Is my parrot choking?

What To Do If Your Parrot Is Choking

Parrots are naturally inquisitive creatures. This sometimes leads them into biting, chewing on, or swallowing objects that they shouldn’t. Although parrots rarely choke, since they normally swallow food whole, it does happen. If your parrot makes a gagging sound or appears to be choking, you need to take action.

When a parrot chokes, you should calmly identify what it’s choking on. If it’s a solid object, give it a chance to cough it up alone. If it can’t, hold the parrot firmly, turn it upside down, and stimulate its jaws to work the object through. You may also gently massage its keel. With liquid, wait for the parrot’s airway to clear itself.

The liquid will pass through as the parrot naturally coughs. Once your parrot is done, call an avian vet as damage may have been caused to the throat.

How To Help A Choking Parrot

Parrots don’t choke often, but if they do, they rarely need your help. Parrots can cough up blockages on their own. After all, they routinely eat foods like seeds, which are encased in shells. Parrots usually break large food like nuts into bite-sized chunks, but they can cough it up if they make a mistake.

There are exceptions, of course. Here are three ways your parrot may choke and how you should react.

Parrot Choking On Water

If your parrot chokes on water, it’s only a temporary blockage. As a liquid, it will pass through any gap it can find. Your parrot might have its airway blocked for an instant, but as long as it isn’t submerged in water, that liquid will drain down the throat.

The parrot may cough and gag for a few seconds as it regains access to its airway. It may also be coughing water out of its lungs. This is a natural process, and your parrot is equipped to handle it. However, there are ways to help:

  • Remove the parrot from the water source. If it’s standing in a water dish, as it jerks around to cough, it may splash more water in its face.
  • Remain clm and reassuring. Choking on water is harmless, but the parrot will get more scared if you act scared.
  • Speak softly. The parrot will appreciate your reassurance and comfort as it works towards breathing properly again.
  • Don’t turn the bird upside down or press on its keel. This only works for solid objects. If you do this with liquids, they may find their way into the parrot’s air sacs.

Parrot Choking On Food

If your parrot is choking on food or a solid object, this won’t pass as easily as water. It may get trapped within the throat walls and block the airway, partially or fully. Whether the parrot is choking on food or broken pieces of a toy, here’s what you can do:

  • Give your parrot a few seconds to cough. The parrot may get the food out by itself. Intervening too early will just stress your parrot. It may also cause a sharp edge on the food or object to scratch the parrot’s throat.
  • Speak calmly and offer reassurance. The calmer you are, the more calmly your parrot will cough up the blockage.

What if the parrot doesn’t cough up the object? If this lasts for more than 6-10 seconds, you should intervene:

  1. Put your hands around the parrot’s middle and hold it firmly. Don’t restrain its head.
  2. Pick up your parrot and turn it upside down.
  3. Gravity will assist in forcing the object out, along with coughing.

If you don’t see an improvement within a few seconds, try one of these techniques:

  • Apply some pressure on the keel. This is the parrot’s breastbone. Pressing gently will compress the area and dislodge the item. Do this extremely gently as you may break the bone otherwise.
  • Apply alternating pressure on the crop. This is the expandable pouch on a bird’s neck used for food storage. Tap it gently with your finger. The resulting pressure or shaking may clear the throat.
  • Simulate regurgitation. Hold the beak between your fingers. Apply just enough pressure to simulate the same head-bobbing motion that is observed during regurgitation. Doing this may trigger the ejection of the obstacle.
  • Call the vet. You can also ask over the phone about measures you can take to help your parrot breathe. The vet will give you specific advice based on how your parrot is choking and what it’s choking on. This may include emergency measures to remove the blockage if you can’t get to the vet in time.

My Baby Parrot Is Choking On Formula

When your parrot eats soft food, like formula, it’s not really choking on the food. Baby parrots are choking on the water content. It may have eaten too fast and aspirated some of the water in the mix.

That’s because the food content is purposefully kept soft to avoid choking. That way, it can’t get lodged in the throat. Once the parrot begins coughing, the muscles in its throat will contract and expand. This will move the soft, gooey substance around and make it pass.

The only exception would be if you severely overfed the parrot. According to AFA Watchbird, the formula would have nowhere to go, as the crop overfills. In this case, you can only hope the parrot coughs it up or take it to the vet.

something stuck in parrot's throat

Can You Give A Parrot The Heimlich Maneuver?

Never attempt to perform the Heimlich maneuver on a parrot. This technique can kill your bird.

The Heimlich maneuver is used to stop asphyxiation in mammals. However, a parrot’s respiratory system is different from mammals. Parrots don’t have a diaphragm. This is the muscle that contracts to let in air and pushes it back out.

