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Signs of Old Age in Parrots

17 Common Signs of Old Age in Parrots

Last Updated on January 28, 2024 by Carrie Stephens

Many parrot species age slowly. However, they won’t look and behave the same throughout their lives. There will be physical and behavioral signs that a parrot is getting older or dying of old age.

Signs of old age in parrots include reduced feather quality, overgrown claws, skin imperfections, inappetence, weight loss, less energy, poor posture, muscle wastage, irritability, and lethargy.

Aging and elderly parrots are likelier to develop degenerative health conditions like heart disease, arthritis, and kidney failure. As parrots grow older, they need more regular health check-ups.

The average lifespan of parrots is species-specific. Smaller birds, like budgerigars, live for an average of 7-15 years, while larger species, like cockatoos, can live for 60-80 years.

Signs of Aging in Parrots

Here are the most common signs that a parrot is getting old:

Cataracts

Aging parrots sometimes get cataracts, often in their left and right eyes. Age-related cataracts include nuclear sclerotic, cortical, and posterior subcapsular cataracts.

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.
  • Infections.
  • Genetics.

Surgery may be too dangerous for older and unhealthy parrots. Most veterinary ophthalmologists recommend leaving cataracts untreated if the parrot’s life isn’t heavily compromised.

how do parrots age?

Changing Eye Color

While cataracts cause specific 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 is a sign of infection.

Droopy Eyelids

Parrot eyelids droop 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 initially. That said, if you look closely, you’ll observe that some of the eye is more exposed than it was previously.

Dull Feathers

Senior parrots have less energy and are disinclined to care for their feathers.

Their feathers become less vibrant and lifeless. They may develop stress bars, which appear as a series of horizontal lines crisscrossing the feathers, suggesting something is amiss in their environment.

Older, unwell parrots may develop dull and greasy feathers because they lack the energy to preen themselves. They disguise sickness so well that low feather quality may be the only symptom.

Long Claws

Older parrots are less likely to keep their nails filed down because they move less, meaning reduced wear and tear. The claws grow unabated, making perching and movement uncomfortable.

Long nails can be cut to the correct length. Don’t cut the “quick” (the blood vessel and nerve in the middle of each claw), leading to physical discomfort and blood loss.

Stay on top of this because long nails can pierce the skin, increasing the risk of bumblefoot.

Weight Loss

Parrots lose weight as they age, which goes hand in hand with joint, foot, and leg problems. Make their life easier by hand-feeding the bird or moving the bowl to an easier-to-reach location.

While weight loss is expected as parrots age, stress and malnutrition can also be responsible.

Muscle Wastage

Muscle wastage is attributed to a lack of exercise. As parrots become less active, their muscles weaken.

The wings are most commonly affected, as older parrots lose their ability to fly around the room. Similarly, parrots with clipped wings are more prone to muscle wastage later in life.

Muscle wastage (muscle atrophy) occurs when insufficient mechanical load is placed on the muscles and is just a natural part of the aging process in parrots.

Even though older birds move less, it’s still vital they move about and exercise regularly.

Skin Changes

Among parrots’ most visible signs of aging is skin deterioration, like dermatitis and skin tumors. Skin blemishes, like wrinkling, pigment spots, and discoloration, are mostly seen on the face and feet.

As parrots have feathers covering their faces, skin complaints are usually only evident on bare facial patches around the cheek area.

Old skin can become dry, flaky, and scaly around the tops of the feet. Sometimes, the skin on the bottom of the feet becomes smoother and thinner.

This leaves the feet vulnerable to bumblefoot because torn skin and open wounds allow bacteria to enter.

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, even avoiding their favorite treats.

Again, this could be due to a 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 throughout the day.

Frequent Infections

Immune systems weaken with age, making them susceptible to infections their bodies can’t fight.

The most common viral, bacterial, and fungal infections include:

  • 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 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.

Poor Posture

Parrots growing old develop bad posture, especially when resting. Poor posture is usually accompanied by puffed-up feathers, which makes them uncomfortable. Sick parrots may:

  • Develop a stiff posture.
  • Hold their feathers flat against their body.
  • Keep their wings in a pre-flight position.
  • Hold their heads high and forward.

Parrots can also develop degenerative joint conditions like arthritis.

Irritability

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 behavioral change is pain, tiredness, and lethargy. Like many other signs of aging, age-related health conditions make a parrot miserable.

Lower Energy Levels

Elderly 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 home for a parrot to live in is the best way to reenergize it.

Avian Renal Disease

The kidneys filter metabolic waste products from the parrot’s body and maintain an optimum water and electrolyte balance. As parrots age, the process can falter.

Infections, metabolic disorders, blockages, toxicity (vitamins and heavy metals), etc.) can compromise filtration. The symptoms of avian renal disease include:

  • Polyuria (watery fecal matter).
  • Increased thirst.
  • Inappetence and weight loss.
  • Painful and swollen joints.
  • Breathing problems.
  • Distended abdomen.
  • Dehydration.
  • Lethargy.
  • Depression.

Cause-based treatments are available. Sometimes, it’s a matter of minimizing discomfort. Options include force-feeding, fluid therapy, nutritional supplements, antiparasitics, and anti-toxin medications.

Tumors

Parrots get fatty lipomas. These are lumps that appear beneath the skin.

As documented 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 are benign, but you must get a newly-developed mass examined by a vet.

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 who love to talk stop vocalizing as much.

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.

signs of aging in parrots

How Parrots Age

The rate at which the bodies of large parrots age is similar to humans’. They go through juvenile, adult, and senior life stages, each of which presents different challenges.

While these stages are comparable to humans’, parrots reach adulthood much sooner, which increases their probability of survival.

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.

As parrots age, they spend the first third of their lives maturing into adults. Then, they spend the last third of their lives as fully grown adults, experiencing occasional health concerns.

Once parrots reach the final third of their lives, they endure age-related physical and mental decline. This is when it’s clear that parrots are no longer as energetic and quick-thinking.

Parrots Can Get Arthritis

According to the MSD Manual, parrots can develop septic and traumatic arthritis at any age. It often develops in the digits from gripping perches, particularly if they’re too narrow or wide.

Parrots’ weight and other injuries can also determine whether they develop arthritis later in life. Also, parrots with hip arthritis are most likely to get bumblefoot.

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. Some parrots are rendered lame, while others may be disinclined to fly. Other symptoms include:

  • Falling off perches.
  • Swollen or warm joints.
  • Decreased range of motion.
  • Feather picking.
  • Self-mutilation.
  • Excessive vocalization.

While arthritis can occur anytime, older birds’ joints are most commonly affected.

Parrots May Not Get Dementia

As parrots get older, their mental acuity slows.

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).

As parrots age, they display behavioral changes like depression, anxiety, and stress.

Parrots’ minds and bodies decline as they age. Do your utmost to make life as comfortable as possible and be proactive by increasing the frequency of veterinary check-ups.