Age and breed: 17-year-old large African Grey Parrot
Medical challenge: Jubi arrived at Tufts Foster Hospital for Small Animals emergency room because he had been straining to and screaming when attempting to defecate.
Treatment plan: Dr. Jennifer Graham, DVM, Dipl. ABVP, Dipl. ACZM noted Jubi’s rough feather quality and a blunted projection on the roof of his mouth, which can indicate nutritional deficiencies. When Jubi’s blood was drawn and X-rays were taken, the Zoological Companion Animal Medicine department determined Jubi was not, in fact, a male parrot as the owner believed, but was a female parrot who was egg-bound. (External features on a parrot don’t easily indicate male or female, and this was the first egg Jubi ever laid.)
When parrots have difficulty laying eggs, it can be very uncomfortable. One of the most common reasons for discomfort is diet insufficiencies; a lack of calcium in particular, infact a great deal of dietary calcium is needed to create an eggshell as well as for the reproductive tract to retract after laying.
After administering injectable calcium gluconate and a multivitamin injection, Dr. Graham explained what good nutrition looks like for a parrot. Unlike what a glimpse down a pet food aisle may have you believe, parrots’ diet shouldn’t be mostly seed-based. “Parrots love to eat seeds—they are like the French fries in a human diet,” Dr. Graham said. “A healthy diet consists of formulated pellets, dark leafy vegetables, orange and yellow veggies, and some fruits and seeds. As with humans, variety is good.” Dr. Graham notes that an ideal diet for a small bird may be up to 50% seed, but for large birds, no more than 10% of their diet should be seeds.
Nutrition plays an important role in a parrot’s ability to lay eggs, and for a large female parrot laying eggs may occur once or twice a year, if that. For other birds, including cockatiels, budgies, and lovebirds, chronic egg-laying can be a major problem. Sometimes females never lay eggs at all, and owners can discourage egg laying, which can take a toll on the bird’s body, through their behaviors and the environment they provide. Dr. Graham recommends that owners: 1) Remove any perceived mates, which can sometimes include limiting contact with a human or two in the family. Restricting petting to the bird’s head is helpful as well. 2) Remove any nesting material, including nest boxes. 3) When she does lay an egg, leave the egg in the cage as long as the bird’s interested in them. 4) Decrease the day length by providing complete darkness for 14–16 hours each day. 5) Change her environment, like moving the cage to a different place in the house or changing the cage a little.
When a bird has difficulty passing an egg, bringing her into Tufts Foster Hospital for Small Animals may be necessary. To help Jubi pass the egg, the Zoological Companion Animal Medicine department gave her prostaglandin gel and oxytocin, as well as an evening in a warm, dark incubator, but she still didn’t pass the egg on her own. We used a large needle and syringe to collapse the egg down.
Outcome: Jubi was able to pass the eggshell once she was comfortably at home in Princeton, Massachusetts. Dr. Graham recommended a change in diet, including a cuttlebone for calcium supplementation. She hasn’t laid any other eggs to our knowledge.