If you’ve noticed your parrot biting its feet, you’re likely wondering why. Sometimes it’s an act of grooming, but this behavior can signify a health or behavioral issue.
Parrots bite their feet when they have dry, itchy, or painful skin. This can be due to the avian herpesvirus, bumblefoot, mites, dermatitis, arthritis, gout, or a vitamin A deficiency. Parrots chew their feet to self-soothe and due to boredom and stress. Negative emotions encourage repetitive, self-mutilating behaviors.
Parrots also bite their nails if they’re too long in an attempt to shorten them. Overgrown nails are a problem because they prevent parrots from perching, walking, and climbing properly.
Why Is My Parrot Biting Its Feet?
It’s normal for parrots to chew their feet as part of their grooming regimen.
However, if this becomes frequent and causes the feet to become swollen, sore, or inflamed, a health or behavioral issue is likely to blame. Amazon and African grey parrots are most prone to chewing their feet.
Let’s take a closer look at the causes:
Various infections can cause your parrot’s feet to become sore and infected, causing your parrot to chew on its feet to get relief. Avian herpesvirus is one of the most common explanations.
It’s highly contagious and spreads between birds through direct physical contact. Once infected, parrots carry the virus for the duration of their lives, shedding the disease at any time and infecting other birds.
Several different strains of the avian herpesvirus, but the Amazon Tracheitis strain causes papilloma lesions (outward-growing lumps) on the feet. These lesions are bothersome, causing parrots to chew on their feet.
Bumblefoot is a common condition affecting captive parrots. It’s a bacterial infection and inflammatory reaction that causes sores and legions on the surface of the feet. It’s caused by:
- Long periods of perching
- Vitamin A deficiencies
- Improper perches
- Overgrown toenails
- Wire flooring
Bumblefoot occurs when harmful bacteria get inside a small cut or graze on the parrot’s foot. According to the MSD Veterinary Manual, poor husbandry is most commonly to blame.
Once the bacteria get into the wound, it can cause wounds, scabs, and abscesses that are painful and itchy.
Scaly leg mites affect parrots, particularly budgies, canaries, and smaller species. They spend their life cycle on parrots, infesting the beak, nose, mouth, eyes, legs, and toes.
Once they feed, parrots experience intense itchiness, causing them to bite and chew their feet and toes. They also do this to manually remove the mites from their skin.
Feather mites are also an issue for the legs, feet, and toes. Science Direct describes how they live on the skin’s surface or in feather follicles. When they emerge to feed, they cause itchy, scabby skin that causes soreness.
Dermatitis is a common skin allergy that involves dry, itchy, or swollen, reddened skin. In severe cases, it can cause the skin to blister and flake off. Dermatitis is often the result of allergies, including:
- Nicotine residues
- Beauty creams and hand lotions
If their feet come into contact with these items, they can become itchy and sore, which is why the parrot bites itself.
Ulcerative dermatitis is associated with trauma, wounds, diabetes, and intestinal parasites. The parrot creates ulcers by picking at the skin, which becomes itchy over time. Secondary bacterial infections then occur.
Parrots are prone to arthritis, which commonly occurs on the digits due to standing on poorly-sized perches for too long. Older parrots are more likely to have it, but it can develop at any age. Symptoms of arthritis include:
- Falling off perches
- Swollen or warm joints
- Decreased motion range
- Feather plucking
- Unpleasant vocalizations
Parrots with arthritis have swelling and sores between their toes and foot joints, causing affected them to constantly peck at their feet.
Some treatments are available, but improving your parrot’s living conditions is the best way to ease the symptoms and prevent arthritis from getting worse.
A renal disease is a common form of gout affecting parrots. Healthy parrots excrete urates with mucus through their urine. Renal issues affect this process, causing excessive amounts of urates in the blood.
When parrots can’t eliminate uric acid properly, it forms into monosodium urate crystals, creating stones in the urinary system. They can also accumulate in the joints and tissues.
Gout is where 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. As a result, they peck and chew on their feet to relieve discomfort.
Vitamin A Deficiency
Parrots without enough vitamin A in their system develop hyperkeratosis, which is where the skin of the feet thickens.
The foot scales become overgrown, making it uncomfortable for your parrot to stand and perch. Adding more vitamin A and beta-carotene into your parrot’s diet can reverse the symptoms.
Health conditions aren’t the only thing to blame for parrots biting their feet. Behavioral problems are also an issue. Bored parrots chew their feet as a way to entertain themselves.
Parrots are intelligent, social creatures that require frequent mental stimulation. In the wild, they spend around 6 hours a day foraging and searching for shelter, so there’s plenty for them to do. They don’t get the same chances to be busy in captivity, and they soon become bored.
