Warning on Cheese!


Our charity feels it is important to warn people of the potential health risks of feeding cheese to avian species, contrary to the formed opinion of long-standing bird/parrot keepers, related avian organisations and the RSPB.

Following the illness of an African grey parrot who ate cheddar cheese, we ran a laboratory faecal examination through our avian veterinarian. The parrot is closely linked to our charity but not under our direct care. He had always been in good health, sustaining a healthy diet of Harrison’s organic parrot pellets with fruit, vegetables and other healthy food items. The laboratory results were negative for ova, cysts and parasites, Campylobacter and Salmonella but positive for many large Gram positive bacilli resembling Clostridia. The parrot received appropriate treatment for Clostridia with an amoxicillin antibiotic, followed up with an avian probiotic. Simultaneous to the Clostridia infection, the parrot started plucking some of his feathers. This stopped once antibiotic therapy abated the infection and the bird reverted to his cheery self. We ran another faecal test one week post completion of antibiotic treatment to ascertain eradication of the Clostridia infection. The result showed some remaining Gram positive bacilli. Further antibiotic therapy could have the potential of aggravating the condition, so prolonged use of an avian probiotic was prescribed with a view to having another faecal test four weeks hence.

The colour of faeces from a bird suffering Clostridia infection are light green and similar to soup-like consistency with air-bubbles. They also have a strong odour. Please also note that brown faeces can indicate a digestive, gastric disorder. Parrots that are fed milk and its by-products will produce brown faeces. This is caused by poor digestion as birds do not carry the essential enzyme to break down the lactose in milk and its dairy by-products. However, this can be confusing, as some natural, healthy food items, such as carrot, will also produce brown faeces. This is normal and the droppings will revert to normal colour once the bird has digested the carrot. For example: blueberry, cherry and such like will temporarily produce purple faeces. Birds on a pellet diet will produce different coloured faeces to birds on a seed diet.

Since the incident with the parrot, I have researched fungal contamination on cheese. Scientific evidence reveals that cheese carries aflatoxins and aspergillosis, by degree, depending on its age, and type. Soft cheeses are worse contaminants.

Our charity has for many years condemned giving cheese to avian species based on the fact they are not mammals and do not possess the enzyme necessary to break-down lactose that is in milk and its diary by-products, such as cheese.

The only analogy to draw on with concern to feeding mammalian species-specific milk and its dairy by-products to the human is in the following paragraphs, extracted from a full article written by a scientist on the ill-effects of cows milk:

“Milk is not just milk. The milk of every species of mammal is unique and specifically tailored to the requirements of that animal. For example, cows’ milk is very much richer in protein than human milk. Three to four times as much. It has five to seven times the mineral content. However, it is markedly deficient in essential fatty acids when compared to human mothers’ milk. Mothers’ milk has six to ten times as much of the essential fatty acids, especially linoleic acid. Food is not just food, and milk is not just milk. It is not only the proper amount of food but the proper qualitative composition that is critical for the very best in health and growth. Biochemists and physiologists -and rarely medical doctors – are gradually learning that foods contain the crucial elements that allow a particular species to develop its unique specializations.

Clearly, our specialization is for advanced neurological development and delicate neuromuscular control. We do not have much need of massive skeletal growth or huge muscle groups as does a calf. Think of the difference between the demands make on the human hand and the demands on a cow’s hoof. Human new-borns specifically need critical material for their brains, spinal cord and nerves.” By Dr. Kradjian

Thus, it is bad enough crossing the mammalian species boundary. So, this is highly indicative that the ill-effects of feeding a mammalian food item to vertebrate/avian animals are, indeed, worse.

Here is another paragraph from Dr. Kradjian’s article, which profoundly reiterates the message:

Consider for a moment, if it was possible, to drink the milk of a mammal other than a cow, let’s say a rat. Or perhaps the milk of a dog would be more to your liking. Possibly some horse milk or cat milk. Do you get the idea? Well, I’m not serious about this, except to suggest that human milk is for human infants, dogs’ milk is for pups, cows’ milk is for calves, cats’ milk is for kittens, and so forth. Clearly, this is the way nature intends it. Just use your own good judgement on this one.

Here is an excellent informative infographic on Milk, by Hannah Edwards learnstuff.com/got-milk/

We are not only concerned about feeding cheese to parrots, but also to wild birds, as instructed and practiced by the RSPB and garden wild bird enthusiasts.

In conclusion, there are suitable and appropriate foods available to feed parrots and wild birds than cheese – a most unsuitable, un-biological food item for the avian species. I must question the practice of advocating unsuitable food items for wild birds as one of the contributing reasons for their decline in numbers. The quality of food must also play a significant part.

Compiled by Julie Hamilton