Home » Why Is My Parrot Losing Weight? (Skinny + Underweight Birds)
how to tell if a parrot is underweight

Why Is My Parrot Losing Weight? (Skinny + Underweight Birds)

Last Updated on January 28, 2024 by Carrie Stephens

Parrots have sleek, streamlined bodies optimized for flight. However, their naturally lithe appearance and feathers mean that we don’t always realize a parrot is losing weight.

Weight loss in birds can occur due to malnourishment or excessive vitamins and minerals (vitamin toxicity), which happens when a parrot’s diet doesn’t meet its nutritional requirements.

Too much iron can lead to Iron Storage Disease (IRD), while hypovitaminosis or vitamin toxicity, where a parrot gets an excessive amount of vitamins from its diet, is comparatively rare.

A parrot won’t be irreparably harmed if it loses some weight. However, the danger is failing to notice that a parrot has stopped eating food and is severely underweight or skinny.

Unfortunately, parrots can lose weight due to macaw wasting syndrome, kidney disorders, and avian tuberculosis. These conditions can’t be cured, so a vet can only make the bird more comfortable.

How Much A Parrot Should Weigh

The optimal weight for a parrot depends on its species, gender, and age. However, there’s a benchmark you can use to determine if a parrot’s weight is normal and healthy.

Here’s a list of healthy weights for different parrot species:

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 slender creatures whose thick feathers may conceal their weight loss. However, there are ways to determine if a parrot is getting too thin, including:

Checking The Keel Bone

The keel bone is located just under the breastbone. The following 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 on either side.

To find the keel bone, do the following:

  1. Place the bird on its back.
  2. With 2-3 fingers, place your hand in the middle of the chest.
  3. Feel around just underneath where the collarbone would be.
  4. Stop when you find the top edge of the bone. This 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 of the chest.

The keel should be even with the muscles on the chest. If a parrot is underweight, the top of the keel bone will be prominent and feel sharp.

This test isn’t 100% accurate because some parrots have more muscle tone than others. If the keel bone isn’t easily found, this could be due to its unique body structure.

Weigh The Parrot On Scales

For smaller species, you can weigh the parrot on a kitchen scale:

  • Place the parrot’s perch on the scale and let it stand on it.
  • Wrap the parrot in cloth to hold it still.
  • Subtract the weight of these items from the final reading.

For larger parrots, use a digital bathroom scale:

  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 weight.
weight loss in parrots

When To Be Concerned If A Parrot Is Losing Weight

No matter the parrot’s species, check for the following:

  • A noticeably slimmer body.
  • Low energy levels.
  • Feathers are becoming frail or thin.
  • Labored breathing.
  • Thinning feathers around the eyes.

Sudden weight changes can indicate that the parrot has:

  • Contracted an illness.
  • Difficulty digesting nutrients.
  • Stopped eating entirely.

A gradual change could result from meals that lack nutritional value or stress.

Why Your Parrot Is Losing Weight

If a parrot is losing weight and appears skinny, explore these explanations:

Malnutrition

Malnourishment in birds happens in the following circumstances:

  • Not enough food each day. This will cause the parrot’s metabolism to function inefficiently.
  • Unbalanced diet. Seed alone won’t give a parrot the nutrients it needs to thrive.
  • A lack of nutritious food. Overly processed foods lack essential vitamins and minerals. For example, parrots can lose weight and suffer in other ways due to a lack of vitamin A (hypovitaminosis A).

There are other reasons why parrots become malnourished, including:

Excessive Nutrients

If a parrot consumes too many nutrients, its body may be unable to process them. This is called hypervitaminosis or vitamin toxicity.

According to Avian Pathology, parrots grow unwell due to excessive vitamins A and D3. Vitamin toxicity is uncommon in pet birds, but it sometimes happens.

Iron Storage Disease (ISD)

Iron Storage Disease (Haemochromatosis) occurs when iron (hemosiderin) accumulates in the liver. Damage is caused to the hepatic lysosomes, leading to the release of ionic iron.

Psittacines are more likely to be affected if they eat excessive red meat, dark leafy greens, and beans.

