Home » Why Are Onions Bad for Parrots? (Raw And Cooked)
can onions kill birds?

Why Are Onions Bad for Parrots? (Raw And Cooked)

(Last Updated On: May 12, 2023)

Although healthy and nutritious for humans, onions are toxic to parrots. Red onions, spring onions, leeks, or shallots – raw or cooked – are bad for a parrot’s health.

Onions, including garlic and chives, shouldn’t be given to parrots because they contain sulfur. This compound is dangerous for parrots because it stops them from forming healthy red blood cells.

As a result, onions cause a blood disorder called anemia and eventual death.

If a parrot eats some onion, the effects might not be immediate. However, that doesn’t mean the parrot is unharmed, so you should consult a veterinarian immediately.

Can Parrots Eat Onions?

Humans have eaten onions for centuries, valuing their antioxidant and anti-parasite properties.

However, onions are toxic for most animals. This seemingly innocent household staple is toxic for parrots, cats, dogs, and other small creatures. No, parrots can’t eat raw or cooked onions.

Why Are Onions Toxic to Parrots?

According to Science Direct, onions contain sulfur-based compounds, including:

  • Alkenylcysteine sulfoxide.
  • Diallyl sulfinate.
  • N propyl disulfide.

These compounds activate when we peel, chop, and crush onions.

Do you know that crying sensation you get when chopping an onion? Well, that’s caused by the sulfur in onions. The sulfur irritates the nerves around the eyes, causing you to tear up.

Sulfur-based compounds are mostly safe for humans but not for parrots. They interfere with a parrot’s ability to produce hemoglobin (the protein in red blood cells).

Healthy blood is needed for a strong and healthy bird. So, by weakening the parrot’s blood, onions should be considered a dangerous food.

are onions toxic to parrots?

What Happens If a Parrot Eats Onions?

Onions are bad for the blood circulatory system, but what happens when a parrot ingests onion? According to CABDirect, the parrot will likely develop anemia, Anisocytosis, or Hemolytic anemia. 


Anemia occurs when the parrot can’t produce enough red blood cells. Do you recall how the sulfur in onions interferes with hemoglobin levels?

Since hemoglobin is needed for healthy red blood cells, the sulfur in onions stops parrots from producing enough healthy red blood cells (anemia).

One of the initial signs of onion poisoning in parrots is lethargy because it feels weak without enough healthy red blood cells. This outcome is like anemia in humans, although a lack of iron causes human anemia, so the trigger is different.


Anisocytosis is when the red blood cells are of different sizes. In a healthy parrot, red blood cells should be about the same size, so Anisocytosis is a worrying condition.

Anisocytosis usually occurs due to untreated anemia, so it’s a progression of parrot anemia.

Hemolytic Anemia

If a parrot ingests a lot of onion in one sitting or eats onion over a sustained period, it might develop Hemolytic anemia, a serious condition requiring urgent medical attention. 

Hemolytic anemia occurs when the red blood cells are destroyed faster than the parrot’s body can replenish them. According to NCBI, symptoms include:

  • Rapid breathing.
  • Pale mucous membrane.
  • Lethargy.
  • Sitting at the bottom of the cage/avoiding flying.
  • Collapse.

Can Onions Kill Parrots?

Since onions cause blood disorders in parrots, eating onions can be fatal. If a parrot dies from eating onions, it’s usually when it has been ingested over several portions or several days. 

Types of Onions

There are many types of onions, so you might wonder if all of them are harmful to parrots. In truth, anything that belongs to the Allium genus is dangerous.

Here are the main varieties of onion:

Onion TypeDescriptionIs it Harmful?
Red onions (Allium Cepa)Common household vegetables that are used in cooking and raw in salads.Red onions are harmful to parrots, raw and cooked.
Yellow onions (Allium Cepa)As above, but yellow instead of red. Pungent in flavor and only used for cooking.According to UVM, yellow onions have the highest sulfur content, so they’re the most harmful because sulfur causes blood disorders.
White Onions (Allium Cepa)As above, but white. Common cooking onion; can also be eaten raw.Harmful for parrots as high in sulfur.
Green onions (Allium fistulosum)Long, thin onions for salads. Young green onions are also called scallions.Harmful both raw and cooked.
Spring onionsMore mature than green onions and has a white bulb at the end; eaten raw in salads or used as a topping for hot dishes.Harmful due to moderate sulfur levels.
Shallots (Allium ascalonicum)Small onions packed with nutrients. They’re usually white.Lower sulfur content than regular onions, but it’s still dangerous for birds.
Leeks (Allium porrum)Long, mild (but distinctive) tasting onions with white flesh and green top. They’re used in cooking.Bad for parrots, raw and cooked.

Although not technically an “onion,” the Allium genus also includes other harmful vegetables, including:

  • Garlic (Allium sativum).
  • Chives (Allium schoenoprasum).

Garlic and chives should never be given to parrots because they contain sulfur-based compounds known to cause blood disorders.

Are All Parts of the Onion Toxic?

All parts of the onion are toxic to parrots, so they shouldn’t be allowed to peck at onion plants or play with onion skin. Neither can they be given cooked onion because it doesn’t destroy the sulfur.

As mentioned, peeling and chopping the onion releases more sulfuric compounds. So, the onion is most toxic once it has been prepared.

Nevertheless, onion in any form can be harmful. Even plants growing in the wild, like wild onion (Allium Canadensis) and pacific onion (Allium validum), can be toxic.

can parrots have cooked onions?

Can I Cook Onions Near My Parrot?

Since onions and garlic are toxic to parrots, you may wonder if cooking them at home is safe. 

Parrots’ airways are very sensitive, so we know that we should avoid creating fumes that could be harmful.

If you’re cooking onions and garlic at home, remove parrots from the room and ventilate as you cook. The fumes are unlikely to cause any damage, but it’s best to err on the side of caution.

At the same time, you should avoid cooking with Tefal-type cookware as the fumes emitted from these pans can harm a parrot’s respiratory system.

Parrots shouldn’t be near the kitchen while you cook as they’re sensitive to fumes.

What To Do If A Parrot Eats Onions

If a parrot accidentally eats some onion, you should call your vet immediately for advice. Treatments like oxygen therapy are available, but a vet will need to examine the parrot.

As mentioned, birds are slightly more resistant to the effects of onion than other species (like cats and dogs). This means a very small amount of onion, on one occasion, may be tolerated.

However, it’s always sensible to seek a vet’s advice if a parrot has ingested onion. 

Key Points to Remember 

  • Yellow and peeled/prepared onions are the most toxic due to their high sulfur content.
  • All onions (in any form) are dangerous and should never be given to a parrot.
  • Garlic and chives are also toxic to parrots.
  • Ventilate when cooking with harmful ingredients (like onions and garlic), and don’t keep a parrot in the kitchen. Parrots should ideally be kept several rooms away.

Call your vet if the parrot has ingested any onion as a precaution.