Onions are a staple part of lots of meals and can be cooked in many ways. As they’re packed with vitamins, minerals, and other healthy nutrients, you’d be forgiven for thinking that onions were safe for parrots to eat.
Onions aren’t safe for parrots, as they contain a harmful toxin called sulfur compounds. When they’re chewed and digested, they turn into disulfides, which irritate the mouth and digestive tract. More worryingly, onion can cause hemolytic anemia. That’s because it harms the hemoglobin that carries oxygen around the body and makes the body’s red blood cells fragile, causing them to burst as they move around inside. Not only that, but onions are highly acidic, which is responsible for mouth and stomach ulcers.
Unfortunately, onion isn’t a food you should add to your parrot’s diet. While it has some health benefits, the risk of toxicity is too great.
Can Parrots Eat Onions?
While onions are rich in healthy nutrients, including antioxidants, vitamin A, sodium, potassium, iron, and dietary fiber, they’re toxic to parrots. All types of onions are unsuitable. The smallest traces of the root vegetable can harm them, so it’s not worth the risk.
Similarly, it’s best to keep your parrot away from the kitchen whenever you fry onions. That’s because the fumes are likely to be toxic and can enter into your parrot’s system through its nostrils.
Instead, feed your parrot the following vegetables to give it the minerals and vitamins it needs to stay healthy:
Never feed your parrot too many fruits or vegetables. They should be an occasional treat to boost your bird’s nutrient levels. Aim for fruits and vegetables to only consist of around 15% of its diet.
Do Parrots Like Onions?
Raw onions have an unpleasant, bitter taste, so it’s unlikely that parrots would even touch them. However, when they’re cooked or caramelized, they develop a much softer, sweeter flavor that some parrots enjoy.
That’s why you should never let your parrot get too close to leftover onion. Instead, clean it up and remove any food containing onions from sides and tables that parrots can access.
Are Onions Toxic To Parrots?
As discussed, onions can cause a range of health problems for parrots. They’re highly toxic and can cause parrots to become very sick.
While researchers don’t exactly know why onions react so badly with parrots, we know of the damage they cause, which includes:
As mentioned, onions consist of sulfur compounds that turn into poisonous disulfides when they’re chewed and swallowed. Disulfides can irritate the lining of the mouth, esophagus, and crop.
These compounds also react poorly with the digestive system, causing vomiting, diarrhea, and appetite loss. This in itself can cause problems, as parrots that don’t eat enough are at risk of nutritional deficiencies.
Onion toxicity is more likely to affect smaller parrots faster than the larger species, but the outcome is the same regardless of the speed.
As described by Colorado State University, the disulfides found in onions cause oxidative injury to the hemoglobin that carries oxygen around the body and harms red blood cells’ membranes. This causes hemolytic anemia.
Hemolytic anemia damages the red blood cells so much that they become fragile and burst as they circulate the body. Signs of anemia include:
- A fast, weak pulse
- Abdominal pain
- Discolored urine
Unfortunately, the symptoms of hemolytic anemia don’t appear straight away. It can take several days to a week after eating onion before they develop, meaning that it has already caused damage inside the body.
Not only are onions toxic, but they’re highly acidic. Parrots shouldn’t eat acidic foods as they can cause mouth and stomach ulcers. While this is rare in small quantities, some parrots are more sensitive to acidic foods than others.
Stomach ulcers are very painful and can be fatal if they’re left to get worse. Some even require surgery to remove them from the parrot’s body. If your parrot has a stomach ulcer from eating acidic foods, the symptoms will include:
- Rapid weight loss
- Inability to eat
- Extreme lethargy
- Vomiting blood
- Bloody feces and urine
- Cold or pale feet
Onions also stimulate acid, which causes digestive problems and reflux.
Can Onions Kill Birds?
Onions can be fatal. Although, parrots would need to consume a lot to die from it. As mentioned, smaller parrots are most at risk and require a lot less onion to feel the effects than their larger cousins.
Similarly, anemia can be severe. If it’s not caught quickly enough, it can kill parrots, especially if they develop underlying health issues.
As described by the Journal of the American Veterinary Association, a two-year-old Eclectus parrot died from hemolytic anemia after a four-day history of progressive lethargy, poor appetite, inactivity, and weakness.
