As an avian veterinarian, I frequently encounter problems with pet parrots that chew on inappropriate items and consequently end up in trouble. Many owners don’t realise that parrots’ beaks grow continually like our fingernails. Also, like our fingernails, their beaks require work to keep them trimmed and manageable. Parrots chew to keep their beaks in shape. In the wild, they chew on branches, seed pods, nuts etc. In captivity, it is the owner’s responsibility to provide appropriate items for their pets to chew in order to shape and groom their beaks.
When pet parrots do not have enough appropriate ‘chewable’ items, they chew on anything that is available. In a sparse and boring cage environment, often the only thing to chew on is the seed. As a result, the pet parrot eats constantly and then suffers from obesity related problems. If pet parrots are allowed unsupervised, free-range of the house, they will chew on furniture, wood trim, electrical cords, metal ornaments, lead weights on the bottom of curtains, etc and will either poison themselves or poison their relationship with their owners.
For the purpose of this article, I will concentrate on several recent cases where the pet parrot has ingested/swallowed foreign material. (Most of which was supplied by well-meaning but misguided owners.
One sad case involved a little purple-crowned lorikeet that was brought to the surgery weak, thin, vomiting and near death. Unfortunately, the bird died shortly after being admitted. A subsequent post-mortem examination revealed that the stomach was impacted with coarse, fibrous material that resembled coconut fibre. The owner was contacted and confirmed that the ‘nest-box’ provided consisted of a coconut shell with the outer husk still attached. Another case involved a single, pet cockatiel that was rushed to the surgery in a similar, serious condition. The little bird had been lethargic and vomiting for several days. It was near death when presented and also died shortly after being admitted for treatment. A post-mortem examination revealed that the stomach was impacted with blue, fibrous material. When the distraught owner was contacted, she realised that the bird had been chewing on a certified ‘bird-safe’ toy that incorporated blue fibre tassels as part of the toy.
The list continues. Fortunately, more observant owners noted the subtle signs of their birds not being well before it was too late. In these cases it was possible to save their pets. Cockatiels, budgerigars, galahs, sulphur crested cockatoos have all been presented and treated for foreign body ingestion. Many of these pets have chewed on the towel covering their cage, the woven ‘rope’ perches sold as being ‘bird safe’, fibres of carpet and curtains. You name it and your parrot will chew on it.
How can you prevent the pitfalls of foreign body ingestion?
- Provide plenty of healthy, natural alternatives for your pet to chew
- Avoid using towels or cloths with loose threads as cage covers
- Don’t buy any toys with rope, chord or tassels
- Don’t furnish your cage with woven, fiber, rope perches commonly sold in pet stores
- Supervise your pets when they are out of the cage
- Don’t allow them to pick at carpet fibers or upholstery
- Provide them with rough bark perches from Australian native trees (paper bark, bottle brush, melaleuca, wattle, gum etc.)
- Treat perches as disposable (they are there to be chewed)
- Provide fresh, green leafy branches from Australian native trees for the birds to chew (not only do parrots wear their beaks by chewing this foliage, they also gain trace elements and minerals to enrich their diet).
- Provide gum nuts, seed pods, the ‘nutty’ pods left after a plant has flowered. These are all favorite parrot treats that are healthy and natural.
By being a knowledgeable and responsible parrot owner, you can avoid the pitfalls and heartache of your pet dying and becoming seriously ill from chewing inappropriate and dangerous items.
© Peter Wilson July 2010
Information supplied by (c) Currumbin Valley Vet Services August 2010