Parrots are instinctively driven to hide illness, which they do to avoid being seen as ‘easy prey’ by potential predators. Unfortunately for parrot owners, dehydration can be difficult to spot.
If your parrot is eating and drinking less, and its pee/poop has changed, it could be dehydrated. Sunken eyes are a more advanced sign, suggesting that your parrot is already 6% dehydrated. Other warning signs are tenting eyelids and a basilic wing vein that’s slow to refill blood after pressing.
Parrots drink little fluid compared to mammals, so don’t expect your parrot to be lapping up water. That said, dehydration is a serious condition, so it’s important to remain on your guard as an owner.
What Is Dehydration in Parrots?
If your parrot loses more fluid than it takes in, it’ll become dehydrated. Dehydration is bad for parrots because it makes them weak and lethargic. If not remedied, it can lead to renal failure and even death.
How To Know if Your Parrot Is Dehydrated
Monitoring your parrot’s fluid balance isn’t intuitive because birds aren’t like humans in this regard.
Parrots drink little water, as most of the fluid they consume comes from fruits and vegetables. Also, according to RSPB, they don’t lose fluid through sweat, although they lose some fluid through respiration.
Also, parrots don’t pee the same way as mammals, so the amount of urine they expel can be difficult to monitor. Nevertheless, it’s possible to tell if your parrot is dehydrated or not.
What Causes Dehydration in Parrots?
Parrots can dehydrate for various reasons, but the main 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 hot temperature, bird cages can overheat if placed in a suntrap, or blankets are placed over the cage for too long.
Another common reason for dehydration is feeding your parrot a pellet-heavy diet. Wild parrots get most of their fluids from eating plants, fruits, and veggies. This means that they can become mildly dehydrated if they eat only pellets and forget to drink regularly (or aren’t able to access water).
Can Parrots Die Of Dehydration?
Parrots can die due to dehydration. According to Vet Exotic, the chances of developing renal disease increase if your parrot becomes very dehydrated (10% or more).
After that, the parrot will likely develop Hypovolemia, which means they don’t have enough blood to pump around its body. This results in rapid heart rate, weak pulse, and loss of consciousness.
How Long Does It Take for a Parrot To Die from Dehydration?
This depends on many factors, such as how old your parrot is, its environment, and whether it is helped to rehydrate or not. The stages of dehydration are as follows:
Your 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, it’s often possible to rehydrate your parrot at home.
Once your parrot is moderately dehydrated (5-9%), the condition is unlikely to improve without vet-administered fluid therapy. You should see an avian vet within 24 hours.
At this stage, a parrot is approximately 10% dehydrated and will have most or all of the dehydration symptoms outlined below:
Signs and Symptoms A Parrot Is Dehydrated
Dehydration is a condition that can deteriorate very quickly, so you should always be wary of the following signs that your parrot is dehydrated:
1/ Eating Differently
If your parrot has stopped eating altogether, this could be a sign of dehydration (amongst other things).
Dehydration causes fatigue. Eating takes more effort than a dehydrated parrot is willing to exert, and they’re more likely to refuse pelleted food when dehydrated.
Dehydrated parrots might consume more fruits than usual since they contain a lot of water, which is a good sign as your parrot will rehydrate itself.
However, if this overfeeding on fruit persists for a long-time, it may be a sign of polydipsia (excessive thirst), which can indicate underlying disease.
All sudden changes in eating habits could cause concern – not just dehydration but other illnesses.
2/ Changes in Poop and Pee
If you notice any changes to your parrot’s poop, it could signify dehydration.
It can be difficult to monitor urine changes as parrots don’t pee the same way as humans. A dehydrated human has very strong-smelling liquid urine, but a parrot’s pee is different.
Parrots don’t have a bladder like most mammals, generating uric acid rather than emitting urea. This uric acid is eliminated through a vent next to the cloaca (along with excrement). So, pee and poo come out 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 be dry (as the uric acid becomes almost nonexistent), and the parrot may even stop eliminating.
3/ 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 if they’re more than 5% dehydrated.
4/ Tenting Eyelids
Tenting eyelids aren’t necessarily the best’ test’ for dehydration because parrots already have delicate skin that doesn’t always stay taught around the eyes.
If you notice that the skin around your parrot’s eyes has become a bit baggier and is slow to return to normal after pinching, your pet parrot is probably dehydrated.
Parrots are usually happy-go-lucky and ready to play, but this will change if they become dehydrated.
A dehydrated parrot will become lethargic, probably seeking a place to ‘hide’ and be alone. Your parrot may also become aggressive if you try to force play.
Mood changes, such as depression, are among the clearest signs something’s wrong with your parrot.
6/ Basilic Wing Vein Refill Time
Remember we said that skin tenting is somewhat of an unreliable dehydration sign in birds? Well, there is a more accurate way of testing if your parrot is dehydrated, and that’s by pressing the basilic wing vein.
Only try this method if you’re accustomed to handling your parrot, as it’s important to be gentle. 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, it’s a sign that your parrot is dehydrated.
7/ Dry Or Sticky Mucous Membrane
If the mucous membranes (located inside the parrot’s mouth) have become sticky and very dry, this is another sign of dehydration.
8/ Fluffed Out Feathers
Parrots fluff out their feathers as a way to cool down. So, if you ever see your parrot doing this, you may need to move its cage out of the sun or turn the ambient temperature down.
If your parrot’s overheating, you’ll almost certainly see them fluffing/puffing out their feathers.
According to Melbourne Vet, if you see your parrot panting, you can assume that they are already severely dehydrated.
10/ 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 try to avoid all activities.
How To Rehydrate A Parrot
If your parrot is less than 5% dehydrated, you may be able to rehydrate it at home.
You should provide clean, fresh water in a dish that’s easy to reach. Also, provide one dish per parrot if you have multiple birds. This is so that your parrots don’t have to fight over resources.
Try to tempt your parrot with fruit and vegetables that have a high water content, like apples, watermelon, tomatoes, and cucumbers.
You can also ease off pelleted food for a couple of days until your parrot is more hydrated.
Fluid Therapy At The Vet
If your parrot is more than 5% dehydrated, you may not be able to provide enough care at home, especially if your parrot is refusing food and water.
Avian Medicine stated that this starts with a 5% dextrose solution, although some vets use Gatorade as a rehydrating fluid.
There’s an isotonic solution that vets can use called Lactated Ringer’s Solution (LRS), although some studies have found that 5% dextrose is just as effective at 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).
Your vet will administer the fluids over 24-48 hours, and maintenance fluid is then provided over several days or weeks.
Dehydration is a worrying condition because it can be difficult to spot. Remember to monitor your parrot’s eating and elimination habits regularly, as well as its mood, behavior, and eye health. This should help you to detect dehydration quickly.