Toe-tapping syndrome commonly affects Eclectus parrots, but any species can be affected.
Toe-tapping occurs when a parrot’s feet involuntarily spasm, repeatedly clenching and unclenching. This could be due to a calcium deficiency, too many vitamins and minerals, and swollen organs.
The condition can be misdiagnosed because twitching of the legs and toes are among the symptoms.
Medical conditions commonly mistaken for toe-tapping in parrots include lead-based heavy metal toxicosis, Proventricular Dilitation Disease (PDD), and dermatitis (fungal or bacterial).
Unlike other conditions, toe-tapping syndrome doesn’t worsen, even if allowed to continue. It’s rarely serious, but it indicates something, such as the parrot’s diet, must be modified.
What Is Foot Clenching in Parrots?
Parrots have zygodactyl feet, which consist of 4 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. This condition can affect one or both of the parrot’s feet.
It’s called toe-tapping because the parrot’s nails tap as they hit the perch when opening and closing.
Toe-tapping isn’t to be confused with a parrot stretching and clenching its toes when getting comfortable. It looks and sounds similar, but it’s unrelated.
Some parrots, like cockatoos, stamp their feet when threatened, which is also different from toe-tapping.
Why Is My Parrot Toe Tapping?
The most common reasons for toe-tapping in parrots include the following:
Excessive Vitamins And Minerals
Some parrots react to too many vitamins and minerals with toe-tapping syndrome.
This reaction could be due to feeding a parrot too much of a certain food or nutritional supplements, leading to a mineral or chemical imbalance.
Spirulina is a common reason for toe-tapping, largely because it’s a common ingredient in pellets.
This blue-green algae is considered one of the world’s most nutrient-rich foods. While some spirulina benefits parrots’ health, too much can lead to muscle spasms.
Parrots with low levels of calcium are more susceptible to foot clenching.
A parrot needs blood tests to determine if its ionized calcium level is low (hypocalcemia). If the tests show that the parrot needs more calcium, owners should increase its daily intake.
Calcium is found in the following nutritious foods:
While dairy is a good source of calcium, parrots don’t have the enzyme (lactase) needed for digestion. Although not entirely lactose intolerant, parrots’ bodies process lactose poorly.
Alternatively, a vet can administer oral calcium, like liquid NeoCalglucon.
Toe-tapping usually ceases once normal levels of calcium are restored. Sometimes toe-tapping clears up within days of the parrot being given adequate calcium and supportive minerals.
Although less common, toe-tapping can be due to an infection that causes the organs to swell. These organs press against the nerves leading to the feet and toes, causing foot spasms.
Similarly, when a parrot is in reproductive mode, its organs will enlarge to prepare for reproduction.
Before this point, the organs remain small to increase flight mobility. However, as the organs grow, they press down on the feet and toe nerves, causing continuous muscle spasms.
How To Treat Toe-tapping Syndrome
By determining and removing the cause, the toe-tapping syndrome usually goes away relatively quickly. However, take the parrot to the vet for a blood test to determine the cause of muscle spasms.
Sometimes, a simple diet change will be all that’s needed to make a complete recovery. Once you’ve identified the cause of toe-tapping in parrots, these are the most common solutions:
The most effective way to stop toe-tapping in parrots is a diet change. Most avian veterinarians recommend that pellets make up 50% to 70% of a parrot’s diet.
Low-quality pellets have little nutritional value, so parrots might not get the right nutrients. Owners may also supplement a parrot’s diet with too many vitamins and minerals, leading to an imbalance.
Low-quality pellets contain artificial colors, preservatives, and flavors. Over time, these build up in the parrot’s system and cause toe-tapping and other conditions, including wing flipping.
To prevent toe-tapping syndrome, feed the parrot quality pellets that don’t contain added sugars, colors, and preservatives. Add plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables to the parrot’s diet.
Calcium-rich foods should be increased, especially for breeding females, noting carefully how this mineral interacts with magnesium, phosphorous, and vitamins D and K.
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.
Add ½ cap full of Aloe vera to a pint of water and mix, serving it to the parrot in a shallow dish. Then, the parrot can drink the detoxifying aloe formula at leisure.
Don’t worry if you observe changes to the parrot’s feces, as this signifies the solution is detoxifying its body. After a few days, toe-tapping should stop because the toxins have left the body.
Sometimes stress can trigger health problems, including toe-tapping. Therefore, keeping a parrot’s environment stress-free reduces negative emotions and feelings like anxiety.
As described by Science Direct, a living environment that promotes psychological well-being leads to a happy, healthy, and active parrot.
Ensure the parrot gets enough sleep by moving it to a quiet corner of the home. Keep the parrot away from other pets and young children who may be overzealous in handling it.
Never get annoyed with a parrot, and don’t 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 the parrot gets out-of-cage exercise. Few parrots enjoy being cooped up in their cages for long and need more freedom.
If you follow these steps and resolve the cause, a parrot’s toe-tapping should cease within 1-2 weeks.