Last Updated on: 17th July 2023, 10:04 am
Parrots like eating many of the same foods as people, but not all human foods are parrot-safe.
Some foods we eat are outright toxic to parrots, leading to premature death. Other foods aren’t deadly but can cause fluctuating energy levels, behavioral problems, digestive distress, and weight gain.
Parrots should never be fed avocado, eggplant, chocolate, or cherry/apricot pits. Other foods to avoid include raw rhubarb, onion, garlic, sugar-free foods, moldy peanuts, and dairy products.
What Foods Can Kill A Parrot?
The following foods can be fatal if consumed by parrots:
Avocados contain a fatty acid derivative called persin. When ingested by parrots, persin can lead to breathing problems and the inability to perch properly.
When enough persin is ingested, it can cause fluids to accumulate around a bird’s organs. However, once respiratory issues begin, death is the likely outcome.
Persin can also be found in all parts of the avocado tree, not just the fruit.
Eggplants (called aubergines in the UK) are from the nightshade family, so they contain solanine, which is a glycoalkaloid poison.
In parrots, solanine can cause gastrointestinal, respiratory, and neurological problems. The symptoms of solanine poisoning are as follows:
- Stomach pain and cramping.
- Slow pulse and breathing.
Solanine is contained in the flowers, leaves, and stalks of the eggplant.
Chocolate contains a compound called theobromine. Theobromine, like caffeine, belongs to the class of alkaloids called methylated xanthine. This means chocolate will:
- Stimulate the central nervous system and heart.
- Accelerate the removal of bodily fluids.
Theobromine makes chocolate toxic to birds, even in small amounts. Even without theobromine, chocolate is unhealthy for parrots because it contains the following ingredients:
- Butter: This adds fat to a parrot’s diet.
- Milk: This is harmful since birds can’t digest lactose (no lactase).
- Sugar: This can lead to weight gain, lethargy, and stomach upsets.
The darker the chocolate, the more theobromine it contains. For example, dark chocolate is more dangerous than milk chocolate, which is more harmful than white chocolate.
Many fruit pits contain cyanide, which is highly toxic to parrots. This applies to various stoned fruit, including apricots, cherries, prunes, pears, plums, and peach pits.
Cyanide poisoning from fruit pit consumption can lead to the following:
- 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. It’s advisable to remove the pit from the fruit first.
Foods That Are Toxic for Parrots
These foods aren’t as immediately dangerous to parrots. However, they’re still toxic and 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 minerals.
Many leafy greens or seeds contain this compound. However, rhubarb contains more oxalic acid, making it harmful when fed raw. However, cooking rhubarb reduces the quantity.
Besides being unable to absorb nutrients efficiently, oxalic acid has other negative effects on the body. For example, oxalic acid has been linked to kidney stones.
According to The New England Journal of Medicine, kidney stones are more likely to form when oxalates are high in the body, but urine volume is low.
Mushrooms are fungi that can absorb toxins in their environment. Additionally, mushrooms contain amatoxin, which can upset the stomachs of some birds.
Raw mushrooms are more dangerous to parrots than if they’re cooked. Some types contain higher amounts of amatoxin, leading to digestive issues and neurological damage.
Shiitake mushrooms should never be fed to parrots. If they’re not safely farmed, other mushrooms may harm parrots, even when thoroughly cooked.
Onions contain a substance called sulfoxides. Sulfoxides don’t disappear, even when cooked.
Despite this lack of scientific research, there’s reason to believe sulfoxides in onions are toxic to parrots. Many animals don’t respond well to these compounds, namely:
- Guinea pigs.
So, they can’t consume raw, cooked, dried, or powdered onions. All other plants that belong to the Allium family are off-limits, including shallots, a common cooking ingredient.
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 green onions fed to the birds were linked to their death. Researchers also found that onions could cause anemia and liver problems.
Garlic can’t be given to parrots because it contains:
These compounds are kept separate in 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 isn’t immediately toxic to parrots but is harmful over time. Commonly, too much Allicin causes stomach upsets. In extreme cases, Allicin can cause red blood cells to burst, resulting in hemolytic anemia.
Even in small, non-toxic dosages, garlic irritates the parrot’s stomach and affects its mood.
Parrots shouldn’t be given food labeled as ‘sugar-free,’ even in small amounts, because it contains alternatives to sugar that can harm parrots.
Xylitol can cause low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) or liver failure in some animal species.
Foods Not To Feed A Parrot
These foods can lead to upset stomachs and dietary imbalances. Depending on how they’re prepared, they may also cause more severe health issues.
Dairy should be avoided, even if the parrot likes ice cream, milk, or cheese.
