It’s always worrying to see a parrot lose its balance without explanation. It could just be that the parrot has lost its footing, but due to their natural balancing skills, it’s usually a sign that something’s amiss.
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 and injury is essential for getting a parrot the treatment and support it needs to recover.
What Causes Loss of Balance in Parrots?
If a parrot suddenly appears wobbly or clumsy, it likely has a health problem, such as the following:
Ear infections are commonly seen in parrots. You can’t see parrots’ ears because they’re hidden away to protect them from dust, debris, water, and cold weather.
Anything that bothers a parrot’s ears will likely throw it off balance. Bacteria and fungi can cause ear infections through foreign bodies and parasites like mites entering the ear canal.
The main symptoms of an ear infection include the following:
- Constant shaking of the head.
- Brown or yellow discharge.
- Red or inflamed skin in and around the ear.
- Foul-smelling odor.
- Pain and discomfort.
If a parrot can’t balance itself, get its ears examined by an avian veterinarian.
Head tumors are a problem because they exert pressure on the brain, resulting in balance loss. Similarly, tumors within the ear cavity can throw off a parrot’s coordination and balance.
Tumors can even affect a parrot’s ability to stand. According to Vet Times, testicular tumors are most frequently seen in budgerigars (parakeets), which cause:
- Hind limb weakness.
These are linked to losing balance, preventing parrots from standing on their perches.
Sciatic Nerve Compression
Sciatic nerve compression commonly results from the passage of a large egg or a large mass. This makes it hard for parrots to stand, causing them to lose balance and struggle with coordination.
Nutritional deficiencies prevent bones and muscles from developing and functioning well. In particular, insufficient dietary calcium (hypocalcemia) and vitamin D3 from sunlight are problematic.
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, minerals, and nutrients for parrots include:
- Vitamins A, B6, and K.
The nerves and muscles will suffer without sufficient nutrients, causing weakness and poor development.
Kitchen fumes are a common cause of balance loss in birds. In particular, Teflon toxicity (PTFE poisoning) is a respiratory condition caused by heating Teflon-coated appliances.
Parrots have sensitive respiratory systems. As VCA Hospitals explains, Teflon-coated kitchen cookware releases a gaseous toxin called polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE).
This gas is colorless and odorless, so it’s sometimes a mystery why parrots suddenly lose their balance and become listless. However, keeping a parrot in the kitchen while you cook is dangerous.
Alongside balance loss, other symptoms of PTFE poisoning include:
- Breathing difficulties.
- Muscle weakness.
- Inability to .perch.
- Fluffed-up feathers.
Avoid using non-stick cookware and keep parrots from the kitchen when preparing food.
As described by the Department of Infectious Disease and Global Health, the impact of head trauma determines the severity of brain injury.
Some parrots experience significant, long-lasting damage, while others will experience temporary health conditions. The signs of head trauma include the following:
- External bleeding and bruising.
- A change in mental status.
- Muscle weakness.
- Head tilt.
- Uncontrollable eye movements (nystagmus).
There are behavioral changes involved with head injuries. Some parrots become more aggressive, while others become withdrawn. If the injury isn’t treated properly, the symptoms will likely worsen.
How Does Ataxia Cause Loss of Balance?
Ataxia affects the nervous and musculoskeletal systems due to the following:
- Nerve or spinal cord damage.
- Nervous system and musculoskeletal disorders.
- Chronic diseases.
- Infections, particularly of the ear and respiratory tract.
Ataxia damages the brain, spinal cord, and inner ear within the nervous system.
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 balance.
The parrot can’t coordinate with the musculoskeletal system because the muscles can’t respond to the signals the brain sends. As a result, parrots with ataxia:
- Stand with their legs splayed apart 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 difficulty breathing, opening and stretching the neck to breathe. They might also puff out their cheeks, bob their tails with each breath, and breathe open-mouthed.
Can Ataxia Kill Parrots?
Ataxia can be fatal, but it depends on the cause. Some parrots get better with antibiotics, while others need extensive rehabilitation to walk and balance again.
There’s no way to prevent ataxia because it can develop due to many conditions. For example, tumors and spinal cord issues are commonly due to compromised genes.
