranes in the body
  • Works together with other nutrients and antioxidants in protecting the body against harmful free radicals
  • Protects vitamin A and fats from being destroyed in the body
  • Maintains immune system health
  • Improves bird’s responses to environmental stress
  • Needed for normal growth patterns and digestion of polyunsaturated fats
  • Needed for good feather and skin health

Symptoms of vitamin E deficiency

  • Muscular degeneration or muscular dystrophy (including the gizzard and heart muscles)
  • Weak and splayed legs
  • Passing undigested food such as seeds
  • Edema under the skin
  • Brain damage, poor coordination
  • Low hatchability in eggs
  • Infertility
  • Poor feather and skin health

To treat vitamin E deficiency, vitamin supplements may be used. Ask your vet regarding the ideal brand and dosage amount of vitamin E to give you to your pet.

  • Add foods rich in vitamin E, including wheat germ oil, wheat germ, alfalfa, almonds, peanut butter, whole grains, and peanuts.
  • This vitamin is very sensitive to an increase in temperature, freezing, and oxygen, so you must add foods rich in fat.
  • Supplements must be of high quality and should be recommended by your vet.

Just like other vitamins and minerals in this list, consult your vet at once if you notice any symptom. Do not overlook this deficiency but, at the same time, vitamin E excess. All fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin E can stay in the body and lead to toxic effects. Vitamin E negates all other fat-soluble vitamins, and this can lead to problems with bone mineralization and problems with blood coagulation.

Vitamin B12

B12 is necessary for various metabolic processes and the creation of proteins, carbohydrates, nucleic acids, and fat. When a bird lacks this nutrient in its diet, it may suffer from metabolic problems and, in severe conditions, death. Luckily, there are supplements available that you can use to treat vitamin B12 deficiency. Consult your vet for the ideal dose of vitamin B12 for your pet. When it comes to food, you may supplement with common feedstuffs that are fortified with vitamin B12.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is necessary for enzymatic reactions. This is necessary for maintaining skin and feather health because it helps preserve collagen and elastin, components of skin, feathers, beaks, and nails. Birds with very little vitamin C in their diets can suffer from medical conditions like a poor immune system, frequent infections, poor skin, beak and claw health, and more.

To correct vitamin C deficiencies in birds, use supplements and a good vitamin c-rich food diet. Supplements are available from your avian vet’s office. When it comes to vitamin C-rich foods, include the following in your pet’s diet like oranges, lemons, strawberries, kale, cantaloupes, tomatoes, broccoli, and more. Don’t worry about vitamin C toxicity or excess vitamin C because this is safe even in high doses.

Amino Acids

Amino acids are essential building blocks of protein. It is an important part of a healthy diet of any bird. If there was a number one nutrient in our list for feathers, this would be it. Amino acids and protein are necessary for bone, muscle, feather, enzyme, and hormone development. Lack of amino acids and protein can cause poor growth and in worst conditions, death.

  • Deficiency can weaken feather growth and wing health
  • It can lead to a permanent or temporary cause of the bird’s inability to fly.
  • Poor overall growth and development
  • Can lead to death in overlooked situations

Treatment for amino acids and protein deficiency, you can use commercially-prepared pellets, fresh fruits, and vegetables. Feed your bird monkey biscuits or boiled eggs. You may also use Harrison’s Bird Food, a balanced, organic, and tasty way to improve amino acids and protein in your pet’s diet.


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Consult an avian vet or an avian dietician to get the best treatment for vitamin or nutrient deficiencies. Partner supplements with the right diet to help your pet recover. Be mindful of your pet’s condition, and don’t overlook any small symptom. Your pet deserves the best care, love, and attention.

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