Your Parrot’s Top Ten Health Hazards
Ron Hines DVM PhD
#1 A Poorly Thought Out Diet = Malnutrition
The biggest hazard to your parrot’s health by far, is feeding it sunflower seeds and prepared diets based on cereal grains – particularly corn. Parrots were not designed to handle these high carbohydrate, high fat, low fiber foods. None of the common health issues we see in domestic parrots are ever seen in wild parrots. I believe that a major reason for that is that the diets of parrots in the wild are quite unlike the things that most house-parrots consume. You can read more about good parrot diets here.
#2 Too Much Unoccupied Time On Their Hands – Boredom
The second most common cause for health issues in domestic parrots is boredom and lack of stimulation. Parrots are, by nature, extremely intelligent, active and social creatures. When their life becomes boring and they are lonely, they often respond with self-destructive behaviors. Things like over-grooming and plucking, over-eating/obesity, stereotypic (repetitive) behaviors and aggression. You can read more about that problem here.
#3 Accidents – A Home Not Parrot Friendly
Parrots need to be allowed out of confining cages that do not offer enough space and stimulation. But owners often neglect to clip their wings or fail to notice that their bird’s primary flight feathers have re-grown. Glass windows, ceiling fans, hot stove plates, mirrors and open toilets are dangers that parrots will never understand.
A parrot that has its wings properly clipped should be able to flutter gracefully from its perch to the ground – but not much farther. Certain parrots like macaws and conures require more feathers removed that chubbier species.
Many of my clients tell me that their parrot, taken outside on their shoulder, would never fly away. Unfortunately, startled parrots may do just that. Once they gain altitude they may become confused, never to return. Others just fly to a nearby tree and refuse to come down.
Parrots are always safer at elevations above floor height. That prevents them being squashed by recliners and rocking chairs, stepped on or caught in closing doors, zapped by chewed electrical cords, etc. Parrots will rarely stay at ground level when given suitable objects to perch on.
#4 Poorly Designed Cages, Perches And Toys
Some parrot cages are designed as art objects rather than practical, safe living quarters. Parrot cages must never have crevices or wire rods that form openings that gradually narrow in width. Birds often become wedged in these crevices. The same applies to their toys and perches.
Perches that are too narrow in diameter for a particular sized parrot lead to arthritic foot and leg problems, tendinitis, corns and foot ulcers (bumble foot). Perches that are too smooth or that retain moisture are also unsuitable for parrots.
#5 Aggression From Other Pets And Other Parrots
It can be dangerous when two parrots of different sizes share a perch, a cage or a play area. Some parrots are quite territorially aggressive and that aggression can vary from season to season and day to day. Never have two cages close enough together for one parrot to nip at the toes of parrots in an adjoining cage or birds free to fly onto the cage of another parrot that is confined. In the wild, a parrot confronted by a hostile bird will just fly away. They can’t do that in home or cage situations.
Dogs and cats must not be left unsupervised with parrots until one is one hundred percent certain how they will react to each other. Sometimes, the larger pet, usually a dog, is just playing with the bird. But play can get out of hand and injury or death can occur as the result of it. Just like Sylvester, cats are instinctively attracted to parrots that are small – under 300 grams. The small punctures caused by cat bites can easily be overlooked. But they all need immediate antibiotic protection to guard against potentially fatal septicemias.
#6 Toxic Products
Parrots and other cage birds appear particularly susceptible to fumes liberated by various cleaning agents. They are also quite susceptible to injury or death due to the fumes liberated by no-stick pan coatings (Teflon, etc), and the coatings used on irons, some ironing boards and heat lamps (PTFEs).
Parrots are also quite susceptible to mycotoxins , compounds liberated by fungi in moldy food ingredients. Food need not look or smell moldy to contain them. The most common source of these toxins are corn ingredients in their diet and nuts given as treats.
Inhalation of second hand cigarette smoke is as unhealthy for parrots as it is for their owners. If you must smoke, don’t do it around your birds. Human perfumes, scented personal care products and hair sprays can also irritate the lungs and airways of parrots.
Chlorine bleach needs to be used with caution around parrots. It is best to move all the birds out of a room being bleached and not return them until the smell of bleach is completely gone.
Furnace and fireplace leaks that liberate carbon monoxide will affect birds before they affect humans.
Certain foods, such as chocolate and avocado have been known to make parrots ill. That is not always the case, but there is no good reason to offer them, or any other product with stimulants to pet parrots.
Certain house and yard plants are also toxic if eaten or when their branches are used as perches. If you make your own perches, use branches from trees and shrubs that produce edible fruit.
Metals coated with zinc (galvanized) or formed from zinc-containing metal alloys (“new cage syndrome”).
Although less common, the same sort of problems can be caused by exposure to lead or lead-based objects and coatings. A common source of toxic metals that I have encountered are key chain ornaments and trinkets that contain low melting point metals (fusible alloys) that were hung in the bird’s cage.
#7 Avian Gout
Gout is a common kidney ailment in parrots. It is usually related to the diets the birds consume or consumed in the past. You can read about gout in parrots here.
#8 Heat Stroke And Water Deprivation
Although parrots come from hot , tropical climates, they seek shade in the heat of mid-day. When they are confined to cages, or when the sun shifts position, that may not be possible. Parrots cannot sweat to keep cool. They must pant to do so and they do not do that as efficiently as animals that produce a lot of saliva. So they can easily over heat and dehydrate.
Water bottles can be more convenient than water crocks. But you must be absolutely sure that the water flows evenly and easily from the end of the sipper tube and you much check it frequently. It is always safer to have more than one water source available to your pet parrot.
#9 Infectious Diseases
Infectious diseases almost never occur out-of-the-blue in single-parrot homes. When infections occur, they are usually due to diseases that arrived with the bird and that were transmitted to it while it was reared or lived in a multi-bird environment (read breeder). Pet stores are also choice locations for infectious diseases to transfer between birds. Infectious diseases that appear suddenly in single-parrot families usually occur due to malnutrition or environmental problems and stress that increased your bird’s susceptibility to potential disease organisms always present in its environment. The second possibility is that those nutritional and environmental factors suppressed the bird’s natural protective immunity and reactivate a latent disease(s) the bird experienced earlier in life. This includes oral and intestinal yeast infections, skin infections, liver and kidney disease. None of these problems can be cured with antibiotics – unless the underlying cause of the problem can also be corrected.
10# Over-Zealous Feeding Of Young And Adult Parrots
Too much of a good thing, be it protein, vitamins or mineral supplements, can be as injurious to your parrot’s health as not enough. You are always safer to rely on a variety of fresh edible plants and fruits to supply your pet’s nutritional needs rather than some tonic you see online or something on a pet store shelf.
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