A few years ago, my dog choked on a bone. It was one of the scariest moments of my life. His mouth started foaming, his eyes rolled back in his head – there was nothing pretty about it. At that moment, I feared I was going to lose my dog. Thankfully I managed to dislodge the bone from his throat and he was okay. Needless to say, I never gave him a bone again. But to this day, I worry a lot about choking hazards. So this led me to ask the question, can parrots choke?
The answer to this question is yes, parrots can choke. Choking is defined as “ a severe difficulty breathing because of a constricted or obstructed throat or lack of air”. If a parrot swallows something that is too large for their throat, they can choke on that object. Though choking is not common for parrots, it can happen. The most common things for parrots to choke on include food, liquids, and broken toy parts.
There’s not much else to be said about why parrots choke. Like us, they can choke on anything that gets lodged in their throat. But there are other questions to be asked about choking:
- How do you know if your parrot is choking?
- What should you do if your parrot is choking?
- How is choking treated?
- How can you prevent choking?
And so much more – so let’s not waste another minute.
How do you know if your parrot is choking?
In most cases if your parrot is choking, the signs will be evident. The signs of a parrot choking are much the same as the signs of a human choking. If the choking is severe, your parrot will extend its neck back and forth and gasp for air. The parrot will look like it is struggling (which at this point it is) and will have difficulty swallowing. It will look like it is going to gag or as though it is trying to regurgitate something.
In other cases, signs of choking may not be as evident. If the object lodged in your parrots throat is only partially blocking the airways, symptoms may not be as dramatic. A parrot that is mildly choking may only utter a small sound like a cough. This could be mistaken as something else and may even go unnoticed.
What should you do if your parrot is choking?
Watching your parrot choke can be a very scary situation but try not to panic. If your parrot sees you panicking they may panic even more, which will make it more difficult for them to bring up the item they are choking on. Keep calm and provide your parrot with reassurance.
The best thing you can do when your parrot is choking is nothing. You will want to run to your parrots’ side and attempt to save them but your interference could actually make things worse and interfere with the ability for them to express the object on their own.
Provide them with reassurance but avoid picking them up or touching them. Let your parrot try to dislodge the item from their throat on their own.
During this time, try to figure out what it is that your parrot is choking on so that you can proceed accordingly if they aren’t able to dislodge it on their own.
If your parrot can’t clear their throat on their own, it’s important to know whether they are choking on a solid or a liquid.
If they are choking on a solid (ie. a piece of food or a piece of toy) grasp your parrot firmly and hold them upside down. When you do this, the parrot’s jaw will manipulate itself naturally to dislodge the object. If the object still doesn’t dislodge you can perform short inward compressions of the keel while the parrot is still upside down.
If choking gets to this severity, be sure that you take your parrot to the veterinarian immediately afterwards, even if the item has dislodged itself.
If your parrot is choking on a liquid, do not hold them upside down. Doing so could cause them to choke more. If your parrot is choking on a liquid, they will be able to clear their throat themselves with a little time. Reassure them and allow them to naturally clear their throat.
How is choking treated?
If your parrot has experienced an episode of severe choking, it’s important that you take them to the veterinarian immediately. If you have had to invert your parrot or performed impressions, you could have caused damage internally and your parrot should be inspected.
If your parrot is currently choking on something and cannot dislodge it, you should also seek emergency care.
Your veterinarian can perform a radiograph to attempt to localize the object. A veterinarian can then perform the proper procedures to help dislodge whatever it is that is causing your parrot to choke.
If there is difficulty removing the object, an endoscopy may be necessary. This is an advanced procedure that can be used but only if absolutely necessary.
If it is a liquid or semi-solid that your parrot is choking on, nebulization therapy may also be recommended. In this procedure an abdominal air sac tube is used to help the parrot breathe until the obstruction can be properly removed.
Depending on the severity of the situation, scarring of the air sac tissue or lungs may be a result. In most cases, however, this will not have a drastic effect on your parrot’s quality or length of life.
In some situations your veterinarian may also prescribe antibiotics for any secondary infections that occur as a result of choking.
How can you prevent choking?
Because choking can be a serious situation, the best way to deal with it is through prevention. The good news is that with a little bit of effort, most cases of choking can be prevented.
When it comes to eating, the best way to prevent choking is to ensure that your parrot’s food is chopped up into bite sized pieces.
The exact size of the pieces will depend on what type of parrot you have and how large or small they are. The smaller the parrot, the smaller you should chop up their food.
When it comes to toys, small pieces can break off and become lodged in your parrots throat. The best way to prevent this is to buy toys that are parrot safe. If they have small pieces on them, be sure that you are monitoring them during use. Do not provide your parrot with any toys small enough to choke on unless you are playing with them or able to supervise them at the time.
Keep any small choking hazards out of your parrots cage and out of your parrots reach when not under direct supervision. If your parrot has any plastic toys, inspect them regularly to ensure that they are not broken or cracked. Throw away any broken or cracked toys immediately to prevent them from chipping off in your parrots mouth.
Coughing vs. Choking: How can you tell the difference?
When it comes to parrots, coughing and choking can sometimes look like the same thing. Like choking, coughing is a way for your parrots body to clear a pathway. The difference is that choking generally occurs while something is obstructing the pathway. The same isn’t always the case for coughing. A parrots cough may sound exactly like what it is – a cough. At other times it may sound like a soft chirp. While severe choking is unlikely to be confused with a cough, light choking could be.
But regardless of whether your parrot is coughing or choking, if they are doing it regularly, you should take them to a veterinarian immediately. Coughing can be a sign of an underlying respiratory infection and should be dealt with promptly as well.
In conclusion, parrots can choke and choking can be fatal. The best treatment is prevention. With that being said, if you own a parrot, you should familiarize yourself with choking procedures. Regardless of how many precautions you take, choking can still happen. It’s best to be prepared and know how to handle it if it does.