how to tell if a parrot is underweight

Why Is My Parrot Losing Weight?

Parrots are beautiful creatures with fluffy feathers and sleek forms, but their naturally lithe appearance can conceal various dangers. You may not realize your parrot has lost weight until it’s too late. Weight loss in parrots can have serious health complications if left uncorrected.

Parrots may lose weight due to an improper diet. This includes seed-only diets, too-small portions, or meals that are lacking in variety. A parrot may not be getting enough exercise and be unable to regulate its metabolism. Parrots lose weight due to illnesses, such as macaw wasting syndrome and avian tuberculosis.

The average weight for parrots varies considerably from species to species. You can identify an underweight parrot by other bodily symptoms. Once you’ve ruled out sicknesses, you should fatten your parrot up by adding peanuts, sunflower seeds, and millet spray to its diet.

Is Weight Loss In Parrots Dangerous?

Your parrot will not be harmed if it loses a little weight. A gram or two may not affect its overall well-being. However, the real danger is failing to notice if your parrot has lost a lot of weight.

After all, birds rarely step on a scale, and owners notice extreme weight loss. That’s because it causes obvious physical changes that are easy to spot with the naked eye. At this point, the weight loss, and whatever causes it, may have escalated to a more worrying level.

If your parrot is losing weight, then it’s not within its ability to resolve. If weight loss is caused by sickness or malnutrition, the effects could:

  • Make your parrot sick and uncomfortable
  • Cause lasting damage to vital organs or the nervous system
  • Lead to different illnesses
  • Result in death

How Much Should A Parrot Weigh?

The appropriate weight for each parrot will depend on its species and age. However, there is a benchmark you can check to ensure that your parrot is healthy. Here is a list of some of the common parrot species and their healthy weights. This is calculated for fully-grown adult parrots:

Parrot SpeciesAverage Weight in Grams
Budgerigar30-40
Lovebird45-55
Cockatiel90
Green-Winged Macaw1200
Hyacinth Macaw1200-1700
Blue-Headed Pionus250-290
Orange-Winged Amazon360-490
Yellow-Naped Amazon460-680
Eclectus375-550
Moluccan Cockatoo640-1025
Citrus-crested Cockatoo360

How To Tell If A Parrot Is Underweight

Parrots are slim creatures. Depending on the species, the parrot’s thick feathers may hide its weight loss. If you’re concerned about your parrot or are raising birds, you can use methods other than your bare eyes.

Feeling The Keel Bone

For some animals, you can tell that they’re underweight when the ribs are more prominent. With parrots and their feathers, that isn’t so simple. Instead, you can examine your parrot by checking its keel bone, which is located just under the breastbone of a parrot. These traits can identify it:

  • Downward sloping
  • The top portion of it juts outward just underneath the clavicle
  • It extends to the parrot’s stomach, with muscles attached to either side

To find the keel, do the following:

  1. Place the bird on its back
  2. With a few fingers, gently place your hand in the middle of the chest
  3. Feel around just underneath where the collarbones would be
  4. Stop when you find the top edge of the bone. It will be level with the rest of the muscle
  5. Move your fingers to either side of the bone. This will be on the left and right areas of the chest

Do you have trouble feeling the edges of the keel? That’s a good sign. The keel should be even with the muscles on the chest of your parrot. If your parrot is underweight, the top of the keel will be prominent and feel sharp.

This test is not 100% accurate. Certain parrots have more muscle tone than others. If the keel isn’t easily found or is found too easily, this could be its unique body structure.

weight loss in parrots

Using A Scale To Weigh A Parrot

For smaller species of parrots, you can weigh them with a kitchen scale. If your parrot is non-cooperative, this may take several tries. Otherwise, you can train the parrot to be more accepting of the scale. For example:

  • Place the parrot’s perch on the scale and let it stand on this
  • Wrap your parrot in a piece of cloth to hold it still

You will need to subtract the weight of these items from the final reading. For larger species of parrots, you can use a bathroom scale instead:

  1. Step on the scale by yourself and note your weight
  2. Put the parrot on your shoulder. You can hold the parrot, but keep it close to your chest
  3. Step on the scale again and note this final number
  4. Subtract the combined weight of you and the parrot from your own weight

Consult An Avian Vet

If you can’t gather accurate readings from these methods, consult your vet. A clinic will have specialized scales that are better suited for the job. A vet can also examine the parrot’s appearance and behavior for signs of weight loss. 

When To Be Concerned If A Parrot Is Losing Weight

No matter your parrot’s species, you should watch for:

  • A noticeable slimmer body
  • Lack of energy
  • Feathers becoming frail or thin
  • Labored breathing
  • Thinning feathers around the eyes

If you pair this with a scale, you can formulate a more accurate way to tell if your parrot’s in danger. Sudden weight changes are more concerning than gradual ones. A sudden change of weight indicates your parrot has:

  • Contracted an illness
  • Is unable to digest nutrients
  • Has stopped eating entirely

Meanwhile, a gradual change could be the result of poor quality food or some stress. Both kinds of weight loss should be closely monitored. If you prefer to weigh your parrots, then:

  • Juvenile parrots should be weighed once a day. Their bodies are developing at a more rapid pace, so fluctuations can happen more rapidly.
  • Adults should be weighed once or twice a week. Illness or malnutrition may take longer to manifest in adults. This longer timespan gives you more time to spot the signs.

