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Why Does My Parrot’s Breath Smell Bad?

(Last Updated On: February 9, 2023)

Parrots breathe through nostril-like openings called nares, so you should rarely notice any odor. If you detect an unpleasant aroma when a parrot breathes, it may have a bacterial infection.

Bacteria can spread in a parrot’s crop (called sour crop) or the bird’s intestines (due to blockage).

Sour crop can usually be resolved by withholding food until the crop is empty, but intestinal blockages usually require the intervention of a veterinarian.

A lack of Vitamin A (known as hypovitaminosis A) can also lead to bad breath in parrots because their oral health deteriorates. If a parrot’s breath smells like sour beer, it likely has candidiasis, which is a yeast infection caused by stress, excessive sugar, or unbalanced gut bacteria.

Bad breath in birds isn’t always due to a bacterial or fungal infection. You can resolve the condition by changing a parrot’s diet so that it has the nutrients needed to thrive in captivity.

What Causes Bad Breath in Parrots?

Here are the most common reasons for bad breath in parrots:

Inappropriate Diet

There are several dietary explanations for bad breath in parrots, including the following:

  • All-seed diets frequently lead to smelly breath.
  • Lack of balance, especially an excess of fat or protein.
  • Feeding a parrot spoiled or rancid food.
  • Dairy products can take a long time to digest.

Strong-smelling foods can also linger on a parrot’s breath.

Candidiasis (Yeast Infection)

A scent comparable to beer suggests the parrot has a yeast infection called candidiasis (thrush). An excess of fungi causes candidiasis called the Candida albicans. Common causes include:

  • Excessive consumption of sugar. Fungi feed upon sugar and thrive in the parrot’s mouth.
  • The side effects of antibiotics can unbalance gut bacteria.
  • Reduced immunity makes it difficult for a parrot to fight off fungal infections.
  • Stress due to lack of sleep, excessive noise, boredom, loneliness, or a cramped cage.

If a parrot has a yeast infection, seek a veterinary evaluation. The Veterinary Journal of Mehmet Akif Ersoy University explains how Candida albicans fungi can be extracted from plaque within a parrot’s beak.

The issue can be resolved with prescription anti-fungal medication. Nystatin is the medication of choice for most vets, and it’ll be issued by mouth for approximately 5 days before you start to see results.

bad breath in parrots

Hypovitaminosis A (Vitamin A Deficiency)

Another common explanation for bad breath in parrots is hypovitaminosis A (a deficiency of Vitamin A).

Vitamin A is essential to oral health in birds, and an absence can lead to bacterial and fungal infections. Hypovitaminosis A is commonly caused by feeding a parrot an all-seed (or mostly seed) diet.

Warning signs that your parrot is not consuming enough Vitamin A include:

  • Muscular weakness, including an inability to perch.
  • Trouble breathing, so the parrot may start panting and gasping.
  • Lethargy and depression, and a reluctance to eat and hydrate.
  • Eye concerns, most notably conjunctivitis.
  • Dry, scaly skin and damage to the parrot’s feathers.
  • Infertility and laying non-hatching eggs.

A vitamin A deficiency weakens a parrot’s immune system, leaving them susceptible to illness and disease. However, dietary changes and supplements can resolve a vitamin A deficiency.

Digestive Issues and Bacterial Infection

Bacterial infections can often begin in the crop, a muscular pouch found just below a parrot’s neck. When a parrot eats, the food is stored in the crop before it is ready for digestion.

The purpose of the crop is to ensure the parrot has food to eat later. A parrot can steadily process its meal, as the crop also softens and moistens food to accommodate the digestive process.

A parrot’s crop can be adversely affected by a bacterial infection called sour crop.

This arises when the crop isn’t emptied appropriately, leaving food to spoil within. The longer food remains in the crop, the more the bacteria will multiply and spread.

Food can also become trapped in a parrot’s intestine, which is common if it has swallowed a foreign object, meaning food can’t move through the digestive tract.

Mild cases of sour crop can be managed by withholding food until the crop empties. Digestive blockages are more concerning, as a vet may need to manually remove whatever is blocking the intestines.

Overgrown Beak

If a parrot has an overgrown beak, it’ll struggle to remove food remnants. Any food it can’t remove will start to rot, leading to bacterial growth and bad breath.

An overgrown beak can also cause infection, leading to abscesses and a reluctance to eat or drink.

Preventing an overgrown beak by providing wooden toys to peck on is recommended. The more the parrot grinds its beak, the less likely it is to become oversized or crooked.

An emery board can wear away the excess beak on a smaller bird, like a budgie. A vet can wear down the beak with a grinding stone if you have a large parrot, like a macaw.

Kidney Failure

The kidneys are crucial in filtering waste from the blood in readiness for excretion and maintaining an optimal balance of water and electrolytes in the body.

Kidney disorders have various causes, like infections (bacterial, fungal, and viral), heavy metal toxicity (lead and mercury), tumors, excessive vitamin D, and blockages.

Kidney disease leads to a metabolic problem that produces chemicals, so toxins accumulate in a parrot’s body. As the toxins build up, they release bad odors through the parrot’s breath.

Other symptoms of kidney disease include weight loss, no longer wanting to fly, listlessness, fluffed-up feathers, dehydration, polyuria, and appetite loss.

A vet will get a complete blood count (CBC) to check for elevated uric acid levels, which indicates that the kidneys are no longer functioning optimally.

How Can I Make My Parrot’s Breath Better?

Here are some things you can do at home that can make a parrot’s breath smell better:

  • Mint will freshen a parrot’s breath and resolve some digestive complaints.
  • Add a parrot-safe breath freshening agent to the parrot’s water.
  • Fruits and vegetables high in Vitamin A include carrots, apricots, and peaches.
  • Remove stressors to reduce the risk of candidiasis.
  • Provide chew toys so the parrot can keep its beak worn down and sharp.

Bad breath in parrots is rarely life-threatening, but it shouldn’t be ignored. Find out why the parrot has halitosis and make the appropriate diet and lifestyle-based adjustments.