Much like the common advice given to humans, it’s important to regularly evaluate the health of parrots with a routine health checkThe Open Sanctuary Project uses the term "health check" to describe health evaluations performed by caregivers who are not licensed veterinarians. While regular health checks are an important part of animal care, they are not meant to be a replacement for a physical exam performed by a licensed veterinarian. rather than waiting until a bird is showing signs of distress or illness. Not only will this help you get to know what all aspects of a healthy bird look and feel like, but regular handling may help in keeping a bird calm in more stressful situations. Be prepared to give them a good assessment once a month, while making daily observations in health and behavior or individual residents. This will help care staff know what is normal for the individual and to intercede when they suspect an issue, catching it early rather than later. For more information on why regular health checks are important, check out our resource here.
Though every parrot is different, they tend to hide their pain if they can. By paying regular attention to the individual and flock, you may see some subtle cues in the event that something is amiss. Many species of parrot are especially susceptible to some ailments that are hard to notice without a thorough evaluation.
Signs of a sick, injured, or otherwise distressed parrot include:
- Generally poor in appearance
- Hiding more often than they used to
- Change in personality – irritability, docility, confrontationalBehaviors such as chasing, cornering, biting, kicking, problematic mounting, or otherwise engaging in consistent behavior that may cause mental or physical discomfort or injury to another individual, or using these behaviors to block an individual's access to resources such as food, water, shade, shelter, or other residents.
- Change in their daily schedule (such as disinterest in bathing)
- Labored breathing, gurgling sounds, or a constantly open mouth
- Immobility, inactivity or unresponsiveness to your approach
- Ruffling feathers
- Avoiding the rest of the flock
- Being bullied more by the rest of the flock
- A limp in their step or standing on one foot
- Unusual or abnormal droppings
- Reduced hunger or thirst, or excessive water drinking
- Plucking their skin and feathers
- Fecal matting underneath the vent
- Swollen sinuses or swelling around eyes
- One or both wings drooping
- An abnormally large cropA crop is a pouched enlargement of the esophagus of many birds that serves as a receptacle for food and for its preliminary maceration.
- Discharge coming from the eyes or nareseither of the pair of openings of the nose or nasal cavity
- Unusual coloring of skin
- Unusually bad smell
In cases of symptoms such as the ones above, it’s especially important to conduct a health check of the individual. Generally, the evaluation should begin at their head and end with their tail. It’s important to keep regular documentation of these checkups, including weight and any abnormal findings, in order to keep an easy-to-follow set of information in case a veterinarian needs the parrot’s history.
Conducting The Health Check
Once you are prepared to perform the health check, conduct the following observations:
What are they doing at the time of observation?
Do you see any fearful, confrontational, social, reproductive, or playful behavior(s) or any other behaviors? Are they grooming/preening or bathing? Engaged in pleasant or confrontational behavior with flock-mate(s)? Are they sitting still or sleeping? Are they flying around or perched? On the floor? Do their feathers seem ruffled? Are they exhibiting any stereotypies such as route-tracing or self mutilation or feather plucking? Are they screaming?
Write down a few words describing your general impression of them upon first observation.
Example 1: Happy, engaged, social
Example 2: Depressed, disinterested, sad
Example 3: Confrontational, fearful, overstimulated
Make an assessment of the individual as you know them. Are any of the behaviors they are engaged in normal or strange for them? Note anything that seems surprising or out of place.
Now that you have observed behaviors and general signs of illness and injury, you can move forward with the health check using the knowledge you have required of the individual to tailor the health check to meet their needs.
Change in color – Depending on the species and diet, a range of colors can be considered “normal”, which is why it is important you know what normal looks like for your flocks. Colors to look out for are red (possible fresh internal bleeding), black (signs of old blood), green, and yellow.
Note: certain produce and parrot food can turn droppings into these colors. This is why it is important to know what “typical” looks like for your flock and what the diet consists of for your flocks and individuals. Strawberries, green veggies, and blueberries are examples of foods that can cause otherwise alarming colors.
Texture – Droppings similar in consistency to toothpaste with a tubular shape are good, while tarry droppings indicate serious health problems and a vet should be called immediately. Watery, lumpy, oily or droppings with undigested seeds can also indicate health issues.
Smell – droppings shouldn’t really smell. If they smell funky, this indicates a problem.
If you’re particularly concerned by a dropping, you can bring it into your veterinarian for a fecal float test for analysis, though you should consider fecal testing healthy-seeming birds once every three or so months to check for internal parasites. Additionally, pay attention to when a bird poops and whether they are struggling or pass gas, as this is indicative of potential health issues.
Their nares (parrot nostrils) should be free of scratches, bubbles, discharge, plugs, and general crustiness. Enlarged nares may indicate chronic rhinitis. Staining of facial feathers can indicate discharge. The parrot’s cere (bump above beak) should also be evaluated for any lumps, swellings, or injuries.
If you find a scab covering a swollen and hot or fluid-filled area, or if there is discharge seeping out from the scabbed area, you should have the parrot evaluated by a veterinarian as soon as possible. Carefully check their foot for heat or swelling. If they have red, swollen, or scabby joints, this could be indicative of a serious joint infection that requires a veterinary exam. Check their nails to ensure that they’re normal length and even. You may have to trim or file them if overgrown.
• Head tilt
• Abnormal body posture
• Inability to balance/ stay perched
• Inability to grasp a finger or perch
• Wing droop
• Limb paralysis
• Altered cognitive abilities (you may see them having difficulties performing tasks they usually excel at)
• Marked confusion
• Loss of awareness (such as flying into walls)
• Hyperresponsivity to normal stimuli (such as a care staff member walking by or entering the living space)
• A decrease in the response of stimuli (such as if a staff member brings breakfast and they remain perched)
• Arching of the head, neck, and spine caused by muscle spasms
• Change in personality
The above signs can indicate either neurological issues or other, non-neurological conditions. If you see the above symptoms, it is always important to obtain a veterinarian’s diagnosis, as any number of the above symptoms could indicate other non-neurological conditions that require completely different treatments. For example, a parrot with an abnormal head position may be suffering from heavy metal poisoning, or a decrease in response to stimuli might be due to feeling extremely sick or unwell for any variety of illnesses. For these reasons, it’s important to document your findings and share them with a veterinarian rather than making any assumptions of what may be going on!
Writing It All Down
As you may know, regular documentation is a critical part of responsible sanctuary animal care. In order to maximize the value of your parrot health checks, we’ve developed a free printable parrot health check form for sanctuaries and rescues!
We are currently working on a Common Parrot Health Issues resource to help identify what may be amiss, but you should always discuss any potential health issues with a qualified avian veterinarian or expert.
Though it may seem like an overwhelming amount of factors to be aware of, once you’ve gotten to know a parrot and what good parrot health looks like, you’ll be an excellent parrot health ally in no time!
Common Conditions Of PetAn animal who spends regular time with humans in their home and life for companionship or human pleasure. Typically a small subset of animal species are considered to be pets by the general public. Birds | VCA
The Avian Physical Examination | Niles Animal Hospital
Physical Examination | Clinical Avian Medicine Volume 1
Poopology | Beauty Of Birds (Non-Compassionate Source)