Why Your Parrot Is Losing Weight

Have you determined that your parrot is losing weight? If so, let’s explore the causes:

Malnutrition

Even if your parrot is regulatory fed, it could become malnourished. This happens when:

  • It’s not fed enough food each day. This could cause your parrot’s metabolism to function inefficiently
  • Diet is balanced incorrectly. Seed alone isn’t enough to give your parrot all of the nutrients it needs
  • Not fed nutrient-rich food. Overly-processed foods may lack the right amounts of vitamins and minerals.

There are also less common reasons why parrots become malnourished, including:

Too Many Nutrients

If a parrot consumes too many nutrients, its body will be unable to process them. According to Avian Pathology, parrots may become sickly from too much:

  • Vitamin D3
  • Vitamin A

The overload will throw off the digestive tract’s ability to extract the right nutrients. When the entire digestive system is thrown off, this creates an imbalance in the parrot’s gut bacteria. That can lead to further difficulty absorbing the vitamins or minerals it needs.

Food With Too Many Choices

Parrots can also get malnourished from diets that allow them to pick and choose what to eat. For example, muesli is a combination of several different types of grain. While this seems healthy, your parrot may only choose its favorite pieces of grain. This isolates its diet rather than broadening it.

In this case, your parrot needs to be given food that it can’t pick apart. Its selective behavior is harming it, even while you’re keeping it well-fed.

Symptoms

How can you tell if your parrot is malnourished? The symptoms will differ from one bird to another. Some may show only one or two of these signs:

  • Compromised immune system
  • Overweight or underweight
  • Weakness and lethargy
  • Dull or discolored feathers
  • Brittle feathers
  • Cracks or flakes on beak or feet
Treatment

If you notice that your parrot seems malnourished, you can correct this with:

  • A change of diet. You can evaluate if there are any obvious gaps and attempt to fill them.
  • Tighter control over diet. If your parrot is picky, consider pellets. These keep it from picking out certain foods and leaving healthy ones behind.
  • Supplements. You may need to get mineral or vitamin supplements.

However, malnutrition can’t always be diagnosed at home. You may need to consult with a vet to receive:

  • Bloodwork. An avian vet will be able to identify mineral deficiencies through blood tests.
  • Diet evaluation. A vet will examine the parrot’s diet and correlate any gaps with its health problems.
  • Heavier supplements. Your vet may have a wider range of supplements.

Just keep in mind that recovery may take time. Parrots that are used to an unbalanced diet will still prefer it over a new diet. Returning to full health can take several weeks or months.

Avian Tuberculosis

Is your parrot losing weight but still eating like normal? Then it may have avian tuberculosis, which is a form of bacterial infection. It can affect many different bird species, including most types of parrots.

This disease spreads via bird droppings. Birds kept in tight flocks, or caged together, may pass it from one to the next. While it’s a rare disease, birds kept in homes may contract it. This happens when your parrot:

  • Is bought from an infected pet store
  • Is purchased from a breeder with an infected enclosure
  • Comes into contact with an object infected from outdoors
  • Interacts with an infected bird in the home

Symptoms

Birds infected with avian tuberculosis usually manifest symptoms after 3 weeks of infection. Symptoms include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Increased thirst
  • Depression
  • Tiredness
  • Jaundice
  • Lameness or dropping of wings
  • Continual weight loss, despite a good appetite

Treatment

There is no treatment for avian tuberculosis. Instead, care will focus on improving the quality of life for the infected birds. Beyond that, infected parrots will be separated from the flock to avoid the further spread of the disease.

Death is almost always imminent for infected birds. While some can recover from its symptoms, these birds will be carriers of the disease. For this reason, they cannot be reintegrated into the flock. If you know your parrot has this disease, take care that it never interacts with other birds.

Prevention

The best way to prevent this disease is to:

  • Keep your areas meticulously clean
  • Droppings should be contained and disposed of correctly
  • Avoid letting your parrot interact with other birds if their health is in question
  • Thoroughly clean any cage that you’re repurposing for a new parrot
  • Don’t let your parrot interact with wild birds or play where they’ve been. This includes bird aviaries or enclosures that wild bird droppings may have gotten into

Macaw Wasting Syndrome

Macaw wasting syndrome was first discovered in the early 1970s. As the name implies, it originally caused Macaws to waste away gradually. Unfortunately, this disease has since been proven to affect more than 50 other bird species. Hence, this syndrome’s name is now more accurately referred to as proventricular dilatation syndrome.

