Parrots like eating many of the same foods as people, but not all human foods are parrot-safe.
There are foods that we eat that are outright toxic to parrots, leading to premature death. Other foods aren’t deadly but can lead to digestive problems, stomach upsets, and weight gain.
Parrots should never be fed avocado, eggplant, chocolate, or cherry/apricot pits. Other foods to avoid include raw rhubarb, mushrooms, onion, garlic, sugar-free foods, (moldy) peanuts, and dairy.
What Foods Can Kill A Parrot?
The following foods can be fatal within days or immediately:
Avocados naturally produce a fatty acid derivative called persin. When ingested by parrots, it can lead to breathing problems and the inability to perch properly.
When enough is ingested, it can cause fluids to accumulate around vital organs. However, once respiratory issues begin, death is often not far off.
Keep avocados away from parrots. Persin can also be found in all parts of the avocado tree, not just the fruit.
Eggplants are a member of the nightshade family, so it contains solanine, which is a type of poison. In parrots, solanine can cause gastrointestinal and neurological disorders. Symptoms include:
- Stomach cramps
Chocolate contains a compound called theobromine. Theobromine, like caffeine, belongs to the class of alkaloids called methylated xanthine. This means chocolate can:
- Stimulate the central nervous system
- Stimulate the heart
- Increase the flushing of fluids in your system
Theobromine makes chocolate toxic to birds, even in small amounts. Even without theobromine, chocolate is extremely unhealthy for parrots. This is because it contains:
- Butter, which adds fat to a parrot’s diet
- Milk, which is harmful since birds cannot digest lactose
- Sugar, which can lead to weight gain, lethargy, and stomach upsets
Many fruit pits contain cyanide that is toxic to parrots. This is most common in apricot and cherry pits but can include others. This can lead to:
- Brain damage
- Digestive issues and damage
- Falling blood pressure
- Aches and pains
- Premature death
The larger the seed or pit, the more cyanide it contains. Unfortunately, parrots often find fruit pits tasty and fun to crack open. Before feeding your parrot any fruit with pits, check if they contain cyanide.
Foods That Are Toxic For Parrots
These foods are not as immediately dangerous to parrots. However, they’re still toxic in the technical sense. They may lead to health issues if fed often, prepared incorrectly, or given in large amounts.
Rhubarb contains oxalic acid, a compound naturally found in many plants. When oxalic acid is bound to minerals, it forms a compound called oxalates.
Oxalates are a type of compound that scientists call an ‘anti-nutrient.’ As the term implies, oxalates reduce the body’s ability to absorb nutrients, specifically minerals.
Many leafy greens or seeds contain this compound and are still safe for parrots. However, rhubarb contains a higher amount, making it dangerous for your parrot when fed raw. Cooking rhubarb will reduce the amount.
Besides not being able to absorb nutrients efficiently, oxalic acid has other negative effects on the body. For example, oxalic acid has been linked to the formation of kidney stones. According to The New England Journal of Medicine, kidney stones may form when oxalates are high in the body, but urine volume is low.
Mushrooms are fungi that can absorb toxins in the environment that they grow in. Additionally, mushrooms contain amatoxin, which can upset stomachs in some birds.
Raw mushrooms are more dangerous to parrots than if they’re cooked. Some types contain higher amounts of amatoxin, making them toxic. This may result in digestive issues, neurological damage, and muscle aches.
Shiitake mushrooms should never be fed to your parrot. Other kinds of mushrooms, if they’re not safely farmed, may be harmful to parrots, even when cooked.
Foods That Are Bad For Parrots
These foods may harm your parrot but aren’t toxic. Your parrot won’t die from eating them but could develop issues later on. If eaten in large quantities, you may still need to take your parrot to the vet.
Onions contain a substance called sulfoxides. Sulfoxides don’t disappear, even when cooked. With that said, there are no studies that have concluded that onions are toxic to parrots.
Despite this lack of scientific research, there is reason to believe that sulfoxides are toxic to parrots. Many animals don’t respond well to these compounds, namely:
- Guinea pigs
These animals are unable to consume onions in any form. These include raw, cooked, dried, or powdered onions. All other plants that belong to the Allium family are also off-limits. These include shallots, a common cooking ingredient alongside onions. Because of this, avian experts don’t recommend giving onions to parrots.
