My daughter was having a glass of milk before bed the other day, when unexpectedly our cockatiel swooped down, landed in the rim of the glass and started pecking at the milk.
She was quick to get him away—it was her milk, after all! –but I did get a bit concerned as I’d never given milk to my cockatiels before.
I wasn’t sure if it was safe, so I decided to look into it and find out.
So, can cockatiels drink milk?
The simple answer is no, they can’t. Milk contains lactose, a special sugar which you need a particular enzyme to properly digest. Cockatiels lack this enzyme, so drinking any dairy product can cause them painful digestive troubles of many kinds. Do not let your cockatiel drink milk.
So, while a cockatiel drinking a small amount of milk may not cause any issues, you should still do your best to keep them away from any dairy product.
They will typically ignore it on their own, but you should still be careful when having milk around your cockatiel.
Let’s look further into this question.
Why can’t cockatiels drink milk?
The simple reason is lactose.
Cockatiels, indeed all birds, are lactose intolerant.
This means that they lack the special enzyme needed to break down dairy products in the gut.
Milk, especially cow’s milk, is highly concentrated with lactose.
Cockatiels cannot consume lactose because they just have no reason to in the wild.
As I said, all birds, even most animals, are lactose intolerant (mammals become lactose intolerant as they age).
Birds do not suckle at their mother’s teat when they are born, but are rather fed via hunting.
Thus, there is never any point in their natural lives where they would have access to dairy.
Indeed, this is the same across the animal kingdom—even mammals once they have matured.
Other foods are more nutritious and readily available, so it would never have made sense to evolve the capacity to digest lactose.
We are unique as a species that continues to drink milk into adulthood, let alone that we drink the milk of another species.
If anything, it is more unusual that we are lactose tolerant, than that cockatiels are not.
So, what exactly is lactose, then?
What is lactose?
Any substance that ends in “-ose” is typically a type of sugar.
Fructose, glucose, etc. Lactose is no different.
It’s a particular kind of sugar, found more or less exclusively in dairy products.
A mother animal produces milk when her offspring is new born, and this milk contains lactose.
In infant mammals, including us, there is a special enzyme present in the gut which is able to break this lactose down. Only mammals have this capacity, and even then, it is lost in adulthood.
All of this would present a distinct problem for your cockatiel.
Without the ability to break down the sugars, they will sit undigested in your cockatiel’s gut.
This will cause pain and discomfort and even diarrhea.
So, birds of any kind are simply not equipped to digest milk.
So, what about plant milk, then?
Can cockatiels drink plant milk?
While it is true that plant-based milks, such as oat or soya, do not contain lactose, they are still quite specifically formulated for humans.
There may not be lactose, but different brands will have different ingredients, and any kind of highly processed for such as this could contain a harmful ingredient.
So, plant milk is certainly safer than dairy milk.
It won’t cause the same digestive troubles.
However, it’s still not especially good for your cockatiel, so it’s probably best to still leave it out.
They won’t even be particularly bothered about the taste, anyway.
If your cockatiel is showing interest in your milk of any kind, it’s probably just curious—after trying it for the first time, it probably will lose interest.
Can cockatiels drink hemp milk?
Though hemp milk is quite different from other, more common plant milks in a lot of ways, it still essentially presents all the same troubles.
It’s highly processed and can contain a lot of stranger ingredients.
Not to mention, again, that your cockatiel just won’t be very interested in it.
All it really needs to drink is water—if you want to treat your cockatiel somehow, do it with food, not milk.
So, the simple answer is no.
There is never any reason to let your cockatiel have milk, however much it may act like it wants it.
Dairy is a dangerous thing to cockatiels, and indeed to most creatures in the animal kingdom.
Milk will cause digestive troubles of all kinds if you give it to your cockatiel, so keep it away from them.
While plant milk may not contain lactose, there are still other ingredients that are potentially problematic.
For that reason, it’s best left alone.