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Why Do Parrots Bite Their Feet? (Foot Chewing)

Last Updated on January 28, 2024 by Carrie Stephens

If you’ve observed a parrot biting its feet, you must find out what’s responsible. Occasional foot biting is expected, but this behavior can suggest a problem if it becomes frequent or obsessive.

Parrots bite and chew their feet when dry, itchy, or painful. This can be due to avian herpesvirus, bumblefoot, mites, dermatitis, arthritis, gout, or a vitamin A deficiency.

Parrots chew their feet to self-soothe, possibly because their life is tedious or stressful.

Negative emotions lead to repetitive, self-mutilating behaviors (stereoptypies) in pet birds. Amazon parrots and African grays are most prone to chewing their feet.

Parrots also bite their nails when they’re too long to shorten them. Overgrown nails prevent parrots from perching, walking, landing, climbing, and grasping food. Overly long claws must be trimmed.

Why Parrots Bite Their Feet

It’s normal for parrots to chew their feet as part of their preening regimen.

If foot and nail biting occurs near-constantly and causes the feet to become swollen, sore, or inflamed, a health or behavioral issue is likely to be responsible.

The most common causes of foot biting are as follows:

Avian Herpesvirus

Avian herpesvirus (Pacheco’s disease) is contagious and spreads through contact between psittacine birds. Once infected, parrots carry the virus for life,

There are different types of avian herpesvirus, but the Amazon Tracheitis strain causes papilloma lesions (outward-growing lumps) on the feet. These lesions cause parrots to bite at their feet regularly.

Bumblefoot

Bumblefoot (ulcerative pododermatitis) is a common foot condition in captive parrots.

Ulcerative pododermatitis is a bacterial infection and inflammatory reaction that causes sores and legions on the weight-bearing surface of the feet. This condition is caused by:

  • Extended perching.
  • Hypovitaminosis A.
  • Improper perches.
  • Splinters.
  • Overgrown toenails.
  • Obesity.
  • Wire flooring.

Bumblefoot occurs when bacteria enter a small cut or graze on the parrot’s foot. According to the MSD Veterinary Manual, poor husbandry and cage setup are commonly to blame.

Once bacteria enter the wound, this can cause painful and itchy wounds, scabs, and abscesses. Parrots will peck and bite at the feet to alleviate the discomfort.

why do parrots bite their nails?

Mites

Scaly-leg mites affect parrots, especially budgies. Mites spend their life cycle on parrots, infesting the beak, nose, mouth, eyes, legs, and toes.

Feather mites affect the legs, feet, and toes. Science Direct describes how they live on the skin’s surface or in feather follicles. When mites emerge to feed, they cause itchy, scabby, and sore skin.

After feeding, parrots experience intense itchiness, causing them to bite their feet, toes, and nails.

Dermatitis

Dermatitis is a skin allergy that results in dry, itchy, or swollen, reddened skin. It can cause the skin to blister and flake off in severe cases.

Dermatitis is often due to allergies caused by:

  • Nicotine residues.
  • Soaps.
  • Beauty creams and hand lotions.
  • Perfumes.

Their feet become itchy and sore if they come into contact with these substances.

Ulcerative dermatitis is associated with trauma, wounds, diabetes, and parasites. The parrot causes ulcers by picking at the skin with its beak, which becomes itchy.

Arthritis

Parrots can get arthritis in their toes due to standing on incorrectly sized perches (too wide or narrow). Older parrots are more likely to be affected, but it can happen to juvenile birds.

The symptoms of arthritis include:

  • Swollen or warm joints.
  • Decreased motion range.
  • Difficulty perching.
  • Limping.
  • Self-mutilation.

Parrots with arthritis have swelling and sores between their toes and foot joints, causing affected birds to peck at their feet near-constantly.

Gout

Renal disease is a form of gout. Healthy parrots excrete urates with mucus through their urine, but renal issues impact this process, causing excessive urates to accumulate in the blood.

When parrots can’t excrete uric acid, they form monosodium urate crystals, creating stones in the urinary system, joints, and tissues.