This is supported by the Journal of Veterinary Diagnostic Investigations, which looked at two flocks of geese with a high mortality rate. It was determined that the green onions fed to the birds were linked to their death. Researchers also determined that onions could cause anemia and problems with the liver.
Garlic is another ingredient that can’t be given to parrots because it contains two compounds:
These compounds are kept separate in the garlic by a cell wall. However, when sliced, the cell walls are broken, and the two compounds are mixed. When combined, they create allicin. Allicin gives garlic its pungent odor.
Allicin isn’t immediately toxic to parrots, but it’s harmful over time. Commonly, too much allicin causes stomach upset. In extreme cases, allicin can cause red blood cells to burst, resulting in hemolytic anemia. Even in small, non-toxic dosages, garlic can irritate your parrot’s stomach and affect its mood.
Parrots shouldn’t ever be given food that’s labeled as ‘sugar-free,’ even in small amounts. That’s because sugar-free food often contains alternatives to sugar that are harmful to parrots. A common example is Xylitol.
You may be familiar with how Xylitol is fatal to dogs. For parrots, it may not be immediately deadly. Xylitol has been known to cause hypoglycemia or low blood sugar. In extreme cases, it has been found to cause liver failure.
While it’s not toxic, dairy should be avoided in any form, even if your parrot likes ice cream or cheese. Even smaller amounts found in baked goods or soups should be avoided.
Parrots are lactose intolerant. After all, parrots don’t need to digest lactose in the wild. If they do eat some dairy, it will cause stomach upsets. Undigested lactose can lead to diarrhea in birds.
Dairy products provide no nutritional value for parrots. It must be digested for a certain type of food to have usable vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Since parrots cannot process dairy, it’s empty calories that may upset their digestive tract.
Foods Not To Feed A Parrot
These foods are not toxic or harmful. However, they can lead to upset stomachs and dietary imbalances. Depending on how they’re prepared, they may also cause more severe health issues.
Parrots can eat meat, but this food should always be cooked. In fact, animal proteins are an important part of a parrot’s diet since they’re omnivores.
Wild parrots will eat small bugs or scavenge on leftover carcasses. Domestic parrots can also do well with the usual meats, like chicken and fish. However, raw meat may harbor dangerous bacteria, such as:
- E. coli
This can result in food poisoning. Your parrot only requires a small amount of bad meat before you’ll need to call a vet. It may have severe effects, such as:
- Stomach cramps
These types of bacteria are killed when the meat is cooked. If left raw, bacteria can live on the surface of the meat. Aside from raw meat, you should avoid giving your parrot reheated food. Any food that isn’t fresh can potentially harbor the same bacteria as raw meat.
While a crunchy treat, saltine crackers should be avoided or fed in moderation. They don’t contain any toxic or harmful substances, but they have an unhealthy amount of salt. Saltine crackers have no nutritional benefit for parrots.
Potato chips aren’t necessarily toxic to parrots, but they’re high in sodium and additives that make them unhealthy. Likewise, they are often deep-fried in oil, which parrots will struggle to metabolize. If you want to give chips to your parrot, make them yourself. Slice potatoes thinly and bake them in the oven. Avoid adding extra salt.
Large Raw Beans
Cooked beans, especially those that are large, can cause problems to your parrot’s digestion. Certain beans, when uncooked, are:
- Have enzyme inhibitors
- Cause gout
Not all beans contain these substances. However, it’s wise to cook all beans as a precaution. Soaking the beans will also remove these substances by beginning the sprouting process.
Because they are located in the ground, peanuts are likely to contain aflatoxin. This is caused by the Aspergillus fungus, which has been known to harm the liver and is linked to certain cancers.
Other nuts can harbor this toxin. However, due to how they’re grown, peanuts are more susceptible. You can reduce aflatoxins by roasting the peanuts and storing them properly. Also, check for signs of mold.
A small number of fresh and roasted peanuts shouldn’t be a problem.
