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Many people enjoy keeping a parrot as a pet, and these impressive, colourful birds can make the perfect companion for young and old alike. Parrots are entertaining, funny and affectionate, and with some varieties known to live for several decades when well cared for and kept happy and healthy, will often be with you for a significant part of your life. Parrots are also very delicate creatures, however, and parrots, parakeets and other pet birds are very sensitive to stress and upset, which can have a profound effect upon them and greatly compromise their quality of life. An unhappy parrot or parakeet can even die as a result of stress and anxiety if they are particularly unhappy, and so it is important to do everything that you can to keep your pet parrot on an even keel and minimise any stress or upheaval that occurs within your home and within their lives. Do you know what you can do to minimise stress in your pet parrot, and how to identify if something is wrong? Read on to find out more!
Broadly speaking, any significant or sometimes even seemingly minor changes in your parrot’s world can lead to the onset of stress and stress-related problems and conditions, as can such intangible factors as the changing moods of the people that they love. Parrots are very empathic creatures, and much like dogs, will pick up on the moods of their owners and react accordingly if they are upset or depressed. Parrots also generally form strong bonds with their family or primary caregiver, and changes in the household that affect who cares for them or who they spend most of their time with can have a significant effect on your parrot as well. Some of the main triggers of stress and anxiety in parrots and other birds include:
This list is by no means exhaustive, but should give you a head start in helping to identify potential causes of stress in parrots and other birds. As with all animals, no two parrots are the same; some birds are much more sensitive to stress and upset than others, while some birds are fairly laid back and take most things as they come without any problems.
Parrots and other birds manifest the symptoms of stress in many different ways, which can include physical indications, generally losing condition, and acting out in unusual ways. Keep an eye out for any of the following indicators that your pet parrot is suffering from stress:
Stress bars are the most commonly found physical indication that a pet bird is suffering from stress. Stress bars are horizontal lines that run across the shafts of the feathers, and give a good generalised indication that your bird is stressed, although of course it does not help you to identify the cause of stress! It can be hard to identify stress bars on the feathers that are still attached to your parrot, so it is important to check the feathers that they shed for the presence of stress bars appearing.
A parrot that suddenly goes off their food, begins to eat less or starts losing weight may be suffering from stress. It is important to rule out any physical problems before assuming a diagnosis of stress in cases of loss of appetite, so get your parrot checked out by your vet before moving forwards.
A bird that starts ripping at soft furnishings, messing up their cage and otherwise seeking to destroy other things may be suffering from either stress or boredom, or both. It is important to assess whether or not your parrot is receiving enough stimulation to keep their mind active, as boredom in itself is an issue in birds, as well as being a forerunner to stress and unhappiness.
If your bird’s temperament has begun to change inexplicably, this is almost always a clear indicator that your bird is stressed. Behaviours such as lunging at people passing by, hissing, nipping and biting and screeching in a bird that was previously well behaved can arise almost literally overnight in a stressed bird, but their sudden onset can often make it easier to identify the recent changes that may have led to stress.
A bird that was previously happy to be handled and generally appeared to feel secure and comfortable in their home environment may undergo personality changes as a result of stress that can lead to their displaying fearful and nervous behaviours in normal household situations. Fear of a specific person may be due to their inadvertently scaring the bird or hurting them during a previous interaction, or can even come down to something as simple as being afraid of a bulky coat, a bright shirt or a new haircut! It is important not to push a bird that is scared into being handled by someone who upsets them, but to work with the bird slowly and carefully to build up their trust and confidence with the person or people in question.
If you have any problems identifying the triggers of stress in your pet parrot or other bird, or if exposing them to stress is unavoidable (such as in the case of moving house) then you may wish to consult with your vet or a parrot specialist about the issue. This can help you to assess how best to minimise any potential upset, and give you the best chance of keeping your bird on an even keel.
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