Do Cockatoos Eat Meat? It’s Shocking!

a white bird with a yellow mohawk standing in the sand

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An Overview of Cockatoo Diets

Cockatoos are unique and charismatic parrots found mostly in Australia and the islands nearby. With their bright plumage, expressive crest feathers, and clownish personalities, it’s no wonder they are such popular pets! When it comes to cockatoo diets though, many owners have questions about whether these birds can or should eat meat.

A Variety of Foods

In the wild, cockatoos are very versatile eaters. Their natural diets consist mainly of seeds, nuts, fruits, berries, roots, tubers, blossoms, and sometimes insects. The specific foods a cockatoo species eats depends on what’s readily available in their particular habitat. Galahs for example eat a lot of grass seeds, while Major Mitchell’s cockatoos favor the fruit and seeds of eucalyptus trees.

As pets though, cockatoos end up eating a less diverse diet, focused largely on a specially formulated pelleted food. To keep them healthy however, they still need additional foods like vegetables, nuts, seeds, and even the occasional piece of fruit.

The Insect Debate

Now this brings us to the debate around cockatoos and meat. In the wild, cockatoos occasionally eat insects as part of their natural foraging activities. This includes grubs found in rotting wood or under the bark of trees. They may also opportunistically eat beetles, caterpillars, ants, or other insects they find while exploring.

Some people claim though that you should provide a cockatoo in captivity with regular helpings of cooked meat, chicken, eggs, or other animal proteins. They argue that these foods more accurately mimic what cockatoos eat in nature.

However, most avian veterinarians and expert breeders actually advise against offering cockatoos meaty foods on any kind of regular basis. There are a few good reasons for this…

Risk of Obesity & Fatty Liver Disease

For starters, cockatoos – like many cage birds – are prone to developing obesity and related health issues.

In the wild, cockatoos fly many miles a day searching for food. This gives them ample exercise to burn off any extra calories. Captive cockatoos however have a much more sedentary lifestyle in comparison.

Meat and eggs are far more calorically dense than seeds or veggies. Offering high fat treats can quickly lead to rapid weight gain, even in cockatoos getting plenty of exercise.

Obesity then predisposes cockatoos to develop hepatic lipidosis, also known as fatty liver disease. This painful and potentially fatal condition is the equivalent of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in humans.

To keep their cockatoos trim and healthy, most owners are better off limiting high fat meaty foods to the occasional scrap as opposed to offering it daily.

Increased Risk of Gout

Gout is another condition seen more commonly in captivity than in wild cockatoos. The cause? An excess of dietary protein and purines.

Purines are natural substances found in many foods. As purines are broken down though, they produce uric acid as a byproduct.

Normally a cockatoo’s kidneys and liver filter out this uric acid so it can be harmlessly excreted. But when excess uric acid builds up in the body, it crystallizes around joints, causing severe inflammation and arthritic pain.

Foods naturally higher in protein and purines – like meat, organ meats, fish, eggs – make it more likely for gout to develop, especially if combined with other risk factors like obesity and inactivity.

For this reason, an excess of dietary protein is something to watch out for in captive cockatoos. Going overboard on high protein treats can predispose cockatoos to painful gout attacks.

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Risk of Chronic Kidney Disease

Now in moderation, higher protein foods generally won’t cause problems for most healthy cockatoos. But they can be an issue for birds predisposed to certain medical conditions.

One example is chronic kidney disease, fairly common in aging cockatoos. As the kidneys fail, they lose their ability to effectively filter protein byproducts like uric acid from the bloodstream.

Eating foods naturally high in protein and purines then places even more strain on ailing kidneys, accelerating organ damage. For birds struggling with chronic kidney disease, vets usually recommend restricting protein while providing more easily digestible carbohydrates and omega fats instead.

So if dealing with age-related renal issues, excess meat and eggs could stress diseased kidneys, further reducing function over time. Something to keep in mind for geriatric cockatoos!

Issues with Meat Textures & Fat Content

Another problem with offering meat, eggs, sausage, and other animal proteins is they just aren’t texturally appropriate foods for cockatoos in most cases. Parrots use their beaks and tongues almost like hands to manipulate and process foods before swallowing them.

