Choking is a blockage of the upper airway by food or other objects, which prevents a parrot from breathing effectively. Choking can cause a simple coughing fit, but complete blockage of the airway may lead to death. Choking is a true medical emergency that requires fast, appropriate action by anyone available.
Parrots are naturally inquisitive creatures. This sometimes leads them into biting, chewing on, or swallowing objects they shouldn’t. Although parrots are skilled at not choking, since they normally swallow food whole, it does happen. If your parrot makes a gagging sound or appears to be choking, you need to take action.
Helping A Choking Parrot
Parrots won’t choke often, but if they do, they rarely need your help. Parrots can cough up blockages on their own. After all, they routinely eat foods like seeds, which are encased in shells. Parrots usually break large food like nuts into bite-sized chunks, but they can cough it up if they make a mistake.
When a parrot chokes, you should calmly identify what it’s choking on. If it’s a solid object, give the parrot a chance to cough it up alone. Let the parrot try to express it first, interference on your part could adversely effect the parrots ability to bring whatever it is back up.
If the parrot doesn’t seem to be able to cough what ever it is out grasp him firmly, and hold him upside down. This allows gravity and the bird’s natural jaw manipulations to dislodge the object. Since birds don’t have a diaphragm separating the chest cavity from the abdominal cavity, one can’t perform the standard Heimlich maneuver that is used for a choking human.
However, if it is suspected that a bird has inhaled a seed hull or a small object that has entered the trachea (windpipe), you can still attempt to dislodge it by carefully, but quickly, performing a short inward compression of the keel, with the bird being inverted.
Seek veterinary assistance immediately following the performance of this maneuver. But I’ve also dealt with my choking birds in my time, including my own Tiktok Parrot (Mitthu) on occasion. Be glad you’re dealing with a parrot and not a 14lb Swan. Also, if you’re bird is regurgitating liquid or food that is not solid DO NOT flip him upside down. You might just end up causing him to aspirate more on whatever he is regurgitating.
There are exceptions, of course. Here are three ways your parrot may choke and how you should react.
Parrot Choking On Food
If your parrot is choking on food or a solid object, this won’t pass as easily as water. It may get trapped within the throat walls and block the airway, partially or fully. Whether the parrot is choking on food or broken pieces of a toy, here’s what you can do:
Give your parrot a few seconds to cough. The parrot may get the food out by itself. Intervening too early will just stress your parrot. It may also cause a sharp edge on the food or object to scratch the parrot’s throat. Speak calmly and offer reassurance. The calmer you are, the more calmly your parrot will cough up the blockage.
What if the parrot doesn’t cough up the object? If this lasts for more than 6-10 seconds, you should intervene. Put your hands around the bird’s middle and hold it firmly. Do not restrain its head. Pick it up and turn the bird upside down. Gravity will assist in forcing the object out, along with coughing. If you don’t see an improvement within a few seconds, you should try one or more of these techniques:
Apply some pressure on the keel. This is the parrot’s breastbone. Pressing gently will help compress the area and dislodge the item. Do this extremely gently, as you may break the bone otherwise. Apply alternating pressure on the crop. This is the expandable pouch on a bird’s neck used for food storage. Tap it gently with your finger. The resulting pressure or shaking may help clear the throat. Simulate regurgitation. Gently hold the beak between your fingers. Apply just enough pressure to simulate the same head-bobbing motion that is observed during regurgitation. Doing this may trigger the ejection of the obstacle.
Call the vet for emergency advice. You can also ask over the phone about measures you can take to help your parrot breathe. The vet will give you specific advice based on how your parrot is choking and what it’s choking on. This may include emergency measures to remove the blockage if you can’t get to the vet in time.
Parrot Choking On Water
If your parrot chokes on water, this is only a temporary blockage. As a liquid, it will pass through any gap it can find. Your parrot might have its airway blocked for an instant, but so long as it isn’t submerged in water, that liquid will quickly drain down the throat. The parrot may cough and gag for a few seconds as it regains access to its airway. It may also be coughing water out of its lungs. This is a natural process, and your parrot is equipped to handle it. However, there are ways you can help:
Remove The Parrot From The Water Source. If it’s standing in a water dish, as it jerks around to cough, it may splash more water in its face.
