Why Peanuts Might Be A Health Issue With Companion Birds

Peanuts May Be An Issue For Birds. Smneedham/ Getty Images

Peanuts have long been a staple in many seed mixes found on store shelves in the pet bird section. I had always thought peanuts were a great snack. I liked them as a child and to this day I still like those salty cocktail peanuts. I even enjoy using them in salads and in some Thai noodle dishes. They were always known to be rather high in fat and calories, but unless you ate an entire can of them they were a tasty treat now and again.

And who didn’t occasionally go to school with a peanut butter sandwich in their lunch box? Peanut butter has been an American staple for as long as I can remember. While it isn’t popular in other countries, it remains a standard in the U.S. for the junior lunch set. 

When I first got into the companion bird world I didn’t know this could be a problem for my African Grey. And now I know that it could very well be a health issue for my Greys.  

Most nuts grow on trees. Almonds and walnuts are common types of tree nuts and these are fine to feed your birds in moderation

The problem with peanuts is that they don’t grow on trees; they grow underground.They aren’t really a nut per se. They are a member of the legume family. And for some reason they are susceptible to carrying fungi called aflatoxins. This could cause quite a health problem for your bird should she consume the fungus. 

What is an aflatoxin?

It is a toxic substance called a  produced by fungi on certain food. My research found that these mycotoxins are the most well known mycotoxins because they are studied in such depth.

U.S. National Library of Medicine came out with an interesting statement: “Mycotoxins are secondary metabolites produced by microfungi that are capable of causing disease and death in humans and other animals.”

These mycotoxins grow underground in the dirt and this is where the peanuts pick up these toxins. 

Another disturbing issue is that these mycotoxins are just as toxic for humans as they are for our birds. 

They discovered this toxin in 1961 after a year of testing. What prompted this testing and research was when more than 100,000 young turkeys raised on poultry farms in England perished over a few months time in 1960.They had no idea why so many birds had died with no apparent cause, so the scientists went to work. 

Among the many things they looked at was the feed they were on: a peanut meal from Brazil. After extensive testing, scientists discovered what was causing such a high rate of mortality in these birds. They found a toxin-producing fungus in the peanut meal that was identified as Aspergillus flavus  and they named the toxin “Aflatoxin.”

So how did this happen? How did these mycotoxins get into the peanut meal? 

Turns out the answer was simple: Moisture. When crops of any kind are harvested and the drying  process is delayed, moisture tends to build up on the crops which allows mold growth on the crops. And with the possibility of any pests such as rats or bugs anywhere near the crops, this only increases the chances of mold growth.

The possibility increases even more if there is high temperatures in the weather patterns. 

Alflatoxin is actually are pretty unique mycotoxin. It is one of the few dietary carcinogens  known to man. Apparently if a human being is exposed to it long enough even at low levels, this exposure is enough to cause liver cancer even if the toxicity isn’t high enough to make them immediately sick. 

Now peanuts are obviously tested for these mycotoxins in North America or we wouldn’t be eating the tons of peanut butter that people seem to consume every year. And I am confident that peanuts used for animals are tested as well. 

Regarding the peanuts in bird foods, I have been assured that these nuts are routinely tested to ensure that they are free of any fungi. 

However, it is good to know about this toxin just as a matter of caution.

While these nuts routinely tested in the United States and Canada, I am unsure whether this is being routinely done in other countries. 

There are alternative nuts you can use and our choices are expanding every day. Tree nuts such as  walnuts, almonds, the occasional pistachio and even macadamia nuts are wonderful as a treat for our birds. Almond butter has become ready available in most grocery stores for that special treat for your flock. 

If you are unsure about some products you may be using that are manufactured outside of North America, it’s best to stick to the products you trust that are processed where testing is done.