The term proventricular refers to the second part of a bird’s stomach. This section is responsible for receiving food from the esophagus. The deadly syndrome attacks the nerves that supply the proventricular.

While that’s the main target of this disease, it also affects other areas. These include the digestive and nervous systems. In severe cases, an inflammation of the brain may even occur.

The cause has long stumped scientists. However, it was recently linked to a viral infection called bornavirus. According to Emerging Infectious Diseases, avian bornavirus causes proventricular dilatation syndrome in birds. However, infected birds don’t always develop PDD. They may develop it months (or even years) after being infected.

how to fatten up a parrot

Symptoms

This disease mainly affects digestion and the bird’s nervous system. If your parrot has this condition, you will notice:

  • A lack of appetite
  • Undigested food in feces
  • Excessive regurgitation
  • Continued weight loss

When it comes to neurological symptoms, keep an eye out for the following.

  • Weakness
  • Loss of muscle controls
  • Head tremors
  • Depression
  • Seizures

Diagnosis

To diagnose proventricular dilatation syndrome, your vet will recommend a blood test. This is to rule out other problems that may be causing the symptoms.

If no other diseases are present, your vet will suggest x-rays to determine if the proventricular is dilated. If this is the case, the vet will test your parrot for the presence of bornavirus through a blood sample. A vet may also ask for:

  • A tissue biopsy
  • A histology of the proventricular

This will determine if the virus is present in the tissues.

Treatment

Because of the complexity of the disease, there is still no treatment for avian bornavirus. As such, macaw wasting disease cannot presently be cured. Instead, you will focus on improving the parrot’s quality of life.:

  • A balanced diet
  • Natural sunlight or ultraviolet-B light
  • Extra warmth
  • Regular check-ups with your vet

Regular check-ups are necessary to determine if the disease has caused other infections in your bird.

When it comes to digestive problems, some treatments can address weight loss. Special enzymes can be added to the food to help your parrot eat. This can be an effective way to reduce vomiting and enable your parrot to gain weight. Likewise, enzymes can also be included with food to allow your parrot to digest more easily.

A diagnosis of PDD is always fatal. However, the longevity of diagnosed parrots can vary from one to the next. Some birds succumb after months, while others live for years after the diagnosis.

Prevention

It’s hard to detect parrots infected with bornavirus. False negatives are high when it comes to available tests. Likewise, carriers can appear healthy for long periods of time or even for their entire lives. This makes it hard to determine where an infection began.

With that said, bornavirus cannot last outside of a host. Therefore, cleanliness is the answer. Be sure to keep your parrot’s area sanitized, using soap, hot water, and bleach. The prime areas to clean will be:

  • Cages
  • Food and water bowls
  • Toys
  • Perches

Alongside this:

  • Clean after your bird’s food and water spills
  • Pick up its droppings and disinfect the surface afterwards
  • Clean any grooming or cleaning tools after use
  • Sash your hands after you handle the bird

How To Make My Parrot Gain Weight

If your parrot has had an illness, its weight loss can be resolved more easily. This process may take time and require lifestyle adjustments. However, it won’t require medical intervention. Here’s how to fatten up a parrot:

Change Your Parrot’s Diet

Some additions can help a parrot regain lost weight.

Peanuts

Peanuts are high in calories and protein. These two elements are crucial to:

  • Improve muscle growth
  • Develop healthy amounts of fat
  • Boost energy levels

As a bonus, parrots are known to love the taste of peanuts. These nuts can work as a superfood to add much-needed weight to your parrot. Consider feeding a small handful to your parrot once a day.

However, these should only be unsalted peanuts. The additional sodium may cause your parrot other health issues in large amounts. Likewise, the more organic the brand, the healthier it will be for your parrot.

Sunflower Seeds

Of course, parrots like to have variety. In addition to peanuts, you can add sunflower seeds for a healthy boost of:

  • Fat
  • Protein
  • Linoleic fatty acids
  • Vitamin E
  • Magnesium

Not only will this enable your parrot to gain weight, but it’ll also improve the its energy, bone health feathers, and nutrient absorption. You can offer sunflower seeds as a meal of their own or let your parrot snack on them.

Millet Spray

For parrots that are nutritionally balanced but need to gain weight, millet spray is the answer. It’s high in calories and packed with flavor. That ensures your parrot will build up the necessary fat it requires to stay healthy. However, unlike the other food on this list, it’s not as nutritious. Be sure to mix this food with other ingredients to balance that out.

Exercise

While it may sound counterintuitive, physical activity can be key in helping your parrot gain weight. This will help your parrot benefit from:

  • Gains in muscle mass
  • A more balanced metabolism
  • Better digestion and ability to process nutrients
  • A greater appetite

If your parrot isn’t gaining weight with its new diet, consider increasing its playtime. By allowing the parrot to:

If your parrot is suddenly losing weight but isn’t sick, it may lack optimized nutrition and exercise in its routine. This can be easily resolved by pairing a balanced diet with the right amount of daily exercise.