Compared to most animals, parrots live long lives and age slowly. However, they won’t look and behave the same for their entire lives. Instead, certain signs reveal that a parrot is advancing in years.
Signs of old age in parrots include poor feather quality, overgrown claws, skin blemishes, wrinkles, weight loss, and muscle wastage.
Behavioral changes include irritability, lethargy, and vocalizations. Many parrots lose their appetite and struggle to exercise as much as they did when they were young.
As a parrot grows older, monitor its health more closely. Aging parrots develop various health conditions, including heart conditions, arthritis, and kidney failure.
How Do Parrots Age?
The average lifespan of parrots varies widely based on the species. Smaller parrots, like budgies, live for an average of 7-15 years, while some larger species, like cockatoos, can live for 80+ years.
The rate at which the bodies of large parrots age is similar to the average human, going through juvenile, adult, and senior life stages. Each stage brings different challenges.
While these stages are comparable to humans, parrots reach adulthood considerably sooner because it gives them a higher probability of survival.
However, the same can’t be said for smaller parrots. They go through their life stages far more quickly, reaching adulthood when they’re just 1 year old.
When parrots age, the first third of their lives is spent maturing into adults. Then, they spend the next third as a fully-grown adult, experiencing occasional health problems.
Once parrots reach the final third of their lives, they endure age-related physical and mental decline. This is when you notice that parrots are no longer as active and energetic.
Signs of Aging in Parrots
While parrots have different lifespans, they all show similar signs of aging. Physical changes can be subtle, but some are more obvious than others. In contrast, a parrot’s mental changes are more noticeable.
Here are the most common signs that a parrot is getting old:
As parrots age, they sometimes develop cataracts, often in the left and right eyes.
Parrots with cataracts develop grey or opaque white lenses and show signs of squinting or redness. Some parrots go blind if the cataracts are left untreated, while others recover following treatment.
In all cases, parrots experience reduced visual acuity. Alongside aging, cataracts are caused by:
- Nutritional problems (lack of vitamins C and E and carotenoids).
- Trauma and injury.
- Metabolic diseases, like diabetes.
- Inflammatory problems.
Surgery may be too dangerous for older and less healthy parrots. Most veterinary ophthalmologists recommend leaving cataracts untreated if the parrot’s life isn’t severely compromised.
2/ Changing Eye Color
While cataracts cause some eye color changes, most modifications are due to old age.
Degenerative eye disorders are common in aging parrots, with some experiencing a loss of tone in the eyelids and a lightening of the iris. The eyes usually go from black or brown to red or yellow.
This isn’t a concern in most cases unless the eye looks red and sore, which signifies infection.
3/ Droopy Eyelids
Parrot eyelids become droopy with age, which is gravity taking its toll.
There’s no problem if the eyes don’t appear red and inflamed or the parrot doesn’t rub them with its wings because they’re overly itchy.
Most drooping eyelids aren’t that noticeable at first. However, if you look closely, you’ll observe that some of the eye is more exposed than in the past.
4/ Dull Feathers
As parrots age, they have less energy and inclination to look after their feathers.
Their feathers become less vibrant and lifeless. They may even develop stress bars, which appear as a series of horizontal lines crisscrossing the feathers, suggesting something is wrong in their environment.
Older unwell parrots may develop dull and greasy feathers because they don’t feel up to preening themselves. They disguise sickness so well that low feather quality may be the only symptom.
5/ Long Claws
Older parrots are less likely to keep their nails filed down because they exercise less, meaning less wear and tear. So, the claws grow unabated, making perching and movement uncomfortable.
Long nails are something owners can control by cutting them down or providing a pedi perch. However, be careful not to cut the quick, as this will lead to blood loss and be extremely painful.
Keep on top of this because long nails can pierce the skin, increasing the risk of bumblefoot.
6/ Weight Loss
Parrots commonly lose weight as they age, which goes hand in hand with joint, foot, and leg problems. Make the parrot’s life easier by hand-feeding it or moving the bowl to a more convenient location.
While weight loss is normal as parrots age, stress or malnutrition could be responsible. Also, losing weight is a common symptom of various illnesses and diseases.
7/ Muscle Wastage
Muscle wastage is attributed to a lack of exercise. The less active parrots are the weaker their muscles.
The wings are most commonly affected, as old parrots lose the ability to fly around the room. Similarly, parrots with clipped wings are more prone to muscle wastage later in life.
Muscle wastage (also known as muscle atrophy) occurs when insufficient mechanical load is put onto the muscles and is merely a natural part of the aging process.
Even though older parrots move less, it’s still vital that they exercise regularly.
8/ Skin Changes
Among parrots’ most visible signs of aging is skin deterioration, like dermatitis and skin tumors.
Skin blemishes, including wrinkling, pigment spots, and discoloration, are mostly seen on the face and feet. However, because parrots have feathers covering their faces, skin complaints are only evident on bare facial patches around the cheek area.
Similarly, old skin can become dry, flaky, and scaly around the tops of the feet. Sometimes, the skin on the bottoms of the feet becomes smoother and thinner.
This leaves the feet vulnerable to bumblefoot because torn skin and open wounds allow bacteria to enter.
