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do parrots need gravel?

Do Parrots Need Grit? (Why Gravel Must Be Avoided!)

Last Updated on January 28, 2024 by Carrie Stephens

According to BioOne Complete, some bird species ingest grit to aid the breakdown of food. Psittaciformes don’t need grit to digest food because they have strong, muscular gizzards.

Parrots don’t have teeth, so they can’t chew to break down food. Instead, when a parrot ingests food, it slides down the throat and enters the gizzard.

The gizzard is a muscular organ that presses in and grinds up whatever they eat. This transports the smaller pieces of food to the stomach, where acids break them down to aid digestion.

Parrots should never consume grit or gravel because it causes digestive tract blockages. They have smaller intestinal openings than other birds, meaning grit can cause impaction.

Wild parrots do ingest clay. That said, this is only to filter out toxins, not to grind up food. Pet parrots only crave grit when they have a mineral deficiency due to being fed an unsuitable diet.

Why Some Birds Need Grit

Grit is fine sand, rock, or gravel ingested by some birds (like chickens) to assist with food breakdown. They use grit and their gizzards to grind down hard husks of seeds and grains.

This grinding process aids nutrient absorption into the bloodstream because it assists the digestive enzymes in reaching the nutritious ingredients while in the Proventriculus (stomach).

While there are benefits, not all birds need grit. Chickens need grit for the following reasons:

  • Gizzards are smaller and weaker.
  • Intestinal openings are larger.

If a bird’s gizzard isn’t as muscular, grit adds strength and rigidness to the gizzard, which is essential for grinding down tough seeds and grains.

Stomach acid alone is insufficient for digesting these foods, so they usually pass through undigested. Certain bird species can glean more nutrients from their meals due to grit.

Of course, rock and sand particles can’t be digested. To contend with that, birds don’t keep grit inside their bodies. Instead, certain birds have larger intestinal openings.

This allows the grit to pass through the digestive system rather than being trapped.

Parrots Don’t Eat Grit

While grit can benefit a bird’s digestion, that’s not the case for parrots.

Parrots have stronger gizzards than other birds. The muscular composition of this organ works to grind back and forth, mashing up their food. Putting random items in the gizzard blocks their intestines.

That’s partly because parrots have small intestinal openings, so anything that passes through the gizzard and to the rest of the digestive system will travel slower.

Any grit will remain inside the parrot instead of passing on. When it accumulates, and the parrot consumes more grit than it can expel, this can lead to digestive blockages, like impaction.

Parrots Don’t Need Gravel

Some wild parrots eat soil or clay to aid digestion. According to the University of California Medical School, Peruvian Amazon rainforest parrots eat grit frequently.

Researchers concluded that this species doesn’t grind food in their gizzards but removes toxins.

Much of the Peruvian parrot’s diet contains seeds and fruits with dangerous toxins. The clay assists their stomach’s chemical balance, limiting the number of toxins they digest.

The Peruvian parrots chose soil with a small particle size. Even though the birds ingested grit, it didn’t negatively affect their digestive tract. Instead, it passed through more efficiently.

Even wild parrots don’t eat soil because it’s grit. Some species consume soil because it enables them to cope better with unidentified toxins in their food.

It’s an evolutionary adaptation to increase the availability of edible and digestible foods in the wild.

grit for pet parrots

Why Parrots Eat Dirt

If you buy grit for a parrot, it might eat it, even though it’s dangerous. Many owners mistakenly believe that parrots need grit to assist with food digestion.

Parrots only ingest sand or gravel to satisfy their mineral requirements. Grit is high in calcium, essential for maintaining strong bones and eggshells.

For females, calcium is vital for healthy eggs. After all, eggshells require significant amounts of the mother’s calcium deposits. Malformed eggs can lead to egg binding (dystocia).

Pet parrots with mineral deficiencies or imbalances eat more grit. This isn’t proof that the parrot needs grit. They seek out grit because they have a nutritional deficiency.

Instead, include a cuttlebone or ground-up eggshells to add calcium to the parrot’s diet.

Blocked Gizzard

If you feed a parrot grit, a blocked gizzard is the likeliest health concern. If left unresolved, it can be life-threatening because it damages the kidneys and liver.

Here are the symptoms of a blocked gizzard:

  • Increased thirst.
  • Fluffed-out appearance.
  • Leaning forward on perches.
  • Watery and clear or white feces.
  • A decline in appetite.

Take your parrot to a vet so they can attempt to remove the blockage.

When To Feed Parrots Grit

Grit consumption has negative health consequences and should be avoided. However, it has been argued that some parrots may benefit from grit in certain circumstances:

Gizzard Thickening

According to Poultry Science, baby chicks fed gravel had a reduced risk of gizzard thickening. Chicks provided with grit developed physical problems, like lesions, as they grew up.

Chickens have entirely different digestive requirements from parrots, so the health risks, such as impaction, likely exceed the scientifically unproven benefits.

Harmful Substitutes

Some pet parrots crave grit, which may be due to pica (eating non-food items), boredom, habitual behavior, or a mineral deficiency.

You may discover that the parrot consumes dangerous substitutes, such as:

  • Drywall.
  • Crumbling brick.
  • Small stones.

Eating these substances is more harmful than grit.

Avoid giving grit to parrots because the intestinal opening of psittacines is too small. Feeding a parrot a mineral-rich diet and ensuring it has enough to do will keep it healthy and mentally occupied.