Parrots are flock animals, and as such, they will hide their illnesses from the rest of the flock, until they no longer have the energy to hide them. They are the absolute masters at this, far better at hiding illness than any known mammal. It takes a lot of energy on their part to hide the signs of illness and much more energy to fight off whatever that illness is. By knowing your parrot well and the signs of illness, both subtle and obvious, you may just save the life of your parrot.
The one most significant sign of health or illness is your parrot's droppings. The one thing to remember with droppings is they will normally be inconsistent when healthy, when ill they will be consistently abnormal. Why are they inconsistent when healthy? Under ideal situations, the parrot is eating a varied diet of vegetables, fruits, legumes, pellets and only some seed (if any at all).
What are the specific parts of parrots droppings? There are three components to the droppings:
- Feces: solid, tubular shaped, color varies dependent on diet
- Urates: pasty white to cream color, irregularly shaped around the feces
- Urine: clear liquid portion, no odor when healthy
If your parrot is eating seeds only, the fecal part of their droppings will be a bright green. If your parrot is eating pellets only, the fecal part will take on either the color of the pellet and if not colored, will be a brownish color. I can't tell how many times one of my birds picked out just one color of their pellets which resulted in abnormally colored droppings and sent me flying to the veterinarian's office, especially the red colored pellets.
Other variations in your parrots' stool are diarrhea and polyuria. Diarrhea is not as common in parrots as polyuria. The difference between these two are diarrhea produces soft unformed feces where polyuria produces extremely watery droppings but the feces remain normal in shape color and consistency. If, per chance your parrot exhibits diarrhea, please note that that is a symptom of disease. Polyuria is attributed to several causes: virus infection, stress, kidney disease, tumors, poisoning, and food allergies to name a few.
Some common occurrences of an increased ratio of urine to feces would be stress and diet. Under unusual stress, the amount of urine to feces will increase. This is not unusual, it is a direct relation to the parrots fright or flight reflex. When frightened, a parrot will evacuate all contents in its cloacal contents in preparation of flight. If your parrot has just eaten large amounts of fruits or vegetables, you will also note an increased amount of urine excreted. One last scenario is hand fed babies. Hand-feeding formula has a high water content therefore, the ratio of urine to feces will be increased.
There's more to droppings than this. Color and texture can tell you even more about your parrot. The color of the feces tells you what your parrot has been eating, but it is also an indicator of disease. I'm sure we are all aware of blood in the droppings. However, blood present may not be red, but a tar-like color. Blood in the droppings may also be present in a hen ready to lay eggs. Blood doesn't necessarily have to be in the stools, but may be on the surface of the stools.
Other color variations in the fecal portion are pea green or chartreuse meaning the parrot has liver damage. A white or clay colored dropping with a popcorn-like appearance indicates digestive problems that may be attributed to the pancreas. Research is continuing on this particular type of dropping. Lumpy stools are an indication of incomplete digestion. Again, there are several different causes, including parasitic infections, ventriculus or proventriculus infections, or pancreatic problems. Passing of whole seeds is an indication of giardias, or hypermotile intestine (similar to spastic colon in humans). Macaws that pass whole seeds should be taken to the vet immediately as this may be an indication of macaw wasting syndrome.
There are variations in the urine and urate portions that an owner should pay attention to. Bloody urine can be an indication of lead poisoning or kidney disease. I'd like to note here, that this is also present in a bird with psittacosis. However, psittacosis is just one disease that causes liver damage. Green and/or yellow colored urine or urates is attributed to liver disease, although there are reports that a diet with high amounts of vitamin A may cause changes in the color of the urates.
As you can see, I haven't even touched on all the possibilities, but there is much to learn from our parrots' droppings. Check droppings daily, it is easiest to view them from paper towels or newspaper. Never use corncob bedding or other types of bedding material. For one thing, you can't properly view your parrot's droppings, and for another, these types of bedding material are good breeding grounds for bacteria and fungi. If you know what your parrots' droppings look like when it is healthy, you will be able to avoid major health problems. All of the indications I wrote above do require trips to your veterinarian.
The Parrot in Health and Illness by Bonnie Munro Doane
Avian Medicine: Principles and Application by Ritchie, Harrison & Harrison