A vitamin A deficiency in parrots (Hypovitaminosis A) is surprisingly common. Amazon parrots, African greys, cockatiels, and budgies (American parakeets) are often adversely affected.
Parrots with a vitamin A deficiency will have a weakened immune system, which can lead to fatal secondary infections. Low retinol is also linked 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 include pus-filled growths around the eyes, hard and scaly skin, dull feathers, reluctance to eat and drink, and trouble breathing.
Fresh vegetables, like bell peppers and carrots, can increase a parrot’s vitamin A intake. These should be fed to parrots rather than seeds because they commonly cause hypovitaminosis A.
Why Do Parrots Need Vitamin A?
Vitamin A is a natural antioxidant essential to parrots’ health and well-being.
Birds require vitamin A for good eyesight and hearing and to maintain a healthy immune system, skin, mucus membranes, and bones (skeletons).
Aside from the risk of blindness and skeletal deformation, the main risk from hypovitaminosis A is growths in the throat that make it impossible to eat or drink and a compromised immune system.
If a parrot’s body lacks vitamin A, it’ll be more prone to fungal, bacterial, and viral infections and diseases. This can adversely affect a parrot’s vital organs, especially the kidneys and lungs.
Can Parrots Die from Hypovitaminosis A?
The secondary infections caused by hypovitaminosis A can be life-threatening, especially among young, sick, and elderly birds.
A lack of vitamin A leaves a parrot with a weakened immune system. This will leave a parrot at risk of viral infections, including psittacosis (parrot fever), avipoxvirus, or avian pox.
Abscesses caused by vitamin A deficiencies can also distort the glottis, which is the opening to a parrot’s windpipe. This can lead to difficulty breathing and swallowing food and water.
What Causes a Vitamin A Deficiency in Parrots?
Picky eating and an inappropriate diet are often responsible for vitamin A deficiency in parrots, especially Amazon breeds and African greys.
These parrot species can be fussy about food, so some owners feed their parrots a seed-only diet to keep them happy, but it comes at a cost. Budgies are particularly susceptible to seed addiction.
Sunflower seeds and peanuts are the main culprits. Many parrots prefer these foods and ignore everything else. Unfortunately, an unbalanced diet leads to hypovitaminosis A.
If a parrot eats seeds, supplement its intake with vitamin A-rich fruit and vegetables. Also, consult a vet about supplements to ensure the parrot gets sufficient vitamin A in the future.
Signs of A Vitamin A Deficiency in Parrots
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 warnings signs:
- Pus-filled nodules and abscesses around the eyes and under the skin.
- Fading color in the feathers.
- Thick, scaly skin, especially around the eyes and feet.
- Wheezing and breathing through the beak, especially when coupled with bad breath.
- 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 and regurgitating after eating.
- Gastric upset, including diarrhea.
- Poor hatching rate of eggs or infertility.
- Lethargy and depression.
While you can remedy a vitamin A deficiency by changing a parrot’s diet, it could still be uncomfortable. So, it’s recommended that you get the parrot assessed by a veterinarian.
A vet will likely take blood tests to evaluate vitamin A levels and how it’s affecting them.
The vet will check the choana (the cavity between a parrot’s oral and nasal cavities) because pus or mucus increases the likelihood of hypovitaminosis A.
How To Treat Vitamin A Deficiency in Parrots
Adjusting a parrot’s diet to include more sources of vitamin A, potentially alongside supplementation, will eventually overcome this deficiency, but it can take up to 3 months.
A parrot with a severe vitamin A deficiency may need medical attention for the physical symptoms.
These must be evaluated if the parrot has abscesses or plaque around the mouth, making it difficult to eat or drink. It’ll also be checked for any illnesses caused by hypovitaminosis A.
When the parrot returns to your care, you may be given a strict meal plan to boost vitamin A levels.
Diet is the most important part of tackling a retinol deficiency. If the bird can eat freely, introduce vitamin A-rich foods to its daily meals, replacing seeds and nuts.
Fresh fruits and vegetables are the best sources of vitamin A. Place emphasis on the following foods to increase the bird’s vitamin A intake:
- Dark leafy greens, like spinach, kale, broccoli, alfalfa, parsley, and chard.
- Yams and sweet potatoes.
- Sliced pumpkin (avoid tinned pumpkin.)
- Bell peppers, especially green and red.
- Mangoes, papaya, peaches, or apricots.
Fruit and vegetables should be served raw, as heat (the cooking process) slightly reduces the presence of vitamins like vitamin A. However, vitamins B and C are the most heat-sensitive.
Consult a vet before making dietary changes or providing vitamin A supplements. Never exceed the stated dosage because too much vitamin A has negative side effects, like nausea and dizziness.
A reputable pet store will stock a variety of vitamin A supplements suitable for parrots. You could offer vitamin A drops in water or ground powder on food.
Supplements applied to solid food are more cost-effective and likelier to achieve the desired results.
Sprinkling a vitamin A supplement on dry food will be ineffective because it’ll sink to the bottom of a bowl and be ignored. Moistening the meal before adding the supplements is recommended.
Can Parrots Have Too Much Vitamin A?
While we have focused on the dangers of ‘hypovitaminosis A’ in parrots, it’s also possible for a bird to get too much vitamin A. While rare, this condition is known as ‘hypervitaminosis A.’
The most common warning 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 in the body, especially around the kidneys. Hypervitaminosis A can leave the parrot at risk of irreversible renal failure.
Too much vitamin A (retinol) can also cause lesions to form on the liver.
Vitamin A is a vital component of a parrot’s diet. Work with a vet to safely increase a parrot’s vitamin A intake and address any health problems as soon as the warning signs of hypovitaminosis A arise.