loss of balance in parrots

Why Is My Parrot Losing Balance?

It’s concerning when you see your parrot lose its balance without explanation. It could just be that your parrot has lost its footing, but due to their natural balancing skills, it’s usually a sign that something’s wrong.

The main reason for balance loss in parrots is ataxia, which affects the nervous and musculoskeletal systems. Parrots with ataxia appear clumsy and stand with their legs splayed to gain balance. Other possibilities include ear infections, brain injuries, tumors, and nutritional deficiencies.

It can be difficult to identify the cause of balance loss in parrots, so checking for signs of sickness or injury is essential for getting your parrot the support and treatment it needs to make a recovery.

What Causes Loss of Balance in Parrots?

If your parrot suddenly appears wobbly or clumsy, it likely has a health problem. Don’t ignore your parrot’s incoordination in case it needs veterinary care. Here are the most common explanations:

Ear Infections

Ear infections are commonly seen in parrots. Even though you can’t see the ears, parrots have them – feathers hide them to keep them safe from dust, debris, and water.

Anything that bothers your parrot’s ears is likely to throw a parrot off balance. Mites, fungus, and bacteria can cause ear infections. Parrots can even get them from foreign bodies that have entered the ear canal.

The main symptoms of an ear infection include:

  • Constant shaking of the head
  • Brown or yellow discharge
  • Red or inflamed skin around the ear
  • Foul-smelling odor

If you notice that your parrot can’t balance itself, check its ears. Don’t attempt to clean them yourself, as you’re likely to make the infection worse.

parrot leaning to one side

Tumors

Head tumors are a problem because they put pressure on the brain, resulting in balance loss. Similarly, tumors within the ear cavity can throw your parrot’s coordination out of sync.

Tumors can even affect a parrot’s ability to stand. According to Vet Times, testicular tumors are most frequently seen in budgerigars, which causes:

  • Hind limb weakness
  • Lameness
  • Paralysis

These are directly linked to a loss of balance, preventing parrots from standing on their perches for too long or at all.

Sciatic Nerve Compression

Sciatic nerve compression is a condition that commonly results from the passage of a large egg. It’s also caused by the presence of a mass occupying too much space. This makes it impossible for parrots to stand on one or both legs, causing them to lose balance and struggle with coordination.

Nutritional Deficiencies

Nutritional deficiencies can stop the bones and muscles from functioning optimally. Calcium, in particular, can cause a range of problems if parrots don’t consume enough. This condition is known as hypocalcemia. Without sufficient calcium, the nerves and muscles will suffer, causing weakness and poor development.

Not only do parrots lose their balance when they don’t consume enough calcium, but they can’t coordinate themselves properly. However, all nutritional deficiencies can cause balance loss. Essential vitamins and minerals include:

  • Calcium
  • Iron
  • Potassium
  • Phosphorus
  • Magnesium
  • Fiber
  • Vitamins C, A, K, B-6

Kitchen Fumes

Kitchen fumes are one of the main reasons why parrots lose their balance. In particular, Teflon toxicity (PTFE poisoning), which is a respiratory condition caused by overheated Teflon appliances, can make your bird very sick.

As VCA Hospitals explains, Teflon-coated kitchen utensils release a gaseous toxin called polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). Because parrots have sensitive respiratory systems, they’re affected by it quickly.

This gas is colorless and odorless, so it’s sometimes a mystery why parrots suddenly lose their balance and become listless. However, if you keep your parrot in the kitchen while you cook, it is at risk of being poisoned.

Alongside balance loss, other symptoms include:

  • Breathing difficulties
  • Muscle weakness
  • Inability to use the perch
  • Fluffed-up feathers
  • Coma

Keep your parrot away from the kitchen, especially when preparing food.

Head Trauma

A head injury is another likely cause of balance loss. As described by the Department of Infectious Disease and Global Health, the magnitude of the impact determines the severity of the brain injury. Some parrots have significant, long-lasting damage, while others will experience temporary health conditions.

Signs of head trauma include:

  • External bleeding and bruising
  • A change in mental status
  • Muscle weakness
  • Head tilt
  • Tremors
  • Uncontrollable eye movements (nystagmus)

There are behavioral changes involved with head injuries. Some parrots become angry and aggressive, while others become withdrawn and standoffish. If the injury isn’t dealt with properly, the symptoms will worsen over time.

How Does Ataxia Cause Loss of Balance?

The most likely explanation for your parrot’s loss of balance is ataxia. This is a condition that affects the nervous and musculoskeletal system and is caused by:

  • Nerve or spinal cord damage
  • Nervous system and musculoskeletal disorders
  • Chronic diseases
  • Infections, particularly of the ear and respiratory tract

Within the nervous system, ataxia damages the brain, spinal cord, and inner ear. As a result, the brain can’t perceive the body’s physical position, limbs, and head. Similarly, the brain can’t coordinate its movement, causing the parrot to lose its balance.

With the musculoskeletal system, the parrot can’t coordinate its muscles. That’s because the muscles are unable to respond to the signals the brain is sending. As a result, parrots with ataxia:

  • Stand with their legs splayed apart in order to balance
  • Use their beaks to hold onto the bars to stop them from falling over
  • Appear clumsy or wobbly
  • Can’t sit on their perch without falling off
  • Stumble and fall over when they walk

Another symptom of ataxia is that parrots have difficulty breathing, opening and stretching their necks to breathe. They might also puff out their cheeks, bob their tails with each breath, and breathe with their mouths open.

