Last Updated on March 2, 2024 by Carrie Stephens
It’s unnatural for parrots to drool like humans or slobber like a salivating dog because saliva isn’t needed in the beak. The inside of a healthy parrot’s beak is almost always dry, including the tongue.
Saliva shouldn’t be visible until further down the esophagus, where it lubricates the throat and assists with the breakdown of food. Saliva should never be released from the beak or nare (nostrils).
If a parrot drools suddenly, it may be due to canker, a crop obstruction, or trouble breathing.
Salivary Production in Parrots
While not all birds have salivary glands (as with pelicans), parrots do.
According to the University of Erciyes, birds have salivary glands from hatching. They’re found on the tongue and along the roof and floor of the mouth.
A series of ducts carry salvia where it needs to go.
Humans have 800-1000 salivary glands spread across the tongue, palate, and mouth. While parrots also have salivary glands, they’re fewer in number.
Even parrots’ taste buds are significantly less, at 300 compared to 10,000 in humans.
The position of the salivary glands also differs. Consequently, the tip of the tongue is dry due to how saliva is utilized in birds’ digestive systems.
Drooling vs. Regurgitation
Parrots use saliva to lubricate their throats and assist in the breakdown of food.
Avian physiology differs from mammals. Saliva doesn’t rise to the beak. Instead, it coats the esophagus, crop, and pharynx. Although parrots have salivary glands and create saliva, they use it differently.
Saliva coats the inside of the pharynx and the esophagus and leads into the crop (itself, an extension of the esophagus). Here, food is combined with saliva for later use.
Some saliva emerges when parrots regurgitate food. However, there will only be a small quantity of saliva. You’ll see mushy, partially digested food. It won’t look like drool.
Regurgitation happens when the parrot brings up undigested food in a controlled way.
Why Parrots Drool
Here are the leading causes of drooling in parrots:
Parrots fed nuts and seeds will lack vitamin A (retinol), resulting in hypovitaminosis A.
Parrots require vitamin A for healthy mucous membranes and skin. A lack of retinol compromises the epithelial tissue, meaning parrots are more vulnerable to respiratory conditions.
Hypovitaminosis A causes oral legions that make swallowing and vocalizing harder, resulting in drool or nasal discharge. You may observe other signs, such as sneezing and swollen eyes.
These changes strengthen the immune system, making it less vulnerable to sickness.
If the crop is obstructed and swallowing inhibited, saliva will accumulate and drip from the beak or nare.
Check inside the mouth with a penlight for anything that may be lodged, such as a piece of a nutshell or a toy fragment. Aside from drooling, you may also observe inflammation, redness, and soreness.
Canker (Trichomonas Columbae)
Canker is a disease caused by Trichomonas gallinae, a protozoan parasite (one-celled organism).
According to the University of Florida, it’s the most common disease among pigeons. However, all bird species are at risk of canker, including parrots. It spreads in the following ways:
- A bird ingests food or water contaminated by saliva or feces.
- Regurgitation from a parent to offspring.
- Through direct beak-to-beak contact.
It’s most common in warm climates. However, once the canker parasite finds a host bird, it can withstand any climate or season. Trichomonas gallinae can’t survive long in the open because it needs moisture.
Some birds remain subclinical carriers, asymptomatically spreading the parasite in shared environments. Budgerigars and cockatiels are most at risk, developing 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), eventually leading to malnutrition because the parrot can’t eat.
If the parrot looks thin or emaciated, it may signify canker.
The drooling caused by inflammation and ulcers will appear around the beak. The feathers may become dull in color, ashy, or fall out. The plumage will also 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 in the trachea. It’s common for other symptoms to emerge, such as:
- Increased water intake.
- Excessive swallowing.
- Ruffled-up feathers.
- Drooping wings.
- Unable to fly.
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 the parrot:
- Drank some water, leaving its beak wet.
- Regurgitated, so it was just leftover food or liquid.
If the parrot has vomited, it may have been an inconsequential one-time incident.
Once canker is confirmed, treatment will usually involve:
- Ronidazole in water for a week.
- Carnidazole as a single dose.
Canker is contagious among parrots, with wild budgie and cockatiel flocks most affected. Since the parasite Trichomonas gallinae needs moisture to survive, it can pass through:
- Any shared body of water.
- Feces that are touched in a shared area.
- Birds that preen or regurgitate for each other.
- Mating rituals that require physical contact.
- Beak-to-beak contact.
- Other involuntary bodily fluids, such as vomit, diarrhea, and drool.
Even if a flock is clean, wild birds can endanger parrots.
Pigeons are disproportionately affected by this condition. Ones that roam near your home defecating on rooftops or through the wire on top of the aviary can infect parrots.
Bird shows, and anywhere parrots interact are at risk.
You can take steps to stop the parrot from getting canker:
- Any new birds should be quarantined for 40 days before being introduced to the parrot.
- Limit contact with humans who have been in recent contact with other birds.
- Change water and food daily, cleaning the dishes and bowls.
- Use feeders with drainage holes to reduce moisture.
- Droppings should be cleaned daily as they drop on or near food.
- Provide several water and food bowls to eliminate crowding and territorial fights.
- Keep the parrot away from windows or areas with pigeon droppings.
- Avoid letting parrots interact with wild birds, even through a screen.
Once a vet treats a parrot for canker, it’ll usually fully recover. Then, the ‘drooling’ will cease.
It’s abnormal for parrots to drool. Although parrots produce saliva, very little (if any) should be released from the mouth or nares. If so, it likely has a crop obstruction, canker, or respiratory condition.