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how to tell if a parrot is dehydrated

Is My Parrot Dehydrated? (10 Signs + Symptoms)

Last Updated on January 28, 2024 by Carrie Stephens

Parrots are instinctively driven to hide illnesses, which they do to avoid being perceived as easy prey by predators. Unfortunately for owners, dehydration can be difficult to identify in pet birds.

If a parrot eats and drinks less, and its pee and poop have changed consistency, it could be dehydrated.

Sunken eyes are a more advanced sign, suggesting a parrot is 6% dehydrated. Other warning signs are tenting eyelids and a basilic wing vein that’s slow to refill with blood after pressing.

Parrots drink little fluid compared to mammals, so don’t expect a parrot to be lapping up water like a dog. Dehydration is severe, so be vigilant about a parrot’s hydration level.  

Dehydration in Parrots Meaning

If a parrot loses more fluid than it takes in, it’ll become dehydrated. Dehydration is harmful because it makes parrots weak and lethargic.

If dehydration continues, it can lead to kidney damage, renal failure, and death.

How To Know if Your Parrot Is Dehydrated

Monitoring a parrot’s fluid balance isn’t intuitive because birds aren’t like humans in this regard.

Parrots drink little water because they derive fluid from fruits and vegetables. According to the RSPB, they don’t lose fluid through sweat, although they lose some fluid through respiration.

Parrots don’t pee the same way as mammals, so the amount of urine they expel is hard to monitor.

Causes of Dehydration

Parrots can dehydrate for various reasons, but the leading causes are too much heat or dry food.

According to OUP, if the air temperature rises above a parrot’s normothermic body temperature (approx. 40 degrees Celsius/104 degrees Fahrenheit), it’ll lose 5% of its body weight to dehydration per hour.

Although no one keeps their home at such a high temperature, bird cages can overheat if they’re in a suntrap or blankets are placed over their cages for too long.

Another common reason for dehydration is feeding a parrot an all-pellet diet. Wild parrots get most of their fluids from eating plants, fruits, and veggies.

symptoms of dehydration in parrots

Parrots Can Die of Dehydration

According to Vet Exotic, the likelihood of developing kidney disease increases if the parrot becomes severely dehydrated (10% or more).

After that, the parrot will likely develop hypovolemia, which means they lack enough blood to pump around the body. This results in rapid heart rate, weak pulse, and loss of consciousness. 

How Long It Takes A Parrot To Die from Dehydration

This depends on many factors, such as how old the parrot is, its environment, and whether it’s helped to rehydrate. The stages of dehydration are as follows:

Mild Dehydration

A parrot is less than 5% dehydrated. They may have been drinking less than usual for a day, but there probably aren’t many other symptoms. At this stage, you can usually rehydrate the parrot at home.

Moderate Dehydration

Once the parrot is moderately dehydrated (5-9%), the condition will unlikely improve without vet-administered fluid therapy. You should see an avian vet within 24 hours.

Severe Dehydration

A parrot is 10% dehydrated and will have most of the dehydration symptoms below.

Symptoms of A Dehydrated Parrot

Dehydration is a condition that can deteriorate quickly, so note these warning signs:

Eating Differently

If a parrot has stopped eating entirely, this could signify dehydration.

Dehydration causes fatigue. Eating takes more effort than a dehydrated parrot is willing to do, and they’re more likely to refuse pelleted food when dehydrated.

Dehydrated parrots may consume more fruits than usual due to their high water content. If overfeeding on fruit persists, it may be a sign of polydipsia (excessive thirst).

Changes in Poop and Pee

If you notice any changes to a parrot’s poop, it could signify dehydration.

It can be hard to monitor urine changes as parrots don’t pee the same way as humans. A dehydrated human has strong-smelling liquid urine, but a parrot’s pee differs.

Parrots don’t have bladders, so they generate uric acid rather than urea. This uric acid is eliminated through the cloaca (along with excrement), and their waste is released together.

What happens to parrots’ waste when they’re dehydrated? According to Avian Medicine, the output is reduced from 100ml/kg/day (in a healthy bird) to 25ml/kg/day in a dehydrated one.

A mildly dehydrated parrot’s poop is loosely formed. As the dehydration continues, the poop will dry out (as the uric acid becomes almost non-existent), and the parrot may stop eliminating.

Sunken Eyes

According to JSTOR, sunken eyes signify that a parrot is 6% dehydrated (or more). This is concerning because it’s not usually possible to rehydrate a parrot at home once it reaches this level.

Tenting Eyelids

Tenting eyelids aren’t necessarily the best test for dehydration in birds because parrots have delicate skin that doesn’t always stay taught around the eyes.

If the skin around a parrot’s eyes has become baggier and slowly returns to normal after pinching, its body is likely short of water.

Depression

Parrots are usually energetic and playful, but this changes if they become dehydrated.

A dehydrated parrot will become lethargic, probably seeking a place to hide and be alone. A parrot may also become aggressive if you attempt to force it to play.

Mood changes, like depression, are an obvious sign something’s amiss with the parrot.

Basilic Wing Vein Refill Time

Pressing the basilic wing vein is a more accurate way of testing if a parrot is dehydrated.

Only try this method if you’re accustomed to handling a parrot. The basilic wing vein (or cutaneous ulnar vein) is prominent and located inside the wing.

According to VIN, If you press on this vein and it takes more than 1 second for the blood to refill, it’s a sign that the parrot is dehydrated.

Dry Or Sticky Mucous Membrane

If the mucous membranes (located inside the parrot’s mouth) have become sticky and overly dry, this is another symptom of dehydration.

Fluffed Out Feathers

Parrots fluff out their feathers to cool down. If you see a parrot doing this, you may need to move its cage out of the sun or turn the room temperature down.

If a parrot’s overheating, you’ll see them puffing out their feathers.

What does dehydration look like in parrots?

Panting

If a parrot is panting, it’s severely dehydrated.

Sitting on the Cage Floor

Parrots love to fly, and it’s natural for them to explore the uppermost recesses of your home. Unfortunately, something is wrong if they want to stay on the floor.

An exhausted and depleted parrot will sit on its cage floor and avoid all activities.

How To Rehydrate A Parrot

If a parrot is less than 5% dehydrated, you may be able to rehydrate it at home.

Provide clean water in a dish that’s easy to reach. Also, provide 1 dish per parrot if you have multiple birds. This is so the parrots don’t have to fight over resources.

Try to tempt the parrot with fruit and vegetables like apples, watermelon, tomatoes, and cucumbers because they have a high water content.

You can also ease off pelleted food for a couple of days until the parrot’s more hydrated.

Fluid Therapy At The Vet

If a parrot is more than 5% dehydrated, you may be unable to provide sufficient care at home, especially if it refuses food and water.

Avian Medicine recommends a 5% dextrose solution, although some vets use Gatorade.

There’s an isotonic solution that vets use called Lactated Ringer’s Solution (LRS), although some studies have found that 5% dextrose is as effective for rehydrating parrots.

There are various methods for administering fluid. Of course, providing it through the mouth is the least invasive, but it’s often too late if the parrot is severely dehydrated.

Other methods include subcutaneous (injected into the fat under the skin) and intravenous (injected directly into the vein). A vet will administer the fluids over 24-48 hours, and maintenance fluid is then provided over several days or weeks.

Dehydration can be hard to identify. Monitor the parrot’s food consumption, elimination habits, mood, behavior, and eye health to ensure everything is normal.