Do Cockatiels Need Grit? There are mixed opinions about whether cockatiels need grit in their diet. It was once a commonly held belief that grit was needed to breakdown food in a cockatiel’s gizzard to aid in digestion. However, we now know that cockatiels will do fine without grit since they don’t eat hard seed shells, so they won’t need grit to break down large amounts of insoluble fiber.
Do Cockatiels Need Grit?
Hookbills like cockatiels, parrots, and parakeets do not need grit to aid in digestion. Cockatiels will remove the shell from any seeds they eat with their sharp curved bill before they swallow them. You might still find sources out there saying that cockatiels need grit, but those recommendations have changed as we have developed a much better understanding of cockatiels feeding habits and intestinal physiology.
Some pet birds still need grit to process hard seed shells. These birds usually have straight beaks like canaries, pigeons, and finches. These birds eat seeds whole and they don’t break the shell of the seeds before they swallow them, so they need grit to get any nutrients from the seeds that make up their diet.
In most cases, hookbills will not need grit since they don’t consume hard shells and they even chew their food a little before they swallow. However, certain types of grit can act as a source of vital minerals in a cockatiel’s diet. We’ll go over these mineral-based grit alternatives in more detail in the following sections.
Types of Grit
When considering grit for a cockatiel, it’s important to understand that there are two different kinds of grit on the market. These two types of grit are either classified as soluble or insoluble.
The soluble types of grit include cuttlebone, oyster shell, limestone, gypsum, and Kaytee Hi-Calcium Grit (Buy Online). Soluble grit will dissolve when it is exposed to acids in a bird’s digestive system. That makes it much safer to feed to a cockatiel since it won’t accumulate in their crop and cause an intestinal obstruction.
Since soluble grit dissolves quickly it won’t do much to break down hard seed shells, but that isn’t a problem if you have a cockatiel since they will shell the seeds before they eat them. Soluble grit (Buy Online) will, however, serve as an excellent source of calcium, phosphorus, and other trace minerals in a cockatiel’s diet.
Insoluble grit, on the other hand, is generally made up of silica, and it comes in a wide range of sizes from small sand-like particles up to small pebbles. Insoluble grit will remain completely intact in a bird’s gizzard, where it will breakdown hard seed shells and aid in digestion and nutrient absorption.
Cockatiels won’t ever need insoluble grit since they shell all the seeds they eat before they swallow them, and in some cases, insoluble grit can cause blockages in a cockatiels intestines.
Cockatiel Grit and Digestion
All birds have a gizzard which is a muscular part of their stomach that grinds and crushes hard foods so they are easier to digest. The grinding action breaks the food up into smaller pieces, that are easier for digestive enzymes to breakdown as they pass through a bird’s intestines.
Birds like cockatiels have a smaller less developed gizzard since they have evolved a sharp curved beak that they use to shell seeds before they swallow them. That makes it much easier for cockatiels to extract nutrients from the seeds they eat, so they need very little grit in their gizzard to break down the soft seed hearts that make up the majority of their diet.
Most cockatiels still need a little grit in their diet, but you should avoid insoluble grit since it can cause intestinal blockages. Instead, you should offer your cockatiel soluble grit like cuttlebone, oyster shell, or Kaytee Hi-Calcium Grit (Buy Online).
Cockatiel Diet and Grit
In the wild birds will eat a wide range of foods that most pet birds won’t encounter. Because of this wild birds will eat seeds that may have very tough shells that need to be broken down in a bird’s gizzard.
Birds that come from the Psittacidae family ( parrots, budgies, cockatiels) usually do not need grit to break down seeds in their intestines as long as you feed them commercially available birdseed that meets the specific dietary requirements.
Some studies have concluded that soluble grit can still serve as a beneficial source of nutrients when given to a cockatiel in small quantities. However, there is no evidence that insoluble grit aids in digestion, and you’ll want to avoid giving your cockatiel too much soluble grit since it may lead to health problems.
Soluble grit should only be offered to a cockatiel in very small amounts. Your bird will only need several grains of soluble grit to get its full nutritional benefits.
If you have a cockatiel with a pancreatic disease or certain digestive problems they might get some relief by adding some extra insoluble grit to their diet. If your cockatiel has a digestive disorder, make sure you consult a veterinarian before you add grit to your bird’s diet.
Problems with Grit
Some birds like cockatiels might eat too much grit if it’s too readily available. This can lead to digestive problems due to the sharp edges of the grit irritating a bird’s sensitive intestinal lining. Also, if a bird eats too much grit it can cause a blockage of the crop, proventriculus, or ventriculus.
Some birds that are eating a diet that’s lacking in nutrients might also eat too much grit as a way to fill the gaps in their nutritional requirements. That’s why it’s always a good idea to get a bird food made especially for cockatiels so they aren’t missing any nutrients in their diet.
Offering Cockatiels Grit
Grit should only be given to a bird in moderation. This is especially true for cockatiels since they need very little if any grit in their diet. If you give your bird grit, and it seems to be eating it in excess quantities, you should have your bird examined by a veterinarian since they might have an underlying health problem.
Insoluble grit like cuttlebone (Buy Online) or oyster shells can be offered to a cockatiel once or twice a week. Fortified grit products like Kaytee Hi-Calcium Grit (Buy Online) can also be offered to cockatiels in small amounts a couple of times a week, but make sure your cockatiel isn’t eating too much of it since it has a very high mineral content.
Grit that contains charcoal should be avoided since charcoal can block the absorption of certain vitamins like Vitamin-A, Riboflavin, and Vitamin-K, which can lead to deficiencies which can lead to serious health problems.
Every bird is different, and if you have any questions about whether you should give your cockatiel grit make sure you consult your veterinarian.