A stroke is a life-threatening medical emergency caused by a lack of blood flow to the brain. The primary symptom of a stroke is paralysis on one side of the parrot’s body.
The parrot won’t be able to lift its left or right wing and will drag one foot. Muscular weakness, tremors, seizures, and blindness can also result from avian strokes.
Older parrots are most at risk of strokes, which can be brought on by poor diet, weight gain, blood clots in the brain, lack of sleep, or sickness that spreads to the brain.
A vet will review the damage if a parrot has had a stroke. If the parrot survives, it’ll require physical therapy to regain control over its muscles and may require ongoing seizure treatment.
Stroke Symptoms in Parrots
Strokes can occur suddenly, sometimes immediately ending the parrot’s life. This means it’s not always easy to determine the symptoms; sometimes, the cause is only determined post-death.
Certain warning signs can suggest a parrot is more at risk of stroke. If you act swiftly, you may be able to prevent a parrot from experiencing a life-changing stroke.
Note any general adjustment in habits and behaviors, such as appetite loss, loud, needless vocalizations, or unprovoked aggression.
Be particularly vigilant about the following issues:
Strokes frequently impact one side of the brain.
Left-brain strokes usually lead to speech, memory, and energy issues. Right-brain strokes can make a parrot jittery and lead to loss of sight. 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.
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 when walking.
The parrot will also struggle to balance on its perch as the left toes can’t curl.
Loss of Muscular Control
Not all strokes lead to complete paralysis. If the parrot had a minor stroke, it might retain some limited control of its motor functions. The bird will be considerably weaker than usual in these instances.
If the parrot is suddenly reluctant to walk or fly or becomes clumsy and falls off its perch, this is likely a consequence of muscular weakness. So, you may notice tremors.
A parrot with lost limb strength will likely spend more time sitting at the bottom of its cage. This is a safety precaution, as it doesn’t trust its limbs sufficiently to perch, especially when sleeping.
Seizures can arise in parrots for various reasons, but not all are related to strokes.
If the parrot has regular seizures, a stroke is considerably more likely to be the explanation. If the parrot hasn’t already had a stroke, it’s at greater risk of having one.
If the parrot has a seizure, it must receive immediate veterinary attention. Protect the parrot from injury and keep it warm, then have a vet assess it to determine the cause.
Chronic seizures can become an ongoing concern for a parrot recovering from a stroke. Medication will be prescribed, but you must modify the cage for safety reasons.
As discussed, a right-brain stroke will impact a parrot’s vision. So, it may be rendered blind in the left eye or lose sight in both eyes, but this depends upon the severity of the stroke.
Blindness in parrots should be professionally diagnosed, but the warning signs to look out for revolve around uncharacteristic clumsiness and restricted mobility.
A parrot that’s blind in one eye will likely walk and fly in circles and bump into inanimate objects.
If a parrot loses sight in one eye, it’ll likely become increasingly jittery and aggressive when approached from its blind side due to fears that you’re a predator or other threat.
If a parrot can’t see you, announce your presence verbally before attempting handling or interaction.
What Causes a Parrot to Have a Stroke?
Some parrots will experience strokes later in life, no matter how much effort you put into their care. However, the following factors make a stroke likelier:
If the parrot has had a long life, the risk of stroke increases once it reaches senior status. The brains of older parrots are less resilient than younger birds.
Parrots have varying lifespans, which affect what’s considered senior for a bird.
For example, an African gray or macaw may live for 30+ years before it starts to slow down, while a parakeet (budgie) will show signs of aging after 5-7 years.
Once a parrot reaches its golden years, pay particular attention to its diet and lifestyle, keeping it active (within reason) and ensuring it receives all the nutrients it needs to flourish.
As the parrot grows older, focus on feeding foods high in magnesium.
Dark, leafy greens like spinach are ideal, or use supplements under veterinary advisement. The journal Stroke explains how increasing magnesium intake by 100 mg/d reduces the risk of strokes by 8%.
If the parrot exercises less, its diet and food intake must be adjusted.
If the parrot grows overweight, it may develop atherosclerosis (a narrowing of the arteries).
The Journal of Exotic Pet Medicine directly links atherosclerosis to stroke in birds, as blood flow to the brain becomes restricted, and clots can form.
These blood clots can lead to cerebral apoplexy – reduced blood circulation, which means the parrot’s brain will be starved of essential oxygen.
This is where you’ll likely notice the warning symptoms of stroke, such as partial paralysis.
Lack of Sleep
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.
Sleep deprivation causes more damage than making the parrot bad-tempered.
As per Current Sleep Medicine Reports, birds rely on sleep to cleanse and detoxify the brain. Denying a parrot its sleep increases the risk of serious neurological illness, including stroke.
As the parrot ages and starts to slow down, consider relocating the cage to an empty room to minimize the risk of sleep disturbance.
Ambient noise generated by conversation, televisions, or radios can interrupt a parrot’s ability to rest.
Underlying Health Issues
The most common culprits are psittacosis (parrot fever) and Proventricular Dilatation Disease (PDD.) These issues attack the nervous system of the parrot and, if left untreated, can spread to the brain stem.
Keep on top of parasitic infestations in parrots. Gastric parasites, or those that attack the respiratory tract, won’t always remain in the same place within a bird’s body.
If these parasites multiply and migrate toward the brain, neural tissue can be attacked and damaged.
Parrot Stroke Treatment
In the immediate aftermath of a suspected stroke, wrap the parrot in a towel or blanket to control convulsions and dim the lighting conditions.
Make an urgent appointment with a vat to assess the extent of the damage caused by the stroke.
A vet will assess the cause and extent of the damage caused by the stroke. If the parrot has blood clots in the brain, alteplase may be injected to dissolve the clots and restore blood flow and oxygen supply.
If a parrot survives a stroke, it’ll need physical therapy to recover full control of its body following partial paralysis. This therapy will build muscle tone.
Be patient, as the parrot may struggle to remember its training after a stroke.
Some strokes attack a parrot’s brain stem, leading to full paralysis below the neck. Unfortunately, in these instances, euthanasia will be the only humane decision.
Parrot Stroke Recovery
While a stroke is a major and traumatic event, life can continue. The American Veterinary Medical Association journal said parrots often live full lives after a stroke with appropriate support.
Avoid putting the parrot back in its cage after bringing it home because it won’t be strong enough to hold onto a perch, so a box lined with blankets is recommended.
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 the brain can lead to post-stroke complications.
The parrot may be reluctant to eat after a stroke, so you may need to hand-feed it for a while. Even if the parrot isn’t as active, it still has a fast metabolism and requires regular sustenance.
After a stroke, seizures can arise, but these can be managed with prescription medication. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Exotic Animal Practice recommends gabapentin or levetiracetam.