Gritty Formula Causes Regurgitation

© Howard Voren. Click here to use this content.

Q: We raise African grey parrots. We hand-raise the babies and are accustomed to the fact that as they get older, they like to regurgitate some of the formula just after we finish feeding them. There are, however, two babies that will not bold any formula at all in their crops. We have been to the vet, and he cannot find anything wrong with them. They are losing weight rapidly, and I am afraid that we will lose them if we can’t figure out what the problem is. The babies are fed one of the commercial hand feeding formulas that was recommended by several local breeders. Do you have any idea what could be causing the problem?

A: As hand-fed babies approach the weaning stage of development, their crops begin to shrink a bit. Depending on the volume fed, this will often result in the baby regurgitating some formula, so it feels more comfortable. African greys are the parrot that is most infamous for this. Some of the large macaws have also showed a greater tendency for this than many other psittacines. The problem can usually be circumvented by feeding less quantity more often. If the baby is very close to the weaning stage and in good weight, skipping a meal will often change its attitude.

Some babies, when they feel overfull, will regurgitate only enough so they feel comfortable. An occasional problem bird will empty its crop completely when it feels overfull. Many of these problem birds will also respond to less food more often.

If cutting down on the quantity fed or skipping a feeding doesn’t give you positive results, you should think about the texture of your handfeeding formula. I have been called on two occasions by veterinarians for consultation in cases like the one you describe. They both concerned African greys. The problem turned out to be the texture of the formula being fed. Different handfeeding formulas have different textures after they are prepared-some are more gritty than others. In both cases, the commercial formula being used was one that I would consider to be very gritty in texture. I guessed that since the African grey has the greatest propensity to regurgitate formula during the end of the hand-feeding process, it might be because it has the most sensitive crop. If this is true, then logic would dictate that a formula with a very gritty texture would cause the bird more discomfort and result in a greater problem with regurgitation.

In both cases, I asked them to go to the supermarket and purchase a box of Gerber’s high-protein instant baby cereal. This cereal has a non-gritty consistency that is as smooth as silk. This cereal alone would be a grossly deficient diet to grow a parrot on, but it couldn’t hurt for an experimental feeding or two. In both cases, the birds responded. One held down its entire crop full of cereal on the very first experimental feeding, the other regurgitated the first but held down the second that was given six hours later. Both owners searched for and found another commercially manufactured formula that was much less gritty than what they had been using. Both stories had happy endings. The only way to tell how gritty a formula will be is to buy it, mix it and put it in your mouth. If you wouldn’t put it in your mouth, you shouldn’t be feeding it to your birds.