Obesity In Parrots

Veterinarians say that obesity is the most common health problem they see in companion parrots today.  Many experts say that owners tend to overfeed their birds, offer too many snacks, or are just poorly educated about nutrition.

Parrots suffer from the same ill effects from obesity as do humans. An obese parrot is predisposed to cancer. They are at risk for  atherosclerosis, where fatty substances are deposited on the walls of thick and hardened arteries, including the ones leading to the heart.  This can lead to collapse and sudden death.

Amazons and African greys are species that are prone to obesity and are most at risk, but it effects all species if proper diet and exercise are not a way of life.  We know inactivity and a poor diet contribute to all kinds of health problems in humans, and the same applies to our parrots. 

A good rule of thumb is:  if it isn’t good for you, it isn’t good for your  parrot.

You can go online and google what your species of parrot should weigh, but I don’t recommend it.  My experience is that it is never accurate because each parrot is an individual. My umbrella cockatoo is large and, therefore,weighs more than the average umbrella, my goffins cockatoo is smallish and weighs less.  Of my two male standard cockatiels, one is large and weighs 104 grams while the other weighs in at 74 grams.  Both are just right for their size.

A better way to determine if your bird is a healthy weight is to check for the prominence of the keel bone. It should be somewhat level with the muscle on either side of the bone.  If it protrudes, your bird is thin, and you should see the vet to make sure there is no illness present. If the breast extends out beyond the keel, your bird is overweight. Cleavage on a bird is not a desirable thing.

Birds are muscular creature. Feel along the sides of their body.  If you feel something that feels more like fat than muscle, it probably is.  Once you determine that your bird feels a healthy weight, your vet can help you with this, weigh him and use that weight as a guideline to monitor his health.

How much to feed your bird is a difficult question to answer.  Some people say that a large parrot should be served 3/4 of a cup of food each day.  Keeping in mind that parrots are very messy eaters, and will take a couple of bites of one thing, drop it, and go onto another piece of food, it’s very difficult to gauge exactly what they are getting into them.  Also keep in mind that if food is coarsely chopped, a measuring cup will fill up much more quickly and leave a lot of air pockets than if is is finely chopped.

Think of how small the crop is, and consider what it takes to fill it.  My umbrella cockatoo loves cooked yellow squash.  I cut it into slices and serve it warm.  He eats a maximum of 3 tablespoons before he walks away stuffed.

Some parrots are fine with free feeding. They can be offered food in any amount and only eat what they want and will leave the rest untouched.  Others will gorge on whatever you put in front of them.  This is another situation where you have to know your bird, set limitations, and make the best choices in the foods you do offer.

It IS possible to change the eating habits of the most stubborn parrots.  I takes time, though,  and patience.  Make him work for the foods he does eat.  Move the perch next to the food bowl and make him climb back and forth to get each morsel.  Teach him to forage for his dinner.

Some of my parrots are very picky eaters.  Most of what I serve them, winds up on the bottom of the cage or on the floor.  Those are the good days.  It’s when the food remains untouched in the bowl, that I feel discouraged.  I know that if they are flinging it, it has at some point been in their mouth, which means it has at least been tasted, and maybe, just maybe, a little has or will be eaten.  Playing with food is often the first step to eating it.  I served, and disposed of, my umbrella cockatoo’s uneaten broccoli for two years before he finally decided that it was good to eat.  Never give up.

Obesity encourages laziness.  A cycle then begins.  The parrot overeats, and doesn’t move from its perch to work off any excess calories.  An obese parrot needs to have a feeding routine established.  Make a dietary plan and stick to it.  This doesn’t mean your parrot has to suffer or be deprived of any treats.  Think of it like this:  If you are watching your weight, and you plan on having that piece of cake after dinner, you will be eating a salad for lunch.

Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.

1 comment

Linda Brucee

My Yellow fronted Amazon was a bit chunky when I got him. (He’s a second hand bird.) Evidently he’d always had his wings clipped. I have never clipped them. It took him about 2 years to learn what they were for. Now he flies all over the house and his chunkiness has gone away. The exercise is wonderful. I have treats in all his places. . . he has 4 special ones and I figure that’s foraging. He is a much happier fellow too. Birds were meant to fly. Now he can go where he wants just like everyone else in the house.

Linda Brucee

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