My son has recently been really keen to share all his food with our cockatiel.
He’s mostly quite good and only wants to give our cockatiel fruits and vegetables, but the other day, he was walking round with a piece of cheese, and asked me if the cockatiel could have some.
I was very unsure of this, as cheese is such a highly processed food meant for humans.
Nonetheless, I decided to look into it to make sure if it was safe or not.
So, can cockatiels eat cheese?
No, cockatiels should not eat cheese. While very small amounts may not do them any harm, a cockatiel’s digestive system is in no way equipped to digest dairy products of any kind. Even the smallest, most apparently harmful amount could cause serious digestive trouble.
So, cheese is really a human food, and though your cockatiel may seem interested in trying some—it really wouldn’t be in its best interests.
There are plenty of other great, healthy, tasty snacks for your cockatiel that they will love and will provide more health benefits.
Leave the cheese to us.
Let’s look further into this.
Why can’t cockatiels eat cheese?
Just to reiterate, there is general agreement that small amounts of cheese would be fine for a cockatiel.
However, what you should be trying to do with the food you provide is give the best mimic of its natural diet.
Cheese, you will not be surprised to learn, does not fall under this classification.
The essential problem with cheese, and indeed any dairy product, is the presence of lactose.
Cockatiels are lactose intolerant, as indeed are all birds.
When a cockatiel eats a food like cheese, they are unable to break down that lactose, and so it will end up in the gut, undigested.
This will cause pain, constipation and ultimately diarrhea.
So, while you would need to eat reasonably large amounts to suffer these effects, the fact is that even a small amount could cause pain.
There are many, many better options for providing treats for your cockatiel.
So, what exactly is lactose? Let’s have a look.
What is lactose?
Lactose is simply a special type of sugar, only found in the breast milk of mammals.
Mammals are unique as the family which feeds their young via teats and breast milk.
Universally, breast milk contains lactose, which infant mammals possess a special enzyme for breaking down.
This enzyme is unique to mammals, and indeed is, without exception, lost in adulthood.
Once the baby no longer needs the mother’s milk but can eat solid foods, it will lose the ability to break down this lactose.
So, essentially, lactose is a specialized, mammalian feeding method that means there is no need to hunt for food for your young.
They can feed from their mother’s teat, so long as they possess the enzyme to break it down.
So, why do cockatiels lack this enzyme?
Read on to find out.
Why are cockatiels lactose intolerant?
The simple answer is that they just aren’t mammals.
Mammals, as I said, are unique in the animal kingdom as creatures that feed their young from a teat.
Birds do not do this—mother and father birds will hunt while their chicks are young.
They will partially digest the food themselves and regurgitate it into the infant’s mouth.
Cockatiels are no exception to this rule.
They are never fed from their mother’s teat, and so they never possess the enzyme responsible for breaking down lactose.
This is true of all birds—indeed, of all mammals.
To go even further, it’s true of all non-infant mammals.
Again, while a very small amount would not be an issue, you want as much opportunity to get nutritious fruits and vegetables into their diet.
Filling them up on cheese will meant they don’t have the space for more genuinely nutritious foods.
But, what to do if your cockatiel does swipe some cheese?
What to do if my cockatiel eats cheese
The first thing is not to panic.
As I said, if it was only a small amount, it will likely not be a problem at all.
Just keep an eye on your cockatiel, and check for signs of constipation and pain.
Try and comfort it through this.
If your cockatiel does eat a large amount of cheese, then there isn’t a whole lot you can do—your best chance is to stop them from eating it in the first place.
If you’re really concerned, get your cockatiel to a vet as soon as you can.
They may be able to somewhat alleviate the symptoms.
So, small amounts of cheese may be fine, but the simple fact is there are much better things you can feed to your cockatiel as a treat.
Animals are, almost without exception, not equipped to break down the lactose in dairy products.
Therefore, at best nothing will happen and they will get no real benefit from the cheese, or at worst it will give them diarrhea.
Feed your cockatiel a good spread of fresh vegetables instead of cheese.