The symptoms include weight loss, but most signs manifest too late to save the bird’s life. Unfortunately, diagnosis is usually made after the bird has died during the post-mortem.

Food Selectivity

Parrots can become malnourished when their diet allows them to pick and choose what to eat.

Consider how muesli is a combination of several types of grain. While this seems healthy, a parrot may pick out its favorite pieces. Here are the signs of malnourishment in birds:

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

A vet diagnoses malnutrition by performing the following checks:

  • Bloodwork. Identifying vitamin and mineral deficiencies through blood tests.
  • A dietary evaluation. Correlating nutritional gaps with health issues.

Kidney Disorders

The kidneys filter waste from the body for excretion. If the kidneys no longer function efficiently, a parrot’s weight will fall. Kidney disease is common among psittacine species, like budgies.

If the kidneys cease to function, a parrot will display these symptoms:

  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Weight loss.
  • Depression.
  • Low energy levels.
  • Swollen abdomen.
  • Lameness.

A vet will need to perform a Complete Blood Count (CBC) to assess the functionality of the kidneys. X-rays may also be necessary to check the size and density of the kidneys.

While kidney disease can’t always be resolved, the symptoms can be lessened.

This can be achieved through dietary modifications, like decreasing the parrot’s protein intake, supplements, symptomatic therapy, and force-feeding.

Avian Tuberculosis

Avian tuberculosis (avian TB) is a bacterial infection caused by bird droppings. Parrots kept in tight flocks or cages together can pass the disease to other birds, leading to emaciation.

This could happen in the following circumstances:

  • The parrot was bought from a troubled pet store.
  • There’s contact with an infected object from outdoors.
  • The bird interacts with an infected bird in the home.

Parrots infected with avian TB manifest symptoms after 3 weeks of infection. The symptoms include:

  • Diarrhea.
  • Increased thirst.
  • Depression.
  • Tiredness.
  • Jaundice.
  • Lameness or dropping of wings.
  • Continued weight loss.

There’s no treatment for avian tuberculosis. Care focuses on improving the quality of life for the infected birds. Infected parrots will be separated from the flock to avoid spreading the disease.

Macaw Wasting Syndrome

Macaw wasting syndrome (proventricular dilatation syndrome) was first discovered in the early 1970s.

As the name implies, it caused Macaws to waste away gradually. Unfortunately, this disease has been proven to affect 50+ other bird species.

Proventricular refers to the second part of a bird’s stomach 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, including the nervous and digestive systems. In severe cases, an inflammation of the brain may occur.

If a parrot has this condition, you’ll observe the following symptoms:

  • A lack of appetite.
  • Undigested food in feces.
  • Excessive regurgitation.
  • Continued weight loss.
  • Weakness.
  • Loss of muscle control.
  • Head tremors.
  • Depression.
  • Seizures.

A vet will test the parrot for the presence of bornavirus through a blood sample to diagnose proventricular dilatation syndrome. A vet may also perform a:

  • Tissue biopsy.
  • Histology of the proventricular.

Macaw wasting disease is incurable, but its quality of life can be improved.

how to fatten up a parrot

How To Make My Parrot Gain Weight

If a parrot is elderly or very ill, it’ll need a vet-approved diet and treatment plan. However, more food and exercise will broadly benefit an otherwise healthy parrot. Here’s how to proceed:

Dietary Modifications

Some dietary additions enable a parrot to regain lost weight. Provide foods high in calories and protein that are highly nutritious. These are crucial for:

  • Increasing muscle mass.
  • Adding body fat.
  • Boosting energy levels.

High-calorie options include peanuts and sunflower seeds. Mix these with a parrot’s regular meal to give it extra calories and the necessary vitamins and minerals to thrive.

Additional Exercise

Physical activity is fundamental to increasing a parrot’s weight. It’ll benefit in the following ways:

  • Added muscle mass.
  • Metabolic optimization.
  • Better digestion.
  • Improved appetite.
  • Mental stimulation.

To increase a parrot’s activity level, encourage it to:

If your parrot suddenly loses weight but isn’t diseased and sick, it may lack sufficient nutrition and exercise. This can be resolved by pairing a balanced diet with daily exercise.