Parrots are lactose intolerant because they lack the enzyme lactase. After all, parrots don’t need to digest lactose in the wild. If birds eat dairy, it’ll cause stomach upsets and diarrhea.
Parrots can eat meat because they’re omnivores, but it should always be cooked.
Wild parrots eat small bugs or scavenge on leftover carcasses (carrion). Domestic parrots can eat meats like chicken and fish, but raw meat can harbor dangerous bacteria, like:
- E. coli.
This can result in food poisoning, which can have the following adverse effects:
- Stomach cramps.
The above bacteria are killed when the meat is cooked.
If left raw, bacteria can live on the surface of the meat. Aside from raw meat, avoid giving a parrot reheated food because it can harbor the same bacteria as raw meat.
Although a treat, saltine crackers should be fed in moderation. They’re not toxic or harmful substances but contain an unhealthy amount of salt (sodium).
Potato chips (called crisps in the UK) are high in trans fats, sodium, and additives that make them unhealthy. They’re often deep-fried in oil, which can lead to weight gain if eaten to excess.
If you want to give potato chips to a parrot, make them yourself. Slice potatoes thinly and bake them in the oven. Avoid adding extra salt or oil for flavor.
Large Raw Beans
Uncooked beans can cause problems with a parrot’s digestion. Certain uncooked beans are:
- Have enzyme inhibitors.
- Cause gout.
Not all beans contain harmful substances, but cook beans as a precaution. Soaking the beans will remove these substances by starting the sprouting process.
Because they grow in the ground, peanuts can contain aflatoxin. This is caused by the Aspergillus fungus, which can 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 and storing them properly. Also, check for discoloration.
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.
They contain tropane alkaloids, which can cause hallucinations and delirium. Check the base compounds before giving parrots stems and leaves. If it contains tropane alkaloids, avoid it.
Tomatoes are acidic, and too much can cause ulcers. 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 the parrot’s crop. A crop impaction is more common, and it happens when food can’t move from the crop to the esophagus.
Complications from crop impactions include infections, whether they’re from bacteria, yeast, or fungi. Due to the blockage, parrots can develop dehydration and hypoglycemia.
This doesn’t mean you can never feed a parrot celery. The stalks can cause impaction, but as a whole, celery is relatively healthy and low in calories for parrots.
To avoid issues, finely chop the stalks to limit their chance of crop impaction. Alternatively, juice the celery in a blender with water to make a refreshing and nutritious drink.
Tapioca is made from cassava starch, a type of flour, meaning it’s nothing more than carbohydrates. Feeding more than a few pieces of tapioca per week can lead to weight gain.
Nutmeg contains myristicin (a narcotic), which can lead to nausea, dizziness, and vomiting in parrots. In humans, it can sometimes lead to skin irritation and liver failure.
What Can Parrots Not Eat or Drink?
There are other kitchen ingredients a parrot should never have. Some of these drinks or ingredients are toxic, while others will cause illness gradually.
Drinking alcoholic beverages, even in small amounts, can lead to disorientation, nausea, and an increased heart rate. It compromises the efficiency of vital organs and can be life-threatening.
Human bodies can flush out the toxins from alcohol, while birds can’t. Because parrots have smaller bodies, their organs are more susceptible to damage from toxins.
The amount of salt a parrot ingests should be minimized, so never eat food that has been salted to add flavor. If it does, the parrot may experience hypernatremia.
The adverse effects of hypernatremia include:
- Excessive thirst.
- Excessive urination.
Check the ingredients list, avoiding products that are high in sodium.
While it may be essential to your day, a parrot can’t have a cup of coffee. Coffee isn’t just unhealthy for birds but outright toxic due to the caffeine.
Caffeine belongs to a class of alkaloids called methylated xanthine. This compound stimulates the central nervous system, stimulating the heart and muscles.
Methylated xanthine harms parrots when ingested and can lead to tachycardia or a too-fast heartbeat. The increase in motor activity can have the following consequences:
- High body temperature.
Note that caffeine isn’t just found in coffee. It also applies to caffeinated beverages, like black tea and energy drinks. Before giving a parrot a beverage, check the ingredients list.
Sugar is an ingredient that should be moderated, especially refined sugars or corn syrup. Due to how they’re processed, they may mean a parrot can’t metabolize them.
Aside from sugar, some carbonated beverages contain caffeine, which parrots can’t have. Carbonated beverages usually contain artificial colorings and preservatives.
Never feed a parrot food that’s been fried, whether that means:
- Deep frying.
- Battering and frying.
Preservatives are often added for freshness and crispness to commercially fried foods, leading to digestive issues, obesity, or poisoning. Avoid feeding a parrot fried food, including:
- Fried rice.
- Fried vegetables.
- Fried meats.
- Deep-fried desserts.