However, these steps can sometimes keep parrots healthy:
- Keep the parrot’s ears clean to prevent infections.
- Position the perches so that the parrot isn’t at risk of falling and banging its head.
- Provide a healthy, nutritionally-rich diet to prevent nutrient deficiencies.
- Maintain a warm, constant temperature to prevent respiratory problems.
A parrot could be too uncomfortable to lead a normal life with extensive nerve and spinal cord damage. If so, a vet may recommend euthanasia to prevent further suffering.
How To Treat Ataxia in Parrots?
There’s no cure for ataxia, but there are cause-based treatments that can be beneficial.
So that a vet can recommend the best treatment, they’ll need information about the parrot’s medical history and living environment. This is to build a picture of why the parrot has ataxia.
Then, a vet will conduct a thorough examination and undertake the following:
- Complete blood count.
- Heavy metal toxicity test.
- Choanal samples to test for psittacosis (parrot fever).
- Chemical analysis of serum to test for proteins, lipids, hormones, and enzymes.
A vet will also check for spinal or nerve damage, as this could be causing the parrot’s loss of balance.
Not only will a parrot need treatment, but it’ll need supportive care, especially if the condition is due to nerve damage. In most cases, ataxia is treated with one or more of the following:
- Antibiotics or antifungal medications.
- Intravenous fluids.
- Injectable medicines.
- Subcutaneous fluids to prevent dehydration.
- Vitamin and mineral supplementation.
Once the parrot returns home from the avian hospital, you must do the following:
- Provide a quiet environment for recovery.
- Remove perches the parrot is no longer able to use.
- Place food and water in shallow dishes within easy reach.
- Maintain a warm, comfortable temperature.
- Observe the parrot closely in case other symptoms arise.
Why Do Parrots Fall Off Their Perch?
Parrots have feet intended for all-day perching. The zygodactyl foot is a special adaptation for climbing and grasping. Parrots have 4 toes, with 2 facing forward and 2 facing backward.
If you see a parrot leaning to one side or falling off its perch, one of these issues is likely responsible:
If a parrot’s perches are too big, small, wide, or thin, it’ll have trouble gripping them properly.
This isn’t a health condition but could cause bumblefoot if you don’t upgrade the perches to something well-optimized for the shape and size of the parrot’s feet.
Their toes clamp around the perch to stay in place, 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 demonstrates how unlikely parrots are to fall off their perch unless they’re unsuitable.
A parrot must be able to wrap its feet around its perch, with the toes only slightly touching.
Arthritis is a degenerative inflammatory disease that causes severe joint pain. This makes it difficult for parrots to remain perched for too long, causing them to lose their balance and fall off.
MSD Manual explains how parrots are prone to arthritis, which commonly develops in the digits from gripping poorly-sized perches. Also, excess weight and other injuries are factors.
Clinical signs of this disease include lameness and falling off perches, but parrots with severe arthritis can’t perch entirely. Other symptoms of arthritis include:
- Swollen or warm joints.
- Feather plucking.
- Decreased motion range.
Older parrots are most likely to be affected by arthritis, but this condition can develop at any age.
Leg And Foot Injury
Injuries in parrots can range from:
- A small cut or splinter.
- Infected abscess.
- Broken bone (fracture).
- Overgrown talons.
Infections, kidney disease, and dietary problems can also cause lameness, preventing perching.
Bumblefoot (also known as ulcerative pododermatitis) makes perching painful.
Bumblefoot is a bacterial infection and inflammatory reaction that causes sores and lesions on the surface of the foot. It’s caused by long periods of standing on perches that are too narrow and wide or abrasive.
Other common causes of bumblefoot in parrots include the following:
- Wire cage flooring.
- Overgrown talons (claws).
- Cuts and splinters.
- Vitamin A deficiency.
- Weight gain and obesity.
It only takes a small cut for harmful bacteria to enter the wound and cause bumblefoot.
Limping and lameness are common symptoms, causing a parrot to lose balance and remain on its perch. Affected parrots require antibiotics, better husbandry, cage modifications, and ongoing care.