Gout occurs when uric acid deposits (semi-solid to solid white masses) on the tissue surface or joints, causing pain and swelling.

If the accumulation occurs on the feet, it causes rigid toes and swollen joints. Parrots also have difficulty perching, so they peck at their feet to relieve discomfort.

Vitamin A Deficiency

Parrots low on vitamin A can develop hyperkeratosis, so the skin on the feet thickens.

The foot scales become overgrown, making it uncomfortable for parrots to perch. Adding more vitamin A (retinol) and beta-carotene (converted to vitamin A) is beneficial.

Boredom

Behavioral problems are an issue because bored parrots chew their feet for something to do.

Parrots are intelligent and social animals that need mental stimulation to stay happy. Wild parrots spend about 6 hours foraging, always exploring their environment.

They don’t get the same enrichment in captivity. To reduce a parrot’s boredom:

  • Frequently interact together.
  • Provide toys and rotate them.
  • Teach the parrot tricks.
  • Leave the radio or TV on.
  • Encourage foraging.
  • Buy a bigger cage.

These simple modifications will reduce the likelihood of boredom.

Stress

Stressed parrots self-mutilate when they lack social enrichment and socialization. Then, they become nervous and agitated, sometimes becoming hostile. They develop problems like:

  • Lower immune health.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Inappetence.
  • Sleeping difficulties.
  • Adrenal gland issues.
  • Heart complications.
  • Breathing issues.
  • Difficulty processing nutrients.

Stress is unlikely to stop without modifying the parrot’s diet, cage setup, and living environment.

Why Parrots Bite Their Nails

The next time a parrot bites its feet, check if it’s chewing on its nails. This is usually normal behavior, but check for other signs of pain and discomfort.

Here are the most common reasons for nail-biting parrots:

Preening

Most parrots wear their nails down on a perch or other toys and accessories, but some bite their nails. This isn’t a concern as long as the parrot’s nails aren’t overgrown.

Overgrown Nails

If the claws get too long and can’t be worn down, parrots peck them to reduce the length.

Other signs that parrots’ claws are becoming overgrown include:

  • Changes in perching behavior.
  • Trouble walking, climbing, and grasping food.
  • Rough or scabby patches on the skin.
  • Scratches on your hands after handling.

You can trim a parrot’s nails with bird-safe nail clippers.

parrot chewing feet

Nervous Behaviors

Many parrots, especially African grays, cockatoos, and macaws, develop anxious behaviors.

Nail biting becomes a nervous habit in response to something in the parrot’s environment that makes it feel uncomfortable and deeply unsettled. This could be:

  • Other pets.
  • Loud noises.
  • Unfamiliar smells.
  • Too much light or darkness.
  • Boisterous children.
  • Strangers.
  • Night frights.

Keeping their environment quiet and free from stressors is beneficial.

Fatty Liver Disease

Parrots with fatty liver disease (hepatic lipidosis) develop dry, itchy skin and overgrown beaks/claws.

There are several causes of fatty liver disease, including:

  • High-fat diet.
  • Nutritional deficiencies.
  • Genetics.
  • Insufficient exercise.

Because parrots with fatty liver disease develop long nails, they find it hard to move around.

If you suspect the parrot has fatty liver disease, check for these symptoms:

  • Obesity.
  • Overgrown beak.
  • Black spots on the beak and toenails.
  • Enlarged liver.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Poor feather quality.
  • Seizures.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Breathing difficulties.

Parrots with long claws may require lifestyle and cage modifications (like more textured perches), but a vet must rule out fatty liver disease.

Why Parrots Bite Each Other’s Feet

Parrots bite or peck at each other for territory or resources (food, water, perches, toys, etc). This can suggest that the birds need a bigger cage with extra perches or more to eat and do.

While parrots usually get on with each other, they can turn aggressive in certain situations. Smaller parrot species (like budgies) are likelier to peck at the feet.

Some parrots never get along with each other, no matter how much you socialize them. If the parrots constantly peck at each other’s feet, you may need to separate them permanently.