I was enjoying a cheeseboard with some friends the other day after a barbeque, and we found ourselves wondering if my pet African grey parrot would enjoy a taste of some of our cheddar or camembert.
I love cheese and am always eating it, so it was a natural question for my feathered friend.
Can African grey parrots eat cheese?
The answer, simply, is yes they can eat cheese, but cheese is very unhealthy for them, so they generally shouldn’t eat cheese. In a very tiny amount, they may enjoy the occasional bite of cheese, and it certainly isn’t toxic to your African grey. But it is far from healthy, so if you want to feed cheese to your African grey, you must give only the smallest amounts.
Now, cheese comes in many shapes, types, and sizes.
So, what exactly is it that makes cheese so bad for birds in general, and for parrots in particular?
Let’s dive into this topic and find out.
Why is cheese unhealthy for African grey parrots?
You probably have a friend or relative who limits or restricts how much dairy they eat, because they are lactose intolerant.
Well, the same is basically true of African grey parrots.
They are intolerant to lactose, and it can cause a variety of digestive issues in your parrot, including stomach pain and cramps.
Birds, you must not forget, are not mammals.
They’re very different to mammals in a lot of ways.
They are not raised on their mother’s milk, but their parents must hunt to provide for their chicks.
African grey parrots’ digestive systems are not evolved to digest lactose at all, so it can cause a lot of problems even in small amounts.
Even though your companion may disagree when it sees you enjoying some cheese, the lactose is not good for them.
What is lactose?
So, what exactly is lactose?
In the most basic sense, it is a type of sugar.
It makes up between 2% and 8% of milk’s content, which gives you an idea why it could cause serious problems.
There is a very high quantity of it in cheese, too, naturally.
When digested, it has a similar caloric content to carbohydrates and is sometimes left undigested even in the digestive systems of mammals.
Birds lack entirely the enzyme needed to break down lactose since they never needed it at a young age.
Given how common lactose intolerance is among humans (some estimates say even 75% of the population is at least somewhat intolerant), it’s easy to understand how it could cause bigger problems for non-mammals.
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Is cheese safe as a rare treat for my African grey?
It’s very natural to want to be able to share your food with your pets.
It’s among the most basic bonding activities two living creatures can share.
So, if your African grey is always coming over to beg for some of your cheese, then on rare occasions you could be forgiven for cutting off a tiny piece of cheese for your winged friend.
However, it’s best to keep your food and your parrot’s food separate.
If you want to share a snack with your friend, perhaps a plate of nuts would work better.
Cheese is not without nutritional benefits, like calcium and protein.
It’s simply packaged in the wrong way, however; a small, lightweight animal like an African grey simply does not need a lot of protein and can get all it needs from fruit and nuts.
Ultimately then, it’s not a good idea to feed cheese to your African grey even as a rare treat.
Can my African grey eat lacto-free cheese?
You might, naturally, think then that if you simply made the switch to cheese free of lactose you would be able to share a platter with your feathered friend.
However, the problem is that vegan and lactose free cheeses are often very heavily processed.
Many types of lactose-free cheeses are made with oils or soy.
Soy presents a number of problems including its high protein content, since, as I said, parrots only need small amounts of protein in their diet.
Furthermore, almost any highly processed food is likely to contain ingredients and flavours which have the potential to be toxic to your African grey.
Do not feed processed foods, including vegan and lactose free cheeses, to your African grey parrot.
There are, finally, nut-based cheeses which are less common.
These have the highest potential to be beneficial to your African grey, since nuts are a staple of their diet in the wild.
However, the problem of being highly processed still remains, so your African grey would probably thank you in the long run for simply giving it a nut platter instead.
Is any type of cheese safer for African greys?
Again, in the most basic sense, no.
All cheese contains lactose, which is not good for your parrot.
Cheese spreads like cottage cheese, or soft cheeses like brie or camembert, tend to be higher in lactose and so your African grey shouldn’t get near these types of cheese.
Harder, more aged cheeses, like Swiss cheese or parmesan, tend to be lower in lactose content.
So, if you are going to feed your African grey cheese, which I would not recommend, then small amounts of hard cheese is your best option.
So, to summarise, the clear answer to the question is that it is best not to feed cheese to your African grey parrot.
Birds by their nature are intolerant to lactose and it can cause a number of digestive issues for them.
In very small quantities, sometimes it may be impossible to give in to their demands for some of your cheese.
It is very important not to give them cheese regularly as there is very little nutritional benefit for them and a lot of potential problems.
This extends, also, to more or less all types of cheese- even dairy free, lactose free, and vegan cheeses!
Share a platter of nuts or fruit with your African grey, and keep the cheese for yourself.