Stems and Leaves
Even if a vegetable is safe to eat, this isn’t always true for its stems and leaves. For example, any plant that belongs to the nightshade family, like:
- Goji berries
This is because they contain tropane alkaloids, which may cause hallucinations and delirium. If you want to feed your parrot stems or leaves, check its base compounds. If it contains tropane alkaloids, even in small amounts, avoid it.
Tomatoes aren’t necessarily poisonous, but they’re acidic. Too much can cause ulcers, so it should only be offered in moderation. The stems and leaves also belong to the nightshade family and can be toxic if eaten directly.
Whole Celery Stalks
Celery stalks can lead to the impaction of your parrot’s stomach or crop. A crop impaction is more common and happens when food cannot move from the crop to the stomach.
Complications from crop impactions include infections, whether they’re from bacteria, yeast, or fungi. Due to the blockage, parrots can develop dehydration and hypoglycemia. When left untreated, crop impaction can lead to death.
However, this doesn’t mean that you can never feed your parrot celery. The stalks can cause impactions, but as a whole, celery is healthy for parrots. To avoid issues, you can finely chop the stalks to limit the chance of them getting caught in your parrot’s digestive tract. You could also juice the celery by putting it in a blender with some water.
Tapioca is non-toxic for parrots, but it can still be detrimental to your parrot’s health. Tapioca is made from cassava starch, a type of flour. This means that tapioca is nothing more than pure carbohydrate. Feeding more than a few pieces per week can lead to weight gain. Likewise, these carbs can take the space of more nutritious food.
Spices, such as nutmeg, should be avoided. Spices have been known to have negative effects on humans, ranging from skin irritation to liver failure. However, there’s also a lack of research in this area.
What Can Parrots Not Eat?
Aside from traditional foods, there are other kitchen ingredients your parrot should never have. Some of these drinks or ingredients are toxic. Others will upset your parrot’s metabolism or lead to illnesses over time.
Drinking alcoholic beverages, even in small amounts, can cause negative effects such as disorientation, nausea, and an increased heart rate. Human bodies can flush out the toxins from alcohol, while birds cannot. Because parrots have smaller bodies, they’re more susceptible to toxins. This can lead to:
- Heart damage
- Liver damage
- Respiratory infections
The amount of salt a parrot ingests should be kept to a minimum. This means that parrots can never eat pure salt or food that has been salted. If it does, your parrot may experience hypernatremia or excess sodium. There are many effects of hypernatremia, including:
- Excessive thirst
- Excessive urination
While it may be an essential part of your day, your parrot cannot have a cup of coffee. Coffee is not only unhealthy for birds but outright toxic. This is because of the caffeine present, regardless of the amount.
Caffeine belongs to a class of alkaloids called methylated xanthine. This compound stimulates the central nervous system, which in turn stimulates the heart and muscles. Methylated xanthine is harmful to parrots when ingested and can lead to tachycardia or a too-fast heartbeat. The increase in motor activity can lead to:
- High body temperature
Note that caffeine isn’t just found in coffee. It also applies to other caffeinated beverages, such as black tea and energy drinks. When giving your parrot beverages, check if there’s caffeine in the ingredients.
Sugar is an ingredient that should be moderated. That’s especially true for refined sugars or corn syrup, which should be avoided entirely. Because of how they’re processed, they may lead to your parrot being unable to metabolize them.
Aside from sugar, some carbonated beverages also contain caffeine, which parrots cannot have. Carbonated beverages may contain artificial colorings and preservatives.
Some Fruit Seeds
Seeds are an important part of your parrot’s diet, but not all of them are safe. Aside from fruit pits, other types of seeds may contain cyanide. Common examples include:
While the fruits themselves are healthy for parrots, their seeds aren’t. Parrots have a low bodyweight and sometimes only eat the seeds out of the fruit, increasing the risk of cyanide poisoning.
You should never feed your parrot food that’s been fried, whether that means:
- Sautéing it
- Deep frying it
- Battering and frying it in a pan
Even though it improves the taste, fried food is dangerous to your parrot’s metabolism and digestive tract. For commercially bought fried food, preservatives are often added for freshness and crispness. This can lead to digestive issues, weight gain, or poisoning. Avoid feeding your parrot any fried food, including:
- Fried rice
- Fried vegetables
- Fried meats
- Deep-fried desserts