9/ Decreased Appetite
Malnutrition and nutritional deficiencies are among the leading causes of death, especially in senior parrots. Many pet birds lose their appetite as they age, and some even avoid their favorite treats.
Again, this could be due to an underlying health issue that makes it uncomfortable for the parrot to eat. Other times, inappetence is a natural by-product of getting older.
If a parrot stops eating as much, feed it smaller portions more regularly throughout the day.
10/ Frequent Infections
Parrots’ immune systems weaken with age, leaving them susceptible to infections their bodies can’t fight off as well as they could previously.
The most common viral, bacterial, and fungal infections include the following:
- Aspergillosis: A fungal infection of the respiratory system.
- Avian gastric yeast infection: A yeast infection from the food or waste of an infected bird.
- Thrush: Candidiasis occurs when candida albicans infect the parrot’s digestive tract.
- Common cold: This causes runny eyes, wheezing, swollen eyes, and sneezing.
- Proventricular dilatation disease (PDD): Macaw wasting syndrome is a viral infection that adversely affects the digestive system.
- Psittacosis: Parrot fever is a zoonotic disease caused by the Chlamydia psittaci parasite.
As parrots age, they’re more likely to succumb to infectious diseases.
11/ Poor Posture
Parrots growing old develop bad posture, especially when resting. Poor posture is usually accompanied by puffed-up feathers, which makes the parrot uncomfortable. Sick parrots may:
- Pull themselves into a stiff posture.
- Hold their feathers flat against their body.
- Keep their wings in a pre-flight position.
- Hold their heads high and forward.
Aside from posture problems, parrots can also develop degenerative joint conditions like arthritis.
Parrots who were once happy and warm-natured become increasingly annoyed and frustrated.
Older parrots may become intolerant of people they don’t know. They’ll be less tolerant of people they know well, let alone house guests and strangers.
A reason for this behavioral change is pain, tiredness, and lethargy. Like many other signs of aging, uncomfortable age-related health conditions can make a parrot miserable.
13/ Low Energy Levels
Aging parrots tire sooner, losing their natural vitality and energy.
Lethargy is the by-product of other signs of aging, including a lack of exercise, loss of appetite, and malnutrition. Combining these factors can make a parrot’s personality unrecognizable.
Providing a comfortable, stress-free environment for a parrot to live in is the best way to energize it.
14/ Avian Renal Disease
The kidneys are essential for filtering metabolic waste products from the parrot’s body and maintaining an optimum water and electrolyte balance. As parrots age, the process can falter.
Health problems, like infections, metabolic disorders, blockages, toxicity (vitamins and heavy metals), etc., can compromise this process. The symptoms of avian renal disease include the following:
- Polyuria (watery fecal matter).
- Increased thirst.
- Inappetence and weight loss.
- Painful and swollen joints.
- Breathing problems.
- Distended abdomen.
Cause-based treatments are available, but sometimes it’s just a matter of minimizing discomfort. Options include force-feeding, fluid therapy, nutritional supplements, antiparasitics, and anti-toxin medications.
Parrots get fatty lipomas as they age, which are lumps that appear beneath the skin.
As described by VCA Animal Hospitals, lipomas are commonly found in budgies, Amazon parrots, galahs, and sulphur-crested cockatoos.
Cancer can affect parrots, and malignant tumors can appear anywhere on the body. Some tumors will be benign, but you must get a newly-developed mass examined by a vet.
16/ Changing Vocalizations
Another sign of aging is a change in the parrot’s vocalizations. Perhaps quiet, calm parrots become louder and more vocal, while parrots that love to talk stop vocalizing as much.
17/ Sleeping More Often
Older parrots tire more quickly, so they sleep more during the day to conserve energy. They also have less interest in playing with their toys, preferring to rest and watch others.
While this is normal, ensure the parrot’s room is quiet and dark at night. If a parrot can’t sleep 12 hours at night, it’ll struggle to stay awake during the day, throwing its sleeping cycle out of sync.
Can Parrots Get Arthritis?
According to MSD Manual, parrots can develop septic and traumatic arthritis at any age. It most commonly develops in the digits from gripping perches, particularly if they’re too narrow or wide.
The parrot’s weight and other injuries can also decide whether it develops arthritis later in life.
Similarly, parrots with hip arthritis are most likely to develop bumblefoot. That’s because parrots with painful hip joints end up standing on their unaffected leg for long periods, increasing the pressure on the foot while leaving them with painful ulcers.
Signs of arthritis vary depending on the severity of the condition. Some parrots are rendered lame because of it, while others may not want to fly. Other symptoms include:
- Falling off perches.
- Swollen or warm joints.
- Decreased range of motion.
- Feather picking.
- Excessive vocalization.
While arthritis can occur anytime, older birds’ joints are most commonly affected.
Do Parrots Get Dementia?
As parrots get older, their mental acuity will begin to slow. Some become more mellow and chilled, while others stop communicating as much as they once did.
There aren’t enough studies to know whether parrots get dementia, but they don’t have a gene correlated with the condition called Glycogen synthase kinase 3 (GSK3).
However, as parrots age, they display behavioral changes like depression, anxiety, and stress.
Like humans, parrots’ minds and bodies wear down as they age. Do your utmost to make life as comfortable as possible and be proactive by increasing the frequency of veterinary check-ups.