Remain Calm And Reassuring. Choking on water is harmless, but it’s stressful. The parrot will only get more scared if you act scared.
Speak Softly. The parrot will appreciate your reassurance and comfort as it works towards breathing properly again.
If you are sure the water or any liquid is stuck in the parrot throat then Do Not Turn The Bird Upside Down Or Press On Its Keel. This only works for solid objects if stuck in the throat.
If you turn the bird upside down or press on its keel while the water or any liquid is stuck in the throat, then this may find the way into the Parrot’s air sacs. That will cause suffocation.
Parrot Is Choking On Formula
When your parrot eats soft food, like formula, it’s not really choking on the food. Baby parrots are actually choking on the water content. It may have eaten too fast and aspirated some of the water in the mix.
That’s because the food content is purposefully kept soft to avoid choking. It can’t get lodged in the throat. Once the parrot begins coughing, the muscles in its throat will contract and expand. This will slosh the soft, gooey substance around and make it pass. The only exception would be if you severely overfed the parrot. Then the formula would have nowhere to go, as the crop overfills. In this case, you can only:
Hope the parrot coughs it up, immediately rush your parrot to the vet.
How To Tell If A Parrot Is Choking
The signs of a parrot choking are similar to a human’s reaction. After all, choking happens when something gets stuck in our trachea or esophagus. Even a temporary blockage will trigger a choking reaction. It’s the body’s natural way of trying to clear items from the airway. A choking parrot will exhibit some (or all) of these signs:
- Open its beak
- Gasp for breath
- Bob its head
- Extend its neck and elongate its body
If the parrot’s throat is partially blocked, it may cough for a few seconds. Once the airway clears, it will continue to cough for a while but still draw in breath. The coughing should subside in a few minutes.
How To Tell If A Parrot Is Choking To Death
If the parrot’s airway is completely blocked, it may be incapable of making any sound at all. In this case, the parrot will only be able to:
- Extend its neck and body
- Bob its head
- Flap its wings
- Appear highly distressed
In particular, extending its neck and body shows that the bird struggles to clear out the object. It’s trying to stretch out its throat to encourage the object to move.
If your parrot only does this for a few seconds, then stops, it may have cleared the blockage. Now it will cough for a few seconds or minutes. It will be fine.
If the parrot continues to extend its neck or stretches out several times, it’s continuing to choke. It needs help.
Things Parrots Choke On
So what caused the blockage to start with? While parrots are skilled at eating sharp or clunky objects without choking, it does happen. Here are the common items that parrots choke on:
As your bird plays with its toy, it may break off a piece. This is especially true for thick-plastic toys, leftover bones, or chunks of wood. While most parrots know better than to eat the fragments, some may swallow them accidentally. This is especially common in toys with buttons, beads, or rubber parts.
Even in the wild, parrots try to avoid eating bone fragments instead of picking out the marrow. However, a young parrot may still be learning this survival tactic. If it gets a piece off its toys, it may swallow it out of curiosity and choke.
Chunks Of Food
If you feed your parrot nuts or shellfish, naturally, the bird will enjoy pulling the shells apart. This can be healthy and fun enrichment but also poses some dangers. The bird might crack off a piece and accidentally send it flying down its throat. If it gets lodged, the parrot will choke.
Parrots are curious and playful and will pick up anything within their reach. Beware of loose buttons, small ornaments, jewelry. Beads off of your necklace or a stray earring could end up stuck in your parrot’s throat.
While parrots can eat seeds without danger, accidents do happen. Your parrot may have swallowed a seed whole rather than piecing it apart. It can get lodged at a bad angle and cause temporary choking. Likewise, as your parrot chews on pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, or anything with a large shell, it may get the shell stuck.
If the parrot tries to talk, whistle, or move around while drinking, it may aspirate some water. This is the least dangerous kind of choking but is still uncomfortable.
Stay safe and much love !