In humans, seizures and epilepsy are not uncommon.
In fact, about 1 in every 100 people will have a seizure at some point throughout their lifetime.
In addition to that, at any point in time, anywhere between 2.2 and 3 million people are being treated for epilepsy within the United States, and it is the fourth most common of all neurological conditions.
But what about birds?
Are parrots subject to epileptic seizures as well?
The answer to this question is yes, parrots can have seizures. In fact, seizures are not at all uncommon in birds. This is especially true for Amazon parrots, African grey parrots, and other bird species like lovebirds, finches, and budgies. These seizures, sometimes referred to as fits or convulsions, are a result from disorders in the brain that cause spontaneous electrical damage to the bird’s nervous system. Involuntary body responses are the result – and can look quite scary.
So now that we know your parrot is subject to epileptic seizures, let’s define what exactly seizures are, what they look like, and how to tell if your parrot is having one.
Throughout today’s article we will also discuss what causes seizures, what you should do in case of a seizure, and how your veterinarian may hand a seizure.
What is epilepsy and what is a seizure?
A seizure is a neurological disorder that causes a brief surge of abnormal electrical activity within the brain of your parrot.
When seizures take place, normal brain functioning is interrupted, and the result can be either a loss of motor functioning, or a complete loss of consciousness.
In some cases, seizures can also result in convulsions where you will notice your parrot flapping its wings uncontrollably, screaming distress signals, or even falling from his perch.
Epilepsy then, is a condition that is marked by reoccurring seizures.
Seizures are a single occurrence of brain disturbance, whereas epilepsy is a characterized by 2 or more episodes of unprovoked seizures.
Epileptic seizures can range in severity from mild to severe, and can be infrequent or frequent in numbers.
Typically, there are three distinct stages to a seizure:
Stage 1: The Aura Phase
During this phase, you may notice that your parrot is starting to exhibit some strange behaviors.
Again, these behaviors can be mild or severe, but if you notice any patterns that are out of the norm for your bird, it could be the beginning stage of a seizure.
Stage 2: Ictus Phase
This stage is generally very short, and lasts between 5-25 seconds.
During this stage you will notice your parrot becoming disoriented, or they may display difficulty with muscle coordination.
This is the stage during which you may see your parrot fall off its perch.
Other common behaviors during the Ictus phase include thrashing, loud vocalizations, body stiffening, and defecation.
Stage 3: The Postictal Phase
This is the phase of the seizure that lasts the longest.
While duration of the Postictal Phase will vary from bird to bird, and seizure to seizure, it can last up to a few hours.
During this stage your parrot may seem lethargic, confused, agitated, or completely exhausted.
What causes Epilepsy in Parrots?
The exact cause of epilepsy in parrots can be difficult to diagnose, but there are a few factors that have been found to be associated with the illness:
Nutritional deficiencies, including dehydration, lack of proper vitamins, and low blood sugar can all induce seizures in parrots.
In most cases like these, once the deficiencies are treated, the seizures will stop.
Having said that, it might not always be a poor diet that is contributing to your bird’s seizures.
Sometimes deficiencies are related to conditions other than poor diet, such as diabetes.
In such a case, the underlying condition will need to be treated before the seizures subside.
Trauma or Stress
Just as stress has an adverse reaction on humans, it also has an adverse reaction on parrots.
Stress in parrots can be caused by numerous things, but the number one cause is night frights.
Stress can occur when the parrot has a sudden onset of terror in the middle of the night, but cannot escape the cage.
The result of this is often panic, which can lead to wounded wings, damaged feathers, and even head traumas.
In severe cases, parrots can even give themselves a concussion in an attempt to escape their cage.
While some stress seizures cannot be avoided, others can be avoided simply by making your parrot’s environment more comfortable for them.
Exposure to toxins
When a parrot chews on inappropriate items like metal cage bars, they can end up with heavy metal poisoning.
While this is not a completely natural behavior, it’s not uncommon for parrots to chew on things when they have a nutritional deficiency, when they are depressed, or when they are bored.
Other sources of toxins that your bird can be exposed to include household chemicals, plants, tobacco smoke, and various foods.
Common symptoms of toxin exposure include diarrhea, difficulty breathing, tremors, and yes, seizures.
If your parrot suffers from any type of Neurological damage, this can make them more prone to epilepsy and seizures.
Common neurological conditions associated with seizures include Proventricular Dilatation Disease (which assaults the nervous system) and Aspergillosis ( a respiratory disease).
Other Diseases and Conditions
Aside from neurological conditions, other diseases and conditions can also bring about seizures in your parrot.
One particularly concerning disease is end-stage liver disease, wherein toxins have been built up within the bloodstream, leading to symptoms like disorientation and seizures.
Hypocalcaemia or hyperglycemia can also trigger seizures in parrots and other birds.
What should I do if my Parrot is having a seizure?
If your parrot is in the middle of a seizure, the best thing you can do is leave it be.
Seizures often look scarier than they really are, and trying to handle your parrot in the middle of one could cause more damage than good.
If you think your parrot has had a seizure, you should take them to the veterinarian immediately.
Without the help of a veterinarian, you will not be able to diagnose the underlying condition, and therefore will not be able to treat the condition.
On the way to the vet, or until you can get in for an appointment, ensure that you change your birds environment to be more comfortable in case another seizure takes place.
Remove perches so they cannot fall off, place soft bedding on the bottom to prevent injury, and remove toys and swings to minimize risk.
Remember, dehydration and malnutrition can be a source of seizures, so make sure that water and food are still easily accessible to your parrot at all times.
What will happen at the Veterinarian?
If your parrot has had a seizure, the main concern for the veterinarian will be to figure out the underlying cause so that they can treat that first.
In order to do this, a complete history of your parrot will be required, along with a weight and a basic physical examination.
From there, the veterinarian will ask about your parrot’s diet, including food and supplement intake, to determine if there are any possible deficiencies that could be causing the issue.
If diet is not the issue, a number of tests may be administered to help determine the underlying cause of your bird’s seizures.
These tests may include, but are not limited to:
- Complete Blood Counts (CBC) to test for dehydration, toxins, anemia, and infections.
- Serology and DNA testing
- X-rays to assess internal organs and bones
- EEG (Electroencephalogram)
- MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imagine)
- CT scans (Computer assisted technology)
Once a cause of the seizure has been determined, then a targeted treatment can begin.
There are many different treatments for epilepsy and seizures, each one of which is tailored to a different underlying condition.
Hypocalcemia, for example, will require dietary changes and possible supplement management, while liver disease will require a different care regime.
While treatment is taking effect, a veterinarian may also prescribe anticonvulsants to temporarily halt seizures.
During this time, your parrot will need ongoing support and care from you.
Check on your parrot regularly, and ensure that they are in an environment which is seizure safe.