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

Why Are Onions Bad for Parrots? [Raw And Cooked]

Although seemingly healthy, 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, are unhealthy for parrots because they contain lots of sulfur. Although beneficial for humans, sulfur is dangerous for parrots because it stops them from making healthy red blood cells. As a result, onions cause a blood disorder called anemia and eventual death.

If your parrot eats some onion, the effects might not be immediate. However, that doesn’t mean your parrot is unharmed, so you should react quickly.

Can Parrots Eat Onions?

Humans have eaten onions for centuries, valuing their antioxidant and anti-parasite properties. But, strangely enough, onions are toxic for most animals.

That’s right. This seemingly innocent and healthy household staple is toxic for parrots, cats, dogs, and many other small creatures.

So, the answer is: No, parrots can’t eat onions. It doesn’t matter if it’s raw or cooked; you should never give onion to your parrot.

Why Are Onions Toxic to Parrots?

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

  • Alkenylcysteine sulfoxide
  • Diallyl sulfinate
  • N propyl disulphide

These compounds activate when we peel, chop, and crush the onion.

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

Besides making us cry, sulfur-based compounds are mostly safe for humans but not for parrots.

These sulfur-based compounds interfere with the parrot’s ability to produce hemoglobin (the protein in the parrot’s red blood cells).

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

are onions toxic to parrots?

What Happens If a Parrot Eats Onions?

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

Anemia

Anemia essentially occurs when the parrot can’t produce enough red blood cells. Remember we said that the sulfur in onions interferes with hemoglobin levels?

Well, since hemoglobin is needed for healthy red blood cells, the sulfur in onions stops the parrot 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

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

Anisocytosis usually occurs due to untreated anemia, so it’s not a condition on its own. Rather, it’s a progression of parrot anemia.

Hemolytic Anemia

If a parrot ingests a lot of onion 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 different types of onion, so you might wonder if all types are harmful to parrots. In truth, anything that belongs to the Allium genus is dangerous for parrots.

Let’s look at the main varieties of onion in more detail:

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, both raw and cooked.
Yellow onions (Allium Cepa)As above, but yellow instead of red. Pungent in flavor and only used in cooking.According to UVM, these have the highest sulfur content, so they’re the most harmful onion, as 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 used in salads. Young green onions are also called scallions.Harmful both raw and cooked.
Spring onionsMore mature than green onions and has a white bulb on 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. Usually white in color.Lower sulfur content than regular onions, but it’s still dangerous for parrots.
Leeks (Allium porrum)Long, mild (but distinctive) tasting onions with white flesh and green top. They’re used in cooking.Dangerous for parrots, raw and cooked.

Although not technically an “onion,” the Allium genus also contains some other harmful veggies to parrots, including:

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

Garlic and chives should never be given to parrots as they also 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; 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 when it has been prepared.

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

can parrots have cooked onions?

Can I Cook Onions Near My Parrot?

Since onions and garlic are toxic to parrots, this begs whether it’s safe to cook them at home. 

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 your 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 parrots’ airways.

Parrots should not be near the kitchen while you’re cooking as they are very sensitive to fumes.

What To Do If A Parrot Eats Onions

If your parrot accidentally eats some onion, you should call your vet immediately for advice.

Treatments, such as oxygen therapy, are available, but your vet will need to examine your parrot before further advice is offered.

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 best to get your vet’s advice if your parrot has ingested any onion. 

Key Points to Remember 

  • Yellow onions and peeled/prepared onions are the most toxic for parrots 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 your parrot in the kitchen. Parrots should ideally be kept several rooms away.

Call your vet if your parrot has ingested any onion.