With land mammals, most use a diaphragm for breathing. Since parrots don’t have one, the classic Heimlich maneuver is impossible to carry out. There’s no easily accessible muscle you can push to create outward air pressure.

The closest version will be gently massaging the keel bone. It will stimulate the airway in the same way as coughing will to dislodge the object.

However, the keel should not be pushed forcefully. It’s not a muscle; it’s a bone. You can break it, which will cause more harm. This may lead to suffocation, regardless of if the parrot clears its airway.  

How To Tell If A Parrot Is Choking

The signs of a parrot choking are similar to a human’s reaction. After all, choking happens when something gets stuck in our trachea or esophagus. Even a temporary blockage will trigger a choking reaction. It’s the body’s natural way of trying to clear items from the airway. A choking parrot will exhibit some (or all) of these signs:

  • Open its beak
  • Cough
  • Gasp for breath
  • Bob its head
  • Wheeze
  • Extend its neck and elongate its body

If the parrot’s throat is partially blocked, it may cough for a few seconds. Once the airway clears, it will continue to cough for a while but still draw in breath. The coughing should subside after a few minutes.

How To Tell If A Parrot Is Choking To Death

If the parrot’s airway is completely blocked, it may be incapable of making any sound at all. In this case, the parrot will only be able to:

  • Extend its neck and body
  • Bob its head
  • Flap its wings
  • Appear distressed

In particular, extending its neck and body shows that the parrot struggles to clear out the object. It’s trying to stretch out its throat to encourage the object to move.

If your parrot only does this for a few seconds, then stops, it may have cleared the blockage. Now it will cough for a few seconds or minutes and be fine.

If the parrot continues to extend its neck or stretches out several times, it’s continuing to choke and needs assistance.

Things Parrots Choke On

So, what caused the blockage to start with? While parrots are skilled at eating sharp or clunky objects without choking, it does happen. Here are the common items that parrots choke on:

Broken Toys

As your parrot plays with its toy, it may break off a piece. This is especially true for thick plastic toys, leftover bones, or chunks of wood. While most parrots know better than to eat the fragments, some may swallow them accidentally. This is especially common in toys with buttons, beads, or rubber parts.

Even in the wild, parrots avoid eating bone fragments instead of picking out the marrow. However, a young parrot may still be learning this survival tactic. If it gets a piece off its toys, it may swallow it out of curiosity and choke.

Chunks Of Food

If you feed your parrot nuts or shellfish, naturally, the bird will enjoy pulling the shells apart. This can be healthy and fun enrichment but also poses some dangers. The parrot might crack off a piece and accidentally swallow it. If it gets lodged, the parrot will choke.

Jewelry

Parrots are curious and playful and will pick up anything within their reach. Beware of loose buttons, small ornaments, jewelry. Beads off of your necklace or a stray earring could end up stuck in your parrot’s throat.

Seeds

While parrots can eat seeds without danger, accidents do happen. Your parrot may have swallowed a seed whole rather than piecing it apart. It can get lodged at a bad angle and cause temporary choking. Likewise, as your parrot chews on pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, or anything with a large shell, it may get the shell stuck.

Water

If the parrot tries to talk, whistle, or move around while drinking, it may aspirate some water. This is the least dangerous kind of choking but is still uncomfortable.

Is My Parrot Choking?

Even if it seems like choking, your parrot may not be choking at all. Birds have a variety of habits or behaviors that can be easily mistaken for choking. If you jump the gun and try to help your parrot, you may:

  • Upset it, making it annoyed with you.
  • Cause it to choke when it wasn’t before.
  • Stress out the parrot, causing it to believe something’s wrong with normal behavior.
  • Get yourself messy in case the parrot regurgitates on you.

That makes it even more important to give your parrot a few seconds before intervening. It may solve the choking itself, or it may prove not to be choking at all. Be sure to look out for multiple signs of choking, not just one stray symptom.

Things Mistaken For Choking

If your parrot seems to be choking, it might actually be:

Crop Adjusting

Some birds, parrots included, will occasionally “rearrange” their crop. As mentioned, the crop is a bag in your parrot’s throat that may store food. By shifting its contents around, the parrot can help the stored food sit more comfortably there. Crop adjusting is quite common and nothing to be worried about.

Regurgitating

This is an act of purposefully ejecting food. This behavior is natural. It’s a way for a parrot to feed its young or even show affection and love to other parrots (or you!). A regurgitating parrot will not show signs of being under stress, as it is a very conscious action. To initiate regurgitation, parrots will:

  • Extend and retract their necks very quickly
  • Make a certain clicking or gagging noise

This may seem like choking. However, it is a safe situation. Regurgitated food comes from the crop, not the stomach. It will be undigested.

