Strokes occur when blood ceases to reach the parrot’s brain, often due to a blood clot. Even a short interruption to the supply of oxygenated blood will lead to damaged brain cells.
Usually, one side of the brain hemisphere is affected, causing paralysis on the other side.
The main symptom of strokes in birds is the loss of movement on one side of the body. Apoplexy will likely mean a parrot loses control over a wing, leg, or foot. The affected body part will hang limply.
Strokes can occur during the day or night, even when a parrot (or parakeet) is relaxed or asleep. A pet bird is likely to fall off its perch, so you could find it barely moving in a confused state on the cage floor.
Parrots of all ages can be adversely affected by strokes, but older birds are most at risk.
Different Types of Strokes in Birds
There are two main categories of stroke:
Strokes happen when blood can’t reach the brain due to a blocked artery or vein (less common).
Birds can have thrombotic strokes (blood clots that develop in the blood vessels in the brain) and embolic strokes (a blood clot that develops in the body that travels to the brain via the bloodstream).
Hemorrhagic strokes occur due to bleeding in or around the brain.
These can be intracerebral hemorrhages, where the bleeding comes from blood vessels within the brain. Subarachnoid hemorrhages can also occur due to bleeding in the subarachnoid space.
Stroke Symptoms in Parrots
Strokes can occur suddenly, sometimes instantly ending the parrot’s life. In other cases, they lead to loss of movement (paralysis) or recovery with few lasting ill effects.
Here are the ways strokes affect parrots:
Strokes usually affect one side of the brain. Left-brain strokes lead to speech, memory, and energy loss, while right-brain strokes can lead to personality changes, sensory loss, and visual problems.
Half-body paralysis is common in left and right-brain strokes.
If a parrot experiences a left-brain stroke, it’ll lose mobility on the right side of its body. The reverse is also true, as right-brain strokes cause paralysis on the left side.
Check if the parrot is behaving erratically. It may have had a right-brain stroke if it can’t lift its left wing and hops or drags its left foot while walking.
The parrot will also struggle to balance on its perch as its left toes can’t curl properly.
Loss of Muscular Control
If a parrot had a minor stroke, it’ll be weak but retain control of its motor functions.
Strokes can cause intense muscle contractions, resulting in spasticity. If a parrot’s reluctant/unable to walk or fly or appears clumsy and falls off its perch, this is likely due to muscle control problems.
A parrot with lost limb strength may spend more time sitting at the bottom of its cage. It may no longer trust its limbs sufficiently or be unable to perch due to physical limitations.
Strokes cause scar tissue in the brain, affecting electrical activity. This leads to poststroke seizures (PSS).
Seizures are most common following a bleed on the brain (hemorrhagic strokes) or a severe stroke that affects the cerebral cortex. This is responsible for thoughts, movement, vision, and emotions.
Seizures in birds can be mild or severe and frequent or infrequent. The bird will likely thrash about uncontrollably while vocalizing before temporarily losing consciousness.
A right-brain stroke can adversely affect a parrot’s vision. It may be blinded in the left eye or lose sight in both eyes, but much depends on the severity of the stroke.
The symptoms of blindness in parrots revolve around uncharacteristic clumsiness. A parrot who is blind in one eye may walk and fly in circles, bumping into the cage bars and inanimate objects.
If a parrot loses sight in one eye, it’ll be jittery and defensive when approached from its blind side.
What Causes A Parrot To Have A Stroke?
Some parrots experience strokes later in life, no matter how much time is spent meeting their care requirements. The following factors increase the likelihood of strokes in birds:
Stroke risk rises with age because the factors that increase the incidence of strokes (weight gain, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels, etc.) are more elevated.
As parrots age, their arteries narrow and harden. Also, the arteries become clogged by cholesterol and fat. Atherosclerosis (narrowed arteries) inhibits blood flow, raising the risk of ischaemic strokes.
Processed sugars and fatty foods, especially saturated and trans fats, increase stroke risk.
The Journal of Exotic Pet Medicine directly links atherosclerosis to strokes in pet birds. Blood clots can lead to cerebral apoplexy, starving the parrot’s brain of nutrient-rich oxygenated blood.
Eating more fruit and vegetables is recommended because fiber reduces blood cholesterol levels. If you feed parrots meat for protein, offer it poultry (white meat) and lean cuts of red meat.
Avoid low magnesium levels. The journal Stroke explains how increasing magnesium intake by 100 mg/d reduces the risk of strokes by 8%. Feed parrots dark, leafy greens like spinach and broccoli.
Wild parrots fly for tens of miles every day when exploring vast expanses of land to find food and water. Flying is an intense form of cardiovascular activity that captive birds seldom enjoy.
The problem is exacerbated by boredom because parrots eat excessively to occupy their time. Many pet parrots gain weight, which further elevates other stroke risk factors.
Parrots should spend at least 2-3 hours outside their cage in a bird-safe room. Some owners allow outdoor flying fitted with a harness, while others engage in fun games with pet birds.
Parrots need at least 10 hours of sleep per day. Some birds, especially once they’re older, will sleep for 12 hours or more. Always ensure the parrot rests in a dark, quiet room.
As per Current Sleep Medicine Reports, birds rely on sleep to cleanse and detoxify the brain. Denying a parrot sleep increases the risk of neurological illness and disease, including stroke.
Ambient noise from human conversations, TV, and road traffic can interrupt a parrot’s ability to rest. Consider relocating the cage to a quiet room to minimize the risk of sleep disturbance.
Parrot Stroke Treatment
The sooner a parrot gets treatment for a stroke, the likelier it is to recover.
A vet will assess the cause and extent of the damage caused by the stroke. If a parrot has blood clots in the brain, alteplase may be injected to dissolve the clots and restore blood flow and oxygen supply.
If the parrot survives a stroke, it’ll need physical therapy to reduce the risk of muscle atrophy. This happens when the muscles gradually weaken due to a lack of use.
Also, repeated exercises during physical therapy can aid neuroplasticity. While the brain can’t generate new cells, it can recognize that cells have been damaged and identify new pathways.
Unfortunately, the stroke recovery process for birds is slow and uncertain.
Parrot Stroke Recovery
While a stroke is inevitably traumatic, life goes on for many pet birds. The American Veterinary Medical Association journal said parrots often live full lives post-stroke when given ongoing support.
Everything should be reoptimized in the parrot’s cage to make life easier and more comfortable.
Perches should be in less elevated positions with cushioning directly below in case of further stroke-induced falls. Food and water bowls should be positioned in accessible places.
The parrot may be reluctant to eat after a stroke, so hand-feed it. Even if the parrot isn’t as active, it still has a fast metabolism and won’t survive for more than 24-72 hours without food.
Ensure the parrot gets ample rest and that the temperature is well-optimized. While you don’t want the parrot to be too cold, overheating can lead to post-stroke complications.
Post-stroke, seizures can arise, but they can be managed with prescription medication. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Exotic Animal Practice recommends gabapentin or levetiracetam.
Discuss the parrot’s revised nutritional, enrichment, and exercise requirements with a vet.