What is grit?
Grit refers to small, hard indigestible material such as sand, gravel, or small stones that birds consume to aid in the mechanical breakdown of food in their stomachs. The grinding action of the grit helps to break down tough seeds, plant fibers, and other hard-to-digest materials, allowing birds to extract more nutrients from their food. It can be especially important for birds that feed on tough, fibrous plant material, as well as for birds that swallow their food whole, such as some species of birds of prey.
Do pet birds need grit?
For years, aviculturists have believed that all birds need grit to help them digest their food. However, recent scientific research has revealed that this may not necessarily be true. In fact, some pet birds can experience health problems and even death due to the ingestion of insoluble grit.
It is true that birds that don’t peel their seeds, such as chickens and pigeons, need grit in their diet as it helps these birds to grind up unhusked or whole grains food in their gizzard. However, pet birds that do peel their seeds, such as canaries, finches, and parrots, don’t need it at all.
In fact, veterinary medical reports indicate that insoluble grit, such as sand or small stones, causes blockages in the intestines of pet birds that peel seeds. This can expose these birds to the risk of fatality. Some studies have also suggested that consuming too much grit can interfere with the absorption of important vitamins such as A, K, and B2 in birds.
Moreover, a study conducted on canaries by Taylor John in 1996 revealed that insoluble grit had no effect on the digestive quality of the birds. This contradicts the widely held belief that grit improves digestion in birds that peel seeds.
On the other hand, soluble grit, such as seashells, is safe for birds and can provide them with essential nutrients like calcium. It can pass through the digestive system without causing health problems.
Note that even for birds that do benefit from grit, it should not be offered in excess. Too much of it can cause problems such as impaction, crop stasis, and gizzard perforation. It’s also essential to provide the right type of grit for your bird, as some types may be too abrasive or contain harmful substances.
What should you do?
If you’re not sure if your bird needs grit, it’s best to consult with an avian veterinarian. They can help you determine if it is necessary for your bird’s digestive health and recommend the appropriate type and amount to offer. Regardless of whether your bird needs grit or not, it is recommended to opt for soluble grit such as oyster shells rather than indigestible ones.