Vomiting

Vomiting is the involuntary discharge of food. It signals illness or disease in parrots and should worry you. If your parrot is vomiting up bile, it might be hard to notice the actual contents coming up. Instead, you’ll think it’s choking.

The parrot might involuntarily bob its head around before (or while) vomiting. It will also appear stressed or upset.

Infected

If your parrot has a respiratory infection, it may begin to cough regularly. Avian respiratory infections can occur for many different reasons. They can persist and be life-threatening. If your parrot constantly coughs, it is strongly recommended to seek veterinarian care.

Suffering From Food Poisoning

While parrots know better than to eat spoiled food, they may eat food that’s toxic to them. This usually happens when owners give their parrots a treat without knowing it’s unsafe for their species.

When a parrot is poisoned, it will struggle to breathe with its beak open wide. Other symptoms will include diarrhea and loss of appetite.

Coughing

Parrots will cough for many reasons, not just choking. It may be:

  • Clearing its throat after eating or drinking something
  • Readjusting its crop
  • Mimicking humans

A parrot’s cough can be loud and audible, with an uncanny resemblance to a human cough. It can also be quiet and subtle, making it hard to catch in loud environments. This will sound more like a soft chirping.

Is My Parrot Choking Or Coughing?

To tell harmless coughing apart from proper choking, look for more than one symptom. After all, a cough or two on rare occasions is safe to ignore. Regular coughing, or coughing that’s paired with other signs, must be addressed. A harmless cough will:

  • Be a solo action with no other symptoms
  • Only happen once in a while
  • Won’t last for more than a few seconds

A cough that indicates choking will be paired with:

  • Gagging
  • Extending the neck and body
  • Signs of distress and fear
  • Bobbing head
  • Flapping wings
  • Coughing for several seconds or minutes
  • These symptoms continuing, but your parrot being unable to make a sound

A cough that indicates sickness, but not choking, will be paired with:

  • Droopy eyes
  • Trembling
  • Ruffled feathers
  • Lethargy
  • Sneezing

Can Parrots Choke To Death?

Parrots choking to death in the wild is a rare occurrence. However, parrots have choked to death in captivity. If they eat something that fits in their beak but is too large for their throat, it will get stuck there.

Once the food becomes lodged in the trachea, oxygen is cut off. Air will no longer be able to get to the air sacs around its body. Within minutes, the lack of oxygen can cause permanent damage. This may include:

  • Brain damage
  • Heart damage
  • Lung damage

Likewise, the item stuck in the parrot’s throat may harm the soft lining of the esophagus. Scratching, bleeding, and scarring may result. Act quickly when there’s real choking.

parrot choking on food

Vet’s Solution To Choking

If the choking is severe, you may need to take your parrot to the vet. Once you’ve arrived, the vet will take action to remove the blockage. If your parrot is unable to breathe, they will first use an abdominal air sac tube. This is inserted to provide temporary respiration until the choking emergency has been resolved.

After the parrot has stopped choking and its airways have been cleared, they will check for damage. This is done by carrying out an endoscopy to verify the integrity of internal organs. If there is scratching or bleeding, they will look to soothe and repair the damage.

Prevention

There are things in a parrot’s living environment that can be hazardous, including:

Toys

Not all toys are completely safe, so ensure that the following apply:

  • Appropriately sized: Large parrots should not be given small toys that they can swallow.
  • Durable: If cheap and poorly made, it’s easier for parrots to break off fragments.
  • Not made of soft materials: Certain kinds of rubber, for example, can easily be torn by a parrot.
  • No extra pieces: Some toys have beads, bands, or jewels. These should be avoided as parrots can pry them off.

Food

Parrots have no teeth. They cannot chew their food. Instead, parrots swallow most food whole, utilizing their gizzards to consume larger morsels. This is an internal organ with ridges that help grind food to make it more digestible.

Because of this, when offering food to parrots, portion sizes are crucial. Cutting food into bite-sized pieces will allow the parrot to swallow food without harming itself. According to the Department of Environment, Land, Water, and Planning, even staple foods like bread can choke them if fed in large portions.

Household Dangers

If your parrot is out of its cage, never leave it unsupervised. Some things constitute choking hazards, such as:

  • Loose wiring: Parrots love exploring their surroundings with their beaks. Even when unplugged, cables can become a choking hazard after a parrot starts to chew through the rubber covering.
  • Remote controls: A parrot may pry off a rubber button, which can become lodged in its throat.
  • Inedible foods: Chewing gum.
  • Decorations: Christmas tree ornaments.

If your parrot happens to swallow any of these items, you can use the methods above to remove the blockage. Parrots don’t choke often, and they usually resolve the matter on their own.