Can Ataxia Kill Parrots?

Ataxia can be fatal, but it depends on what’s causing it. Some parrots get better with a course of antibiotics, while others need extensive rehabilitation to get them walking and balancing again.

There’s no way of preventing ataxia because it can develop due to so many conditions. For example, tumors and spinal cord issues are commonly due to compromised genes. However, these steps can keep your parrot healthy:

  • Keep your parrot’s ears clean to prevent infections
  • Position the perches properly so that your parrot isn’t at risk of falling and banging its head
  • Clear a parrot-friendly room from all obstacles
  • Provide a healthy, nutritionally-rich diet to prevent deficiencies
  • Maintain a warm, constant temperature to reduce the risk of respiratory problems

In the cases of extensive nerve and spinal cord damage, your parrot could be in too much discomfort for it to lead a normal life. If this is the case, your vet may recommend euthanasia to prevent further suffering.

How To Treat Ataxia in Parrots?

There’s no cure for ataxia, but there are treatments, depending on what’s caused your parrot’s condition.

So that the vet can recommend the best treatment, they’ll want to know more about your parrot’s medical history and the environment it currently lives in. This is to build a picture of why your parrot has ataxia.

Afterward, your vet will carry out a thorough examination and will undertake a series of tests to determine the severity of your parrot’s condition. Tests usually include:

  • Complete blood count
  • Heavy metal toxicity
  • Choanal samples to test for psittacosis (parrot fever)
  • Chemical analysis of serum to test for proteins, lipids, hormones, and enzymes

Your vet will also need to check for spinal or nerve damage, as this could be causing your parrot’s loss of balance. Unfortunately, ataxia is severe enough to warrant hospitalization.

Not only will your parrot need treatment, but it’ll need supportive care to get it balancing correctly, especially if the condition’s the result of nerve damage. In most cases, ataxia is treated with a combination of:

  • Antibiotics or antifungal medications
  • Intravenous fluids
  • Injectable medicines
  • Subcutaneous fluids (to prevent dehydration)
  • Extra vitamins and minerals

Once you get your parrot home from the avian hospital, you must:

  • Provide a quiet environment for your bird to recover
  • Remove perches if you’re parrot’s unable to use them to prevent injury
  • Place food and water in shallow dishes that are placed within your bird’s reach
  • Maintain a warm, comfortable temperature
  • Observe your parrot daily in case other symptoms arise

Why Do Parrots Fall Off Their Perch?

There are various reasons why your parrot might fall of its perch. Parrots have a unique foot system designed for all-day perching. If you notice your parrot leaning to one side or falling off its perch, these issues are likely to blame:

Inadequate Perches

If your parrot’s perches are too large, small, wide, or thin, your parrot will have trouble gripping onto it. This isn’t a health condition, but it could cause bumblefoot if you don’t upgrade the perches to something that suits the shape and size of your parrot’s feet.

To stay in place, their toes clamp around the perch, locking the parrot around it. This is due to the anatomical connections between the joints and tendons, which interlock and remain fixed in position. Once the parrot stands, the joints extend, and the toes release. 

This shows how unlikely it is for parrots to fall off their perch unless they’re not good enough in the first place. Your parrot should be able to wrap its feet around its perch, with the toes only slightly touching.

ataxia in parrots

Arthritis

A degenerative inflammatory disease commonly causes joint pain. This is either a primary condition or a secondary problem to an injury. Either way, joint pain makes it difficult for parrots to remain in place on their perch for too long, causing them to lose their balance and fall off.

Similarly, MSD Manual explains how parrots are prone to arthritis. It most commonly develops in the digits from gripping poorly sized perches. Weight and other injuries are also a factor.

Clinical signs include lameness and falling off perches, but parrots with severe arthritis cannot perch altogether. Other symptoms include:

  • Swollen or warm joints
  • Self-mutilation
  • Feather plucking
  • Unpleasant vocalizations
  • Decreased motion range

Older parrots are most likely to be affected by arthritis, but this condition can develop at any time.

Leg And Foot Injury

Injuries can range from:

  • A small cut or splinter
  • Infected abscess
  • Sprain
  • Broken bone
  • Overgrown talons

Similarly, infections, kidney disease, and dietary problems are also likely to cause lameness in parrots, which all prevent them from perching. That’s because these conditions make their bones weak and brittle.

Parrots rely on their legs and feet to work properly. If they don’t, they’re susceptible to inadequate living conditions where they can’t perch. This is likely to stress your parrot out and cause mental degradation.

Bumblefoot

Bumblefoot is painful enough to prevent parrots from gripping onto their perches properly, causing them to fall off.

Specifically, bumblefoot is a bacterial infection and inflammatory reaction that causes painful sores and lesions on the surface of a parrot’s foot. It’s caused by long periods of standing on perches that are either too wide or not wide enough. It’s also the result of:

  • Wire flooring
  • Overgrown toenails
  • Splinters
  • Vitamin A deficiency
  • Obesity

It only takes a small cut or graze for harmful bacteria to get into the wound and cause bumblefoot. Limping and lameness are the most common symptoms. Both of these can cause your parrot to lose its balance and ability to remain on its perch. Affected parrots require antibiotics.

Balance loss isn’t always a sign of a serious health condition. The best thing to do is take your parrot to the vet, regardless of whether you suspect an ear infection, head trauma, or tumor, to identify the cause.