While this was an immune-mediated condition, onions can cause the same problems, highlighting how serious anemia is. While the symptoms of hemolytic anemia are relatively specific, general signs of sickness from food toxicity include:
- Increased urination
- Falling from perch
- Lack of coordination
The severity of your parrot’s symptoms all depends on how much it’s able to eat. In small doses, your parrot is likely to suffer from digestive irritation, making them physically sick.
But regardless of how much onion it consumes, take your parrot to the vet as quickly as you can for emergency treatment.
Is Onion Safe for Parrots?
As mentioned, onions contain a range of healthy nutrients, minerals, and vitamins. This includes vitamin A, which many parrots are deficient in. It keeps their vision sharp and immune systems strong.
Onion also contains potassium, which helps the bones and muscles grow properly. Not only that, but it stems the flow of blood, preventing too much blood from pouring out whenever the parrot cuts itself.
Then there’s fiber, which is essential for good gut health and regular stools. Iron is another key nutrient found in onions, which helps the blood carry oxygen around the body. However, due to the damage onions do to red blood cells, this nutrient is essentially ineffective to parrots.
While parrots need these nutrients to survive, onion is so toxic that it’s not worth the risk. Parrots can get these minerals and vitamins from other food sources, including coconut and kiwi fruit.
Can Parrots Eat Raw Onions?
While raw, fresh onions contain the highest level of nutrients, they’re highly toxic. In fact, they have more sulfur compounds than all other types of onion, making them the most dangerous kind. In humans, this is beneficial, but for parrots, it can make them very sick.
However, as mentioned, raw onion is pungent and tastes rather unpleasant, meaning that it’s unlikely your parrot will attempt to eat it anyway.
If it does, rush it to the vet immediately to prevent hemolytic anemia. If you wait for symptoms to show, it might already be too late, and the condition could start to take serious effect.
Can Parrots Have Cooked Onions?
While cooking onions reduces the levels of sulfur compounds and decreases the quality, cooked onion still contains enough for it to be harmful to parrots. The cooking process also reduces the overall nutritional content, meaning there’s little benefit to feeding it to your parrot.
Parrots are more likely to enjoy the taste of cooked onion. Similarly, many human food dishes contain onion, as it’s a popular flavor enhancer. If you regularly share your scraps with your bird, you’re inadvertently putting it at risk.
Unless you know your meal hasn’t been cooked with onion, you shouldn’t share your food to minimize the risks.
Can Parrots Eat Red Onions?
Red onions should be treated the same as raw brown onions. In other words, don’t let your parrot have any under any circumstances.
Red onion is commonly caramelized and added to burgers and hotdogs, which some owners like to share with their parrots.
If this is something you do, keep a piece of your burger or hot dog aside for your parrot, and don’t allow it to touch any part of the onion. While junk food isn’t healthy for parrots, tiny pieces are unlikely to kill your bird when given as a very occasional treat.
Can Parrots Eat Spring Onions?
Unfortunately, spring onions (known as scallions and green onions)are just as harmful as any other kind of onion. That’s because they’re very young onions that have been harvested before the bulb has swelled.
Because they have a milder flavor than raw brown onion, parrots may attempt to eat them. However, like all onions, you should keep parrots away from them at all times.
Can Parrots Eat Shallots?
Shallots are part of the onion family, but they’re smaller with coppery-pink skin. They also have a milder, more delicate flavor. Because they’re so closely related to all other onions, they can’t be considered safe for parrots.
Can Parrots Eat Onion Weed?
Onion weed is an invasive weed that appears across gardens in Australia. It’s not to be confused with onion grass, which is a different but similar plant.
In the wild, cockatoos, galahs, little corellas, and long-billed corellas regularly feast on onion weed and have been reported eating up to 200 plants an hour each. There is little research to suggest whether onion weed is dangerous or not.
What To Do If Your Parrot Eats An Onion
If your parrot manages to eat a piece of onion, no matter how small, take it to the vet. Depending on your parrot’s size and sensitivity to the sulfur compounds, it could become extremely sick. Even if your parrot doesn’t seem sick, take it in for an examination, as the onion’s effects are likely to show later on.
In most cases, vets will try to flush the toxins from the body using a crop lavage (crop wash). If you take your parrot into the vet quickly enough, your vet will be able to do this and may be able to remove the compounds from your parrot’s body before they’re absorbed.
Vets can also make your bird sick with an injection to remove the onion from its digestive tract. While this is an unpleasant process for the parrot, it’s kinder than letting the harmful compounds take effect.
Afterward, you’ll need to place your parrot on a strict, healthy diet to replace the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients it will have lost during the treatment.