To reduce your parrot’s boredom:
- Frequently interact with your parrot
- Provide toys and rotate them
- Teach your parrot tricks
- Leave the radio on
- Encourage foraging
- Choose a bigger cage
These will keep your parrot entertained and mentally enriched.
Stressed parrots indulge in self-mutilating behaviors because they lack social enrichment and socialization. As a result, they become nervous and agitated, sometimes becoming aggressive.
Not only do parrots chew on their feet to relieve stress, but they develop a range of health problems, including:
- Lowered immune system
- High blood pressure
- Reduced appetite
- Sleeping difficulties
- Adrenal gland issues
- Heart complications
- Breathing difficulties
- Difficulty processing nutrients
- Getting sick from bacteria or viruses more easily
- Taking longer to recover from illnesses
- The onset of age-related disease
Stress is unlikely to resolve itself without positive changes to your parrot’s living environment.
Why Do Parrots Bite Their Nails?
The next time your parrot bites its feet, look closely. You may find that it’s chewing on its nails. In most cases, this is normal behavior, but you’ll need to observe your parrot for other signs of discomfort.
These are the most common reasons for nail-biting parrots:
Nail chewing is part of the natural parrot grooming process.
Most parrots file their nails down with a pedi perch or other toys and accessories, but some prefer to chew their nails. As long as your parrot’s nails aren’t overgrown, this isn’t anything to worry about.
Overgrown nails are a probable cause of your parrot’s nail-biting behavior.
If the claws get too long and parrots can’t file them down, they’ll chew on them in an attempt to shorten them. You’ll probably notice that your parrot’s nails are particularly long.
Other signs that they’re becoming overgrown include:
- Changes and difficulties in perching behavior
- Trouble walking, climbing, and grasping food
- Rough or scabby patches on the skin
- Scratches to your hands after handling
You can trim your parrot’s nails using a pair of nail clippers, or you can take your bird to an experienced veterinarian, who will do it for you.
Many parrots, particularly African greys, cockatoos, and macaws, develop nervous behaviors, which cause them to groom and bite their nails.
Chewing becomes a nervous habit in response to something within the parrot’s environment that’s making it feel uncomfortable. This could be:
- Other pets
- Loud noises
- Unfamiliar smells
- Too much light or darkness
- Boisterous children
- Night frights
Some parrots are naturally nervous animals, but keeping their environment quiet and free from stressors is beneficial.
Fatty Liver Disease
Parrots with fatty liver disease develop dry, itchy skin and an overgrown beak and claws. There are several causes of fatty liver disease, including:
- High-fat diet
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Lack of exercise
Because parrots with fatty liver disease develop long nails, they find it difficult to move around (as we’ve mentioned), making the problem worse.
That’s because exercise can improve the severity of the condition. If you suspect your parrot has fatty liver disease because it keeps chewing its nails, look out for these symptoms:
- Overgrown beak
- Black spots on the beak and toenails
- Enlarged liver
- Poor feather quality
- Loss of appetite
- Breathing difficulties
If you notice any of these symptoms, take your parrot to a vet for an examination.
Why Do Birds Bite Each Other’s Feet?
If you notice your parrot biting your other bird’s feet, you’ll want to put a stop to it. Here’s why it happens:
Parrots are territorial and will bite or peck at each other’s body parts, including the feet, to fight for dominance. However, this behavior shouldn’t last long, as asserting dominance over each other isn’t that important in the parrot world. Eventually, this will become a way they interact with each other.
It’s also likely that your parrots could be fearful or jealous of each other, which is why they bite each other’s feet.
While parrots might get on with each other most of the time, all are susceptible to bouts of aggression.
During their aggressive phase, parrots may peck at their cage mates. Smaller parrots are more likely to go for the feet, as they’re easier to reach.
Some parrots will never get along with each other, no matter how hard you try to socialize them. If your parrots constantly peck at each other’s feet, it may be time to separate them.
Why Do Parrots Attack My Feet?
A parrot bite can be painful, particularly when it’s on a sensitive body part, such as your feet. There’s no definitive answer to why parrots bite their owner’s feet, but it’s likely because they’re:
- Only young and are using their beaks to explore new things
- Afraid of you and haven’t built trust yet
- Playing and don’t mean to hurt you
- Overly excited and overstimulated
If this behavior persists, you might want to consider training your parrot to leave your feet alone.
Keep your feet hidden with socks or slippers and distract your parrot’s attention from your feet whenever it attempts to bite. Have toys and games handy so that you can play with your parrot to keep its attention away from you.
While foot biting may look harmless, it can signify a health or behavioral issue. Check the length of the claws and ensure that you create the right living environment for your pet parrot.