Healthy parrots breathe quietly and efficiently through small, nostril-like holes at the top of the beak called nares. A parrot shouldn’t pant and breathe heavily through the mouth.
If a parrot is panting, it may just be exhausted by physical exertion. Ensure it isn’t overweight and doesn’t struggle to exercise. If the ambient temperature exceeds 80OF, the parrot may be overheating.
Hormonal changes cause a parrot to pant, so if it’s female, check she’s not preparing to lay eggs. Keep toxins away from the parrot, as these can cause breathing problems.
Stress can cause panting, so keep the bird calm. Keep a cage clean, avoid irritants that cause respiratory infections, and feed a balanced diet with enough Vitamin A (retinol) to keep the respiratory tract healthy.
Is it Normal for Parrots to Pant?
Parrots have a unique respiratory system that enables quiet, steady breathing.
When parrots inhale, the air enters the nares, passes the larynx, the trachea (an airway connected to a parrot’s larynx and syrinx), and bronchi until it reaches the lungs.
Once the air reaches the lungs, oxygen and carbon dioxide are exchanged, and new air is passed to air sacs attached to the trachea. The air travels up the trachea, past the larynx, and through the nares.
This highly efficient respiratory system allows a parrot to breathe constantly, so it shouldn’t need to take a break between inhaling and exhaling.
What Does it Mean When A Parrot Pants?
Here are the most common explanations for panting and labored breathing:
The parrot may be breathing heavily after exercise because it has exhausted itself. This isn’t always a concern as long as the panting subsides quickly.
Flying, in particular, requires a lot of energy. If a parrot is getting older or only needs to travel a short distance, it may prefer to walk or hop.
The likeliest explanation for a parrot breathing heavily is excess weight. Find the ideal weight for the breed of parrot and weigh it weekly, ensuring it’s not growing too heavy to sustain its lifestyle.
Even a healthy parrot can start panting if it pushes itself too hard. If a parrot starts to breathe heavily, even if it seems to enjoy itself, offer a time-out and reduce the intensity of its workout.
The most common explanation for a stationary parrot to pant is overheating.
Parrots flourish with an ambient temperature between 65 and 80OF, with a humidity level of around 40–60%. Any hotter and drier, and it may start struggling for breath.
Birds don’t sweat, but a parrot may be prone to overheating during the summer or if you turn up artificial heating sources in winter. Other than heavy breathing through the beak, other signs include:
- Puffing the feathers as though attempting to cool the skin.
- Spreading the wings while standing still.
- Refusing exercise or handling.
- Changes to behavior, such as uncharacteristic aggression.
If a parrot seems uncomfortably hot, consider the following remedies:
- Move the cage to a shaded part of the home.
- Mist the parrot using a spray bottle.
- Switch on a tower fan to recirculate air, but avoid pointing this straight at the parrot.
If your parrot is visibly suffering, fill a bowl, bucket, or bathtub with room-temperature water and allow the parrot to bathe. This is how wild parrots cool off in intense heat and sunshine.
Stress and Anxiety
Stress and anxiety will get your parrot’s heart racing and can result in panting and heavy breathing. Common reasons for a parrot to grow stressed include:
- Too much time alone – parrots are social birds and need regular companionship.
- Excessive handling, especially from humans that haven’t earned the parrot’s trust.
- Cramped or dirty living conditions.
- Lack of exercise or stimulation. Never leave a parrot locked in a cage all day.
- Loud, unexpected noises.
- Presence of other pets around a cage, especially predatory animals like cats.
- Nightmares. Parrots undergo REM sleep while dozing, which suggests they have night terrors.
New objects in the bird’s environment can also cause stress. As per Applied Animal Behavior Science, parrots are prone to neophobia (a fear of the unfamiliar).
Nature warns that birds are likeliest to be startled by red, so avoid painting walls this shade.
A parrot may be breathing heavily as something has irritated the respiratory tract.
Parrots can experience allergies, and something your bird has eaten may have caused its throat to swell, making it harder to breathe.
If the parrot is wheezing, panting, and experiencing discharge from the eyes and nares, it likely has a respiratory infection. Most parrots will recover fully following treatment.
A vet will identify the cause of the respiratory problem and recommend treatment. This will usually take the form of prescription medication and ample rest.
You’ll need to answer questions about the parrot’s lifestyle, recent behavior, and diet. Hypovitaminosis A, a Vitamin A deficiency, could be blamed for infection, especially if fed an all-seed diet.
Vitamin A encourages the growth of skin cells surrounding the respiratory tract, known as the epithelium. If the parrot doesn’t have an effective epithelium, bacteria and fungi can impact its breathing.
If the parrot’s diet isn’t to blame, it’s likely caught the infection from a conspecific or through its living conditions. A vet will be prescribed antibiotics or anti-fungal medications.
One of the most alarming explanations for panting and labored breathing is that your parrot has been exposed to toxins.
This could have been due to ingesting poisonous food, dermal exposure to toxins such as heavy metals in paint, or inhaling harmful chemicals.
Panting is just one of the potential warning signs of toxicity. If these behaviors or symptoms accompany the heavy breathing, seek veterinary assistance:
- Lethargy and muscular weakness, including an inability to perch.
- Drooping head.
- Changes to the droppings, including diarrhea, excessive urine, or blood in the stool.
- Vomiting and regurgitating food.
- General disorientation and confusion.
- Body tremors and seizures.
- Loss of consciousness.
Never wait for the toxins to pass through the parrot’s system, as more damage will be caused.
If the female parrot prepares to lay eggs, she’ll undergo various hormonal changes. This can result in behavioral changes, with panting a frequent side-effect of eggs in the parrot’s oviduct.
Just because the parrot hasn’t been mated doesn’t mean she won’t lay eggs. Parrots enter the breeding season at the onset of Spring and can find themselves laying unfertilized eggs if stimulated.
If you are worried about the parrot laying unnecessary eggs, follow these steps:
- Keep the parrot away from other birds. Even if they don’t breed, the presence of a bonded companion can stimulate egg-laying hormones.
- Discourage any sexual behavior from the parrot, most notably rubbing the vent. A parrot may display attention toward you or inanimate objects.
- Put the parrot to bed early, covering the cage and keeping the room quiet. The arrival of longer, warmer days encourages parrots to lay eggs.
- Rearrange the setup of the cage. Birds are less likely to lay eggs in an unfamiliar environment.
If the parrot lays unfertilized eggs, the experience will be exhausting and leave her short of breath. Laying eggs takes a lot of energy, so do all you can to prevent this outcome.