But meat consists largely of smooth pureed textures along with chunks of hard-to-process fat or gristle. These textures don’t give a cockatoo’s beak and tongue much to grasp onto. Fatty chunks also pose more of an aspiration or choking risk for some birds.

There are always individual exceptions of course! Some cockatoos for example relish a chunk of cooked chicken or hard boiled egg as an occasional treat. But for many, meat products pose more of a challenge texture and safety-wise than foods cockatoos evolved eating – like seeds, nuts, veggies, and fruits.

Higher Risk of Food Spoilage

Here’s one more issue to keep in mind when offering meaty foods – likelihood of faster food spoilage.

Seeds, fruits, fresh produce – these foods naturally last longer at room temperature than raw or cooked meats do. Meat also spoils quicker than properly formulated pellets, which use preservatives to remain fresher in the food bowl.

This poses a few contamination risks. Bacteria multiply much faster on meat, eggs, and other perishable proteins. Salmonella for example can occasionally spread via undercooked poultry or improperly handled raw eggs.

Then there’s the fact that cockatoos rarely finish a whole meal at once. Unlike us, birds prefer to nibble frequently throughout the day.

With meat and eggs though, leftovers sitting in the food bowl for hours risk growing harmful bacteria much quicker than seed or veg remnants would.

For all these reasons, many cockatoo owners avoid offering large portions of meat or eggs which could be left uneaten for prolonged time periods. The spoilage factor makes contamination risks more likely here as well.

Digestive Upset

Sudden diet changes or eating spoiled foods can also cause digestive upset resulting in:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Runny droppings
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • General malaise

While cockatoos can certainly tolerate the occasional scrap of meat, abruptly introducing fatty or meaty foods risks upsetting some bird’s sensitive stomachs.

This causes unnecessary discomfort and may also encourage them to stop eating their balanced diet for a day or two if they don’t feel well.

For all these reasons, diet changes are usually best made gradually whenever possible.

Health Risks Outweigh Benefits in Captivity

Now clearly wild cockatoos can and do eat small amounts of insects with generally no ill effects. So why does the recommendation change for captive cockatoos?

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One argument is that captive birds lose some of the natural resilience provided by proteins found in whole food diets wild cockatoos eat. The theory suggests substituting seeds and veggies with cooked meats or eggs helps make up for nutritional deficiencies in captive diets.

However…modern premium cockatoo pellets are specially formulated to provide balanced and complete nutrition without excess fat, cholesterol, or calories. So when feeding a quality base diet like pellets, seeds, veggies and the occasional fruit, most cockatoos don’t require additional protein from meat sources.

There are always going to be a few rare exceptions though! Some rescues for example come from such deprived backgrounds that adding eggs to their diet temporarily does genuinely aid recovery.

However for most companion cockatoos today, the risks around offering fatty meaty foods frequently tend to outweigh benefits. The dangers of obesity, liver disease, gout, kidney issues, spoilage, contamination, and digestive upset are far more likely to cause problems in captivity than deficiencies are.

This doesn’t mean you need to totally deprive your cockatoo of some favorite chicken shreds or egg bits though! As occasional treats, moderate amounts of cooked meaty foods generally won’t do lasting harm. Just don’t overdo it!

Signs Your Parrot May Be Eating Too Much Meat

Okay so the rare slice of turkey or egg bit as a treat won’t immediately make a cockatoo unhealthy. But how can you tell if your bird may be getting excessive fat or protein?

Here are a few signs to watch out for:

Weight Gain

  • Rapid increase in body fat
  • Noticeable loss of waistline just caudal to the wings
  • Fat deposits accumulating on the abdomen and near the vent

Changes in Droppings

  • Urates taking up excess space in the feces
  • Droppings appearing much larger in volume
  • Excess liquid or very loose droppings
  • Discoloration of feces or foul odor

Behavioral Changes

  • Reduced activity levels
  • Huffiness when interacting with owners
  • Reluctance to fly or increased clumsiness
  • Signs of arthritis like limping or difficulty perching

Increased Respiratory Effort

  • Open mouth breathing or excessive panting
  • Exercise intolerance or breathing heavily with exertion
  • Tail bobbing more noticeable at rest

If you notice any of the above signs, consider cutting back on meaty treats and fattier foods. Track your bird’s weight weekly while increasing activity whenever possible. Also have your avian vet run bloodwork to check for underlying issues.

