It may seem harmless to find your parrot drooling, but this isn’t the case. A parrot’s beak and tongue are almost always dry, especially the tip of the tongue. Drooling should be seen as a medical emergency.
Drooling in parrots is a sign of a life-threatening illness. Parrots have salivary glands, but the distribution of saliva is different than in mammals. If your parrot is drooling, it may be due to a canker or digestive issue. A canker is an ulcerous condition that affects the mouth, throat, sinuses, esophagus, and other internal organs.
You won’t find your parrot accidentally drooling out extra saliva. There shouldn’t be extra saliva in the mouth that would allow this to happen. If your parrot’s beak is frequently moist and or appears to be drooling, it can indicate a parasitic infestation, like a canker.
Do Parrots Drool?
It’s unnatural for a parrot to drool because saliva isn’t needed in the beak. In fact, the inside of a healthy parrot’s beak is almost always dry. Even the tongue will be dry, especially at the tip.
Saliva doesn’t appear until further down the esophagus, where it’s used to lubricate the throat and break down food. Saliva should never come up the throat of its own volition.
Even if it doesn’t seem like your parrot is drooling saliva, you should take action. Parrots should never be:
- Leaking any fluid from their beaks
- Allowing the liquid to drain from their inner throat
You should take your pet to a vet immediately. Digestive issues that cause your parrot to leak fluid from its beak are severe. If it’s a canker, you may have a short amount of time to resolve the issue before it becomes deadly.
Do Parrots Have Salivary Glands?
While not all birds have salivary glands (as is the case with pelicans), parrots do. According to the University of Erciyes, the salivary glands in birds are present from the moment of hatching. They are found along the roof and floor of the mouth and on the tongue. A series of ducts are used to carry this salvia where it needs to go.
Humans possess anywhere between 800-1000 salivary glands spread across the tongue, palate, and mouth. While parrots also have them, they are far less in number.
Even their taste buds are significantly less, at 300 in comparison to our 10,000. The placement of the major salivary glands is also different, so the tip of the tongue is dry. This is due to the way saliva is used in birds’ digestive systems.
Do Parrots Have Saliva?
Parrots use saliva to lubricate their throats and assist in consuming solid food. However, the saliva doesn’t rise to the beak. Instead, it coats the esophagus and crop, as well as the pharynx.
Avian physiology is different from mammals. Because of this, even though parrots have salivary glands and create saliva, they use it differently. It coats the inside of the pharynx, the esophagus, and leads down into the crop (itself, an extension of the esophagus). Here, food can be stored and mixed with the saliva for later use or be regurgitated to feed hatchlings.
Of course, some saliva does come back up when parrots regurgitate food. However, this will be a small amount and unnoticeable to the human eye. You will see mushy, partially digested food. It will not look like drooling.
Because of that, there’s no danger of you diagnosing your parrot with canker after watching it regurgitate. If your parrot is coughing or gagging up undigested food, this will be an obvious process. It will involve bobbing its head, extending its neck, and even flapping its wings.
In contrast, drooling is a passive action, and your parrot may not show any other symptoms. Other symptoms may not be obvious or may develop later on.
What Is Canker?
Canker is a disease caused by trichomonas gallinae, a protozoan (single-celled) parasite. According to the University of Florida, it is the most common disease among pigeons. However, all birds are at risk, including parrots, and it is highly contagious among them. It spreads:
- When a bird ingests food or water contaminated by saliva or feces
- By regurgitation from a parent to offspring
- Through direct beak-to-beak contact, such as preening
It is most common in warmer climates. However, once the canker parasite finds a host bird, it can withstand any climate or season. The parasite itself cannot survive for long out in the open, requiring moisture to thrive. Nonetheless, it can spread quickly among a flock.
Canker Symptoms In Parrots
Parrots are good at hiding sickness, which can be a problem. By the time your parrot begins showing symptoms of canker, its health is in jeopardy.
Some birds may even remain subclinical carriers (not severe enough to show symptoms) for years. They will silently spread the parasite in shared water bowls and cages. Budgerigars are at the greatest risk, followed by cockatiels. The most notable symptom in parrots is necrotic lesions in the:
An infected parrot may be unable to close its beak due to painful lesions. Whitish gray or yellow caseous plaques on the tongue or throat may lead to dysphagia (difficulty swallowing). This leads to eventual malnutrition when the parrot is unable to eat. If your parrot starts to look thin or emaciated, it may be a sign that it has canker.
The drooling caused by the inflammation and ulcers will be apparent around the beak. The feathers may become dull in color, ashy, or fall out. The plumage will have a moist, unhealthy look.
If the infection reaches the sinuses, the parrot will have watery, puffed-up eyes with a crusty appearance. Respiratory complications may arise from the sheer number and size of lesions that appear in the trachea. It’s not uncommon for other symptoms to appear, such as:
- Increased water intake
- Excessive swallowing
- Ruffled-up feathers
- Drooping wings
- An inability to fly
Diagnosing Canker In Parrots
An avian vet can verify if your parrot has canker. Once confirmed, they will offer advice on how best to proceed. This will usually involve treatment, such as:
- Ronidazole mixed in water for about a week
- Carnidazole as a single dose
If there are no symptoms other than drooling and the beak is suddenly dry and clean, you may have mistaken the drooling for something else. It could be that your parrot:
- Had a drink, leaving its beak wet
- Regurgitated shortly before you noticed the drooling, which was just leftover food or liquid
If your parrot has vomited, it may have been a one-time event that was harmless.
Is Canker Contagious?
Canker is contagious among parrots. Wild budgie and cockatiel flocks are among the most commonly afflicted. Since the parasite trichomonas gallinae needs moisture to survive, it can pass through:
- Any shared body of water
- Feces that are touched a shared area
- Birds preening or regurgitating on one another
- Mating rituals that require physical contact
- Any beak-to-beak contact
- Other involuntary bodily fluids such as vomit, diarrhea, and drool
Even if a flock is clean, wild birds can pose a danger to your parrot. Pigeons are disproportionately affected by this condition. Any that roam close to your home, defecating on rooftops or through the wire on top of your aviary, can potentially contaminate your birds.
Bird shows or other social situations where your parrots might contact other flocks are a high risk. Parrots may be contaminated by drinking from water sources where other birds have drank.
How To Prevent Canker In Parrots
You can take these measures to stop your parrot from getting canker:
- Any new parrots or birds should be quarantined before being introduced to your parrot.
- Limit contact with humans who have been in recent contact with other birds.
- Change water and food daily, being sure to scrub dishes and bowls.
- Use feeders with drainage holes to reduce the amount of moisture that builds up.
- Droppings should be cleaned daily as they tend to drop on or near food.
- Have multiple water and food bowls to eliminate crowding and territorial fights.
- Keep your parrot away from windows that have pigeon droppings on them.
- Avoid letting your parrot interact with wild birds, even through a screen.
It’s unnatural for a parrot to drool. If you notice this symptom, it needs to be dealt with immediately. Ensure that it’s actually leaking salvia rather than water from its dish. Once a vet treats your parrot, it should make a full recovery.