Grit is a type of fine sand, rock, or gravel. It’s often consumed to assist with the breakdown and digestion of food. Birds do not have teeth, so they use grit and an organ called the gizzard. Together, these work to grind up seeds or grains, so that the stomach can process them.
Parrots do not need grit to digest food. Because parrots have a strong, muscular gizzard, they can grind up food. In fact, giving your parrot grit can cause blockages in the digestive tract, which will harm the liver and kidneys. This can even be fatal, if left untreated.
That’s partly because parrots have a smaller intestinal opening than other birds. So, passing grit is much more difficult and can harm their intestines. In the wild, some species of parrots eat dirt to aid digestion. However, this is only to help filter out toxins, not to grind up food. Likewise, pet parrots may crave grit, but only because they have a mineral deficiency.
Do All Birds Need Gravel to Digest Food?
Not all birds need gravel, sand, or rocks to digest their food. This substance is often known as grit. According to BioOne Complete, wild birds ingest grit to enhance the efficiency of the mechanical breakdown of their food.
Birds use an organ called the gizzard. Unlike mammals, they do not rely on their teeth for breaking down food. Instead, when a bird ingests food, this food 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 to their stomach, where acids can break them down and digest them. When grit is consumed, it sits in with the gizzard. The muscles press in on the sand or rock, and the rock or sand presses in on the food. This helps to grind up food and aid digestion.
Why Do Some Birds Need Grit?
While there are obvious benefits for grit, not all birds need it. Chickens, for instance, only need grit because:
- Their gizzard is smaller or weaker
- They have larger intestinal openings
If a bird’s gizzard is not as strong, grit adds strength and rigidness to the gizzard. This is important for grinding down large seeds or grains. Stomach acid alone is not enough to properly digest these foods, so they would normally pass through undigested. By using the right amount of grit, birds can get more nutrients out of their meals.
Of course, rocks and sand can’t be digested. To contend with that, birds don’t keep the grit inside of their bodies. Instead, certain birds have larger intestinal openings. This allows for the grit to pass through their digestive system rather than remain trapped. For such birds, consuming grit has little to no consequences.
Do Parrots Eat Grit?
While grit can be beneficial for a bird’s digestion, that’s not true for parrots. Grit will serve no purpose, and at the worst, it will even be detrimental to a parrot’s health.
Parrots have a strong gizzard in comparison to other birds. The heavy muscle of this organ works to grind back and forth, mashing up their food. Rocks, gravel, and sand are not required, and can even get in the way. Putting random items in the gizzard would jam up their intestines and even damage the muscles themselves.
That’s partly because parrots have small intestinal openings. Anything that passes through the gizzard and to the rest of the digestive system will travel more slowly. This allows grit to stay put inside of your bird, instead of passing on.
When it accumulates, and the parrot consumes more grit than it can expel out, this can lead to digestive blockages. Such issues then make it difficult or impossible for your parrot to:
Do Parrots Need Gravel?
Of course, that doesn’t mean you should just pick sand or gravel over rocks for a parrot. No matter what form grit takes, it’s dangerous for these strong birds.
That may seem confusing, because wild parrots eat dirt or soil to aid their digestion. According to the University of California Medical School, a study done on Peruvian Amazon rainforest parrots found that eating dirt was a frequent occurrence. However, researchers concluded that this species doesn’t help grinding food in their gizzards, like other bird species. Instead, they use it as a buffer for toxins.
Much of the Peruvian parrot’s diet consists of seeds and fruits that contain lethal toxins. The clay found in their chosen soil helped the chemical balance of their stomach. This worked to limit how many toxins they digested from the food. As such, they can eat risky food more safely.
Likewise, the Peruvian parrots chose soil that had an extremely small particle size. So even though the birds were ingesting ‘grit,’ it did not have a negative consequence on their digestive tract. Instead, it passed through more easily.
With that in mind, even wild parrots don’t eat soil because it’s ‘grit.’ A rare few species will eat dirt because it naturally helps them weather the specific chemicals in their food. That makes it an evolutionary adaptation to increase the availability of edible and digestible foods in the wild.
Why Is My Parrot Eating Dirt?
If you’ve bought grit for your parrot, it might eat the gravel or sand even though it’s an unhealthy decision. That leads many owners to believe that parrots do need grit.
However, pet parrots only gobble up sand or gravel because it helps to satisfy their mineral requirements. Grit is especially rich in calcium, which is important for maintaining healthy bones. For female parrots, calcium is especially vital to egg formation. After all, eggshells require large amounts of their mother’s calcium deposits to form properly.
Therefore, pet parrots that have mineral deficiencies or imbalances will eat more grit if it’s offered. This isn’t proof that your parrot needs grit.
Parrots that seek out grit are signaling that they have an underlying problem, such as dietary issues. In this case, you may need to change or supplement your parrot’s diet. Eating gravel-like substances won’t fix their problem, but actually make it worse.
Blocked Gizzard Due to Grit
If you feed a parrot grit, the most concerning health issue will be a blocked gizzard. It is extremely life-threatening if left untreated. That’s because it harms your parrot’s kidneys and liver, leaving it vulnerable to other illnesses. It’s even potentially fatal. The following is a shortlist of symptoms:
- Increased thirst
- Fluffed out appearance
- Leaning forward on perches (indicates stomach pain)
- Watery and clear or white feces
- Sharp decline in appetite
If you notice these signs, take any grit away. You should rush it to a vet as medical intervention will be needed to remove the blockage.
Should I Feed My Parrot Grit?
For pet parrot owners, it is safer to err on the side of an anti-grit diet. That’s because, more often than not, parrots are:
- Fed grit in unregulated quantities
- Do not have a proper diet in place
- Are fed poor quality grit that can be sold in common pet stores
If you can avoid giving your parrot grit, that is the best choice. However, there are cases where it’s safer to offer your pet a little gravel.
To Limit Gizzard Thickening
According to Poultry Science, chicks that were fed gravel had a limited risk of gizzard thickening. Chicks that were not fed grit developed this physiological problem. That caused further problems as they grew up, such as lesions.
As such, you may speak to your vet and find that your parrot chick is at risk of this health issue. If that’s the case, it may be wise to offer grit in small, regulated amounts.
To Stop Your Parrot From Eating Substitutes
Sometimes, a pet parrot will just crave grit. This may be out of boredom, habit, or a mineral deficiency. No matter the case, you may find that your parrot gorges itself on harmful substitutes, such as:
Eating these substances is more harmful than just giving your parrot normal grit. Feeding parrots good quality grit in moderation can help stop parrots from seeking out these damaging alternatives.
Consult with an avian vet to determine if you should include or exclude grit from your parrot’s diet. While it may not need gravel, there could be advantages to giving your parrot light, controlled amounts.