With dietary adjustments and lifestyle changes focused on improved nutrition and activity levels, excess weight gain and associated issues are absolutely reversible in most cases! The key lies in addressing risk factors proactively at the first signs of trouble.

Healthier Treat Alternatives

Now just because excessive fat and protein pose risks for captive cockatoos doesn’t mean you need to cut treats out completely! Here are some healthier alternatives:

Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

Most cockatoos relish fresh produce as much as people food! Try pieces of apple, orange, melon, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, zucchini or cooked noodles. Chop items no larger than the width of your bird’s beak to reduce choking hazards.

Whole Grains

Offer small amounts of healthy whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, couscous or pasta. Some birds even enjoy leftovers with sauce as long as spices are mild.

Nutrient-Dense Treats

You can buy or make custom birdie breads, muffins and cookies using bird-safe ingredients like whole grains, dried fruits and vegetables. These provide more nutrients than standard human treats would.

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Foraging Toys and Puzzles

Instead of offering treats in a bowl, hide them inside foraging toys or puzzles! Your cockatoo will happily work for special goodies while burning mental and physical energy.

Bean Sprouts and Microgreens

Most cockatoos relish crunching on bean sprouts, wheatgrass and microgreens. These fun edible toys provide extra nutrition while satisfying a craving for “leafy greens”.

As you can see, cockatoos can enjoy plenty of healthy snack options without requiring regular helpings of meat or eggs specifically.

The Verdict? Occasional Meaty Treats Are Okay!

While cooked meats like chicken shouldn’t make up a routine part of most cockatoos’ daily diet, the occasional scrap generally won’t cause long term issues. As always moderation is key, along with close monitoring for signs of excess weight gain or other health changes.

Most cockatoos also don’t inherently require supplemental protein or fat from meat sources when eating balanced commercial diets available today. With high quality pellets, seeds, vegetables and fruits making up the bulk of their food intake, additional meat or eggs isn’t critical for good health.

With that said, it’s understandable many cockatoos view meaty foods as special treats just like dogs or humans do! So again, an occasional piece of cooked egg or chicken offered safely and in moderation makes a fine reward.

Just don’t overdo it, stay vigilant for signs of health impacts, and talk to your avian vet about any dietary concerns specific to your bird’s needs. By following these common sense precautions around “people foods,” your cockatoo can safely enjoy bonus meaty treats without going overboard!


Can baby cockatoos eat meat?

Meat and eggs should not be a dietary focus for growing chicks either. As long as the baby bird is being fed a nutritionally complete handfeeding formula, additional protein supplements are not necessary.

What about meat for breeding cockatoos?

Reproducing hens do have higher protein requirements during egg production. But this increased need is addressed in most commercial breeding diets like pellets and seed mixes designed specifically for breeding birds. So again, extra meat or eggs are generally unnecessary.

Some breeders do provide minimal amounts of additional animal proteins during peak laying periods though. This may involve additions like hard boiled eggs fed a few times per week, very sparingly.

Keep in mind producing repeated, abundant egg clutches year after year is stressful and taxing on parrots not evolved for maximum reproduction like chickens. So any minor dietary additions should still remain limited and moderate in nature.

Can cockatoos eat deli meat?

Deli meats like bologna, salami, ham, turkey slices etc pose even more health risks than plain cooked poultry or eggs. These products are extremely high in fat, sodium and preservatives – all problematic for cockatoos. They provide no benefits warranting regular feeding.

What about raw meat or bones?

Never feed cockatoos uncooked meat or bones – these pose very serious choking and contamination dangers from bacteria like salmonella. Always cook poultry thoroughly first and pick meat carefully off any bones before offering to birds.

Can cockatoos eat mealworms? Mealworms and other feeder insects do offer more benefits than cooked meat products overall. They mimic the natural insects cockatoos forage for in the wild. However they still pose obesity/gout risks if overfed and are unnecessary if pellets/seeds already provide balanced nutrition. Best to offer live insects strictly in moderation as treats.

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