what is foot clenching in parrots?

What Causes Toe Tapping in Parrots?

As long as parrots have a stress-free home and a nutritious diet, most go through life without experiencing too many health problems. However, a common condition that many parrots experience is toe-tapping.

Toe-tapping occurs when a parrot’s feet go into involuntary spasms and repeatedly clench and unclench. It’s caused by various factors, including a calcium deficiency, too many vitamins and minerals in the diet, and swollen organs.

Toe-tapping commonly affects the Eclectus parrot, but all species can develop this condition. It’s rarely serious, but it’s an indication that something in your parrot’s life needs to change, such as its diet or living environment. 

What is Foot Clenching in Parrots?

Parrots have zygodactyl feet, which consist of four toes. The first (hallux) and the fourth face backward while the second and third face forward.

Toe-tapping, or foot clenching, involves involuntary muscle spasms, which cause the toes to open and close repeatedly. It can affect one or both of your parrot’s feet. It’s called toe-tapping because the parrot’s toenails sometimes make a tapping sound as they hit the perch when opening and closing.

Toe-tapping is not to be confused with a parrot stretching and clenching its toes when getting comfortable. This looks and sounds similar but is unrelated. Some parrots, including the cockatoo, stamp their feet when threatened, which is different from toe-tapping. While the condition usually clears up within 7 days, symptoms can last weeks or months.

Causes of Toe-Tapping Syndrome

Toe-tapping is easy to treat once the cause is determined. The most common reasons include:

Too Many Vitamins And Minerals

One of the most common causes of toe-tapping is too many vitamins and minerals in the diet. Many of these come from pellets, which are a staple of a parrot’s diet. But when parrots are fed additional supplemental vitamins and minerals, they’re at risk of ingesting more vitamins and minerals than they need.

Some parrots will react to this surplus by developing toe-tapping syndrome. Whether a parrot is affected or not comes down to its sensitivity and chemical makeup.

Spirulina is one of the common reasons for toe-tapping. Spirulina is a blue-green alga that contains many vital nutrients. It’s also considered a superfood and one of the most nutrient-rich foods in the world.

In the wild, parrots eat a nutrient sparse diet. A small amount of spirulina can benefit parrots, but too much can lead to muscle spasms. Parrots get the vitamins and minerals they need from fruits, veggies, and other leafy greens. These should be incorporated into the diet on a daily basis.

toe-tapping syndrome in parrots

Calcium Deficiency

Parrots that have low levels of calcium are more susceptible to foot clenching. To determine whether your parrot is deficient in calcium, it will need blood tests. If the tests show that your parrot needs more calcium, it’s advised that owners increase levels regularly rather than aiming for a marginal increase.

Toe-tapping usually ceases once normal levels of calcium are restored. It’s usually quick to stop as toe-tapping sometimes clears up within an hour of the parrot being given additional calcium. To increase calcium levels, a vet will administer oral calcium, like liquid NeoCalglucon. Calcium can also be found in:

While dairy foods are a rich source of calcium, parrots don’t have the enzyme needed to digest milk products. It’s unsafe to give parrots dairy.

Infection

Though not as common, toe-tapping is sometimes the result of a severe infection that causes the parrot’s organs to swell. These organs press against the nerves leading to the feet and toes, causing non-stop foot spasms.

Similarly, when a parrot is in reproductive mode, its organs will enlarge to prepare it for reproduction. Before this point, the organs remain small to increase flight mobility. However, as the organs grow bigger, they’ll press down on the feet and toe’s nerves, causing continuous muscle spasms.

How To Treat Toe-tapping Syndrome

Toe-tapping syndrome is treatable. By determining the cause and removing it, the condition usually goes away. However, take your parrot to the vet for blood tests to determine what’s causing your parrot’s muscle spasms.

Sometimes, a simple diet change will suffice. But your parrot could have an underlying vitamin deficiency, which needs to be addressed. Once you’ve found the cause, these are the most common solutions:

Improved Diet

The most successful way to improve the condition is to change the parrot’s diet. According to Resources, avian veterinarians recommend that pellets make up 50% to 70% of a parrot’s diet.

Pellets are sufficient to feed your parrot, but not all are created equal. Low-quality pellets have little nutritional value, which means parrots might not get the appropriate nutrients. Owners may also supplement their parrot’s diet with too many unnecessary vitamins and nutrients, leading to an overload.

Low-quality pellets contain artificial colors, preservatives, and flavors. Over time, these chemicals build up in a parrot’s system and cause toe-tapping and other conditions, including aggression and wing flipping.  

To prevent toe-tapping syndrome, feed your parrot pellets that don’t contain any sugar or dyes. Add plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and leafy greens to your parrot’s diet.

Similarly, calcium-rich foods should be increased. Pellets don’t provide all the calcium your parrot needs, so incorporating these foods into its diet can prevent toe-tapping from occurring. If you’re unsure, a vet can recommend the optimal daily calcium dosage.

Aloe Detoxifying Formula

An aloe detox is a concentrate of aloe vera and herbs. It detoxifies the system, especially if chemicals and other toxins have entered the parrot’s body. An aloe detox can:

  • Reduce harmful toxins
  • Cleanse waste from the colon
  • Support healthy digestion
  • Cleanse and soothe an upset stomach
  • Maintain a healthy gut
  • Increase the absorption of nutrients
  • Support healthy liver function

To use, add ½ cap full of the solution to a pint of water and mix. Serve it to your parrot in a shallow dish for the bird to drink at its leisure.

Don’t be alarmed if you notice changes to your parrot’s feces, as this is a sign that the solution is detoxifying its body. After a few days, the toe-tapping should stop. If it doesn’t, consult your vet for further advice.

What Causes Toe Tapping in Parrots?

Reduce Stress

Sometimes stress can trigger health problems, including toe-tapping. Therefore, ensuring that your parrot has a stress-free environment to live in will reduce negative emotions and feelings, such as aggression and anxiety.

As described by Science Direct, an environment that promotes psychological well-being leads to a happy, healthy, reproductively active parrot.

Ensure that your parrot is getting enough sleep. Moving it to a quiet, dark corner of your home provides the right environment for it to rest. Keep it away from other pets or young children who may be overzealous in their handling.

Never yell at your parrot, and don’t try to handle it too often, especially if it doesn’t enjoy being picked up or stroked. This will cause it to become even more afraid and nervous.

Provide stimulation through toys and games, and ensure that your parrot gets out-of-cage exercise. Some parrots don’t enjoy being cooped up in their cages for too long and need more freedom.

By following the above steps, your parrot’s toe topping should cease within 1-2 weeks. If it doesn’t, a more serious underlying problem might be at play, which will require the involvement of an avian veterinarian.