Last Updated on January 28, 2024 by Carrie Stephens
Vitamin A deficiencies in parrots are among the most common and easily preventable health conditions. Unfortunately, it often goes unrecognized, becoming more dangerous as time passes.
Hypovitaminosis A leads to a weak immune response in parrots, making them vulnerable to disease.
Low vitamin A (retinol) levels lead to poor ocular health, respiratory distress, fertility problems, flakey beaks and claws, and hyperkeratosis of the feet (abnormally thick skin).
The symptoms of a vitamin A deficiency (hypovitaminosis A) include pus-filled growths around the eyes, hard and scaly skin, dull-looking feathers, reluctance to eat and drink, and trouble breathing.
Hypovitaminosis A is easily preventable. Beta-carotene (carotenoids converted into vitamin A) is found in many fruits and veg, including sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach, red peppers, mango, and apricots.
Why Vitamin A Is Important To Parrots
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble micronutrient and antioxidant needed for tissue growth and repair. If a parrot’s body lacks vitamin A, it’ll be vulnerable to fungal, bacterial, and viral infections and diseases.
Parrots require vitamin A for good eyesight, which is essential for identifying threats. Vitamin A is also necessary for a healthy immune system, skin, mucus membranes, and bones (skeletons).
Low levels of vitamin A can lead to squamous metaplasia. This reduces the efficacy of the GI tract, oropharynx, sinuses, choana, urogenital tract, reproductive tract, and uropygial (preen) gland.
Without enough vitamin A, the skin will become dry and itchy. This can lead to feather picking in a misguided attempt to relieve the source of irritation. Sometimes, the feathers never regrow.
Risk of Premature Death from Hypovitaminosis A
While a vitamin A deficiency can directly lead to premature death, parrots are most vulnerable to secondary infections that result in organ failure. A veterinary consultation is essential.
A lack of vitamin A leaves parrots with low immune function. This leaves parrots more at risk of infection and disease, like psittacosis (parrot fever), avipoxvirus, or avian pox.
Abscesses caused by vitamin A deficiencies can distort the glottis (the opening to a parrot’s windpipe), making breathing and swallowing food and water more difficult.
Female parrots sometimes develop reproductive problems, resulting in dystocia (low hatchability and high hatching mortality.) It’s also common for the surviving chicks to be weak and underweight.
Vitamin A wards against fungal pathogens. Prolonged malnutrition from insufficient vitamin A makes parrots vulnerable to aspergillosis from inhaling aspergillus spores.
Causes of Vitamin A Deficiencies
Vitamin A deficiencies are caused by picky eating and unsuitable diets. A parrot’s diet should comprise 50-70% specially formulated pellets, but some birds find the taste rather bland.
Parrots are fussy about their food, so some owners solely feed them the seeds and nuts they crave. These foods are deficient in vitamin A and many other essential nutrients.
Budgerigars (Melopsittacus undulatus) are particularly susceptible to seed addiction. Many other species find seeds irresistible, ignoring other nutritious foods. This diet often causes hypovitaminosis A.
Signs of Vitamin A Deficiencies
The signs and symptoms of hypovitaminosis A can be slow to manifest.
If you’re concerned that a parrot has a vitamin A deficiency, note these warning signs:
- Pus-filled nodules and abscesses around the eyes and under the skin.
- Fading color in the feathers.
- Broken, brittle, and frayed tail feathers.
- Thick, scaly skin around the eyes and feet.
- Wheezing and breathing through the beak.
- White film and plaque around the beak.
- Swelling around the eyes, comparable to conjunctivitis (red eye).
- Sneezing and streaming from the eyes and nostrils.
- Reluctance to eat, associated weight loss, and gagging after eating.
- Gastric upset, including diarrhea.
- Poor hatching rate of eggs or infertility.
- Night blindness.
- Lethargy and depression.
A vet may take blood tests to evaluate vitamin A levels. They’ll check the choana (the cavity between the oral and nasal cavities) because pus or mucus means hypovitaminosis A is more likely.
Recovering from Vitamin A Deficiencies
Adjusting a parrot’s diet to include more sources of vitamin A, potentially alongside supplementation, will eventually lead to recovery. This takes time, possibly up to 3 months.
A vet will treat conditions caused by hypovitaminosis A, like squamous metaplasia and aspergilosis. When the parrot returns to your care, follow the vet-recommended diet plan.
Diet is crucial when tackling a retinol deficiency. If a parrot can eat freely, introduce vitamin A-rich foods to its daily meals, replacing most of the usual seeds and nuts.
Fruits and vegetables are the best sources of vitamin A. These include:
- Dark leafy greens (spinach, kale, broccoli, alfalfa, parsley, and chard.)
- Yams and sweet potatoes.
- Sliced pumpkin.
- Bell peppers.
- Mangoes, papaya, peaches, and apricots.
Fruits and veg should be served raw, as heat (the cooking process) slightly reduces vitamin A. Also, avoid adding cooking oils and flavorings, like salt (sodium).
You can add vitamin A drops to water or ground powder to food.
Adding a retinol supplement to dry food is ineffective because it’ll sink to the bottom of a bowl and be ignored. Moisten the meal before adding a powder-based supplement.
A parrot is far likelier to develop hypervitaminosis A from supplements. Always consult a vet before making significant dietary changes or providing vitamin A supplements to parrots.
Dangers of Too Much Vitamin A
While we’ve focused on the risks of “hypovitaminosis A,” it’s also possible for a parrot to get too much vitamin A. Although uncommon, it’s called “hypervitaminosis A.”
The signs of vitamin A toxicity are a skin rash, pain and tenderness around the abdomen, and vomiting.
Too much vitamin A can lead to calcium build-up, especially around the kidneys. Hypervitaminosis A can leave parrots at risk of irreversible renal failure. It can also result in lesions on the liver.
Vitamin A is a vital component of the avian diet. Seek advice from a veterinarian on addressing the parrot’s current health problems and increasing its retinol intake to prevent a reoccurrence.