If you’ve noticed your parrot biting its feet before, you’re likely wondering why. Sometimes it’s the simple act of grooming, but this behavior can signify a health or behavioral issue.
Parrots bite and peck at their feet because of dry, itchy, or painful skin caused by avian herpesvirus, bumblefoot, mites, dermatitis, arthritis, gout, or a vitamin A deficiency. Parrots chew their feet to soothe themselves and get relief. However, it’s not only health conditions that are to blame. Boredom and stress also cause parrots to bite their feet because these 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. You can make your parrot feel more comfortable by trimming its nails.
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. Out of all parrot species, Amazon and African grey parrots are most prone to chewing their feet. Here are the causes:
Several infections can cause your parrot’s feet to become sore and infected, causing your bird to chew to get relief. Avian herpesvirus is one of the most common.
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 herpes virus, but the Amazon Tracheitis strain causes papilloma lesions (outward-growing lumps) on the feet. These lesions can bother your parrot, causing them to chew on them in an attempt to remove them.
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 foot. 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, they cause wounds, scabs, and abscesses that are painful and itchy. That’s why you’ll sometimes see your parrot chewing on its foot.
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 try and 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 on parrots, they cause itchy, scabby skin that makes them feel uncomfortable and sore.
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 for relief.
Similarly, ulcerative dermatitis is associated with trauma, wounds, diabetes, and intestinal parasites. The bird creates the ulcers by picking at the skin, which becomes itchy over time. Secondary bacterial infections then occur, causing a cycle of pain and distress.
Parrots are prone to arthritis, which commonly occurs in the digits due to standing on poorly-sized perches for too long. Older birds are more likely to have it, but it can develop at any time. Symptoms of arthritis include:
- Falling off perches
- Swollen or warm joints
- Decreased motion range
- Feather plucking
- Unpleasant vocalizations
Birds with arthritis have swelling and sores in between their toes and foot joints, causing affected parrots to peck at their feet constantly. 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.
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 thicken. 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 help 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. In captivity, they don’t get the same chances to be busy, and they soon become bored. To improve your parrot’s boredom:
- Frequently interact with your bird
- Provide toys and rotate them
- Teach your parrot tricks
- Leave the radio on
- Encourage foraging
- Choose a bigger cage
These things will go a long way in keeping your parrot entertained and mentally enriched.
Stress is another common behavioral issue that captive parrots face. 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 more deadly than many owners realize. That’s why you shouldn’t leave your parrot to calm down, as it’s unlikely to without positive changes to its environment.
Why Do Parrots Bite Their Nails?
The next time your parrot bites its feet, look closely because you may find that it’s actually chewing on its nails.
In most cases, this is normal behavior, but you’ll need to observe your parrot for other signs and symptoms of pain or 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 bird’s nail-biting behavior. If they 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, but 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 your bird’s environment quiet and free from stressors can help reduce its need to self-soothe.
Fatty Liver Disease
While less likely than the other reasons on our list, fatty liver disease is responsible for overgrown nails. Parrots with the condition develop dry, itchy skin and an overgrown beak and claws. There are several causes for 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 the following 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 emergency examination. Fatty liver disease won’t get better by itself.
Why Do Birds Bite Each Other’s Feet?
If you notice your bird biting your other bird’s feet, you’ll no doubt want to put a stop to it. These are the reasons why they do so:
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 from time to time. 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.
Sadly, some parrots 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 too often, you might want to consider training your parrot to leave your feet alone. The first thing to remember is not to yell at your bird. Until you train it, it doesn’t know that biting your feet’s a bad thing to do.
Instead, keep your feet hidden with socks or slippers and distract your parrot’s attention away from your feet whenever it goes in for a bite. Have toys and games handy so that you can play with your bird to keep its attention redirected away from you.
There are several reasons for parrots to bite their feet. While it may look harmless, it can signify a health or behavioral issue. Keep an eye on your parrot in case it develops other symptoms of these problems.