Diarrhea in budgies: some causes of wet poop

Parakeet poop is one of the easiest ways to keep tabs on your pet’s health and diarrhea in budgies can often be cause for alarm. A healthy parakeet poop is not very wet and has well-defined feces and urates. The feces portion is typically green or brown while the urates should be white. Anything that veers from this norm is concerning, but the wet, loose poops or diarrhea are frequently transient in nature and in many cases, can be explained by the following causes.

  • Fear based wet poops. This is typically seen in parakeets that are new to your home and feeling very anxious. When they are afraid they can have very loose poop that sometimes has no urates at all and is just a small amount of feces and urine.  We still see this with Kelly, she has a very nervous temperament and if we startle her coming into the house or wake her abruptly from a nap she will immediately display “fear poops”.  These should resolve either when the parakeet has gotten over being startled or whenever they feel comfortable. With a newly brought home parakeet this can last some time, make sure they are eating and drinking and don’t have other outward signs of illness such as fluffing up, tail bobbing etc.
  • Post-bath poops that are completely liquid.  When a budgie takes a bath they frequently ingest a lot more water than would be typical for them. This can result in waste that is completely water. This should be relatively short-lived. Side note – it always reminds me of the Baby Alive Doll that I used to have where you would feed her the bottle of water and the liquid would just run straight through her!
  • Eating fruits or vegetables. Fruits and vegetables have a very high water content compared to seeds. Eating a big helping of wet lettuce or watermelon would naturally cause loose poop or diarrhea for the time that it is being processed.
  • Molting. Not every budgie has loose poop when they are molting, but it is a relatively common side effect. In our house it’s intermittent for a few days while they are at the most wretched heights of pin feathers. As long as they are eating and drinking I try not to overwhelm myself with worry!
  • Competitive drinking. I can’t say that this is common among all budgies, but mine have an intense flock mentality. If one of them eats the other one has to as well, even when they are in separate cages. So, sometimes one of them goes to have a drink, and then the other one does, and they end up in this feedback loop where they just keep drinking because the other one is drinking.  This can be a very specific cause of short-term diarrhea.

The theme with all of these causes is probably readily apparent. You should be able to define the root cause relatively easily based on what your budgie has just been doing or eating. The diarrhea itself ought to be short lived, except in the case of fear, which can take a bit longer to resolve in a newly acquired budgie or molting, as that can be intermittent over a period of time. Trust your gut and keep an eye out for any other symptoms. There are many instances in which diarrhea warrants a call to your vet. Once you know your budgie it will be easy to tell what’s “normal” for them and what’s cause for immediate concern.

Please note – I am neither a vet nor a medical expert about parakeets. If you are concerned about your pet’s well-being please call your vet and make an appointment. This post should not substitute medical care for your pet and I am not making any specific recommendations of care. 

Toby gets her way for one night – parakeet molting is tough business

We’ve been going through our spring molt here, Kelly went first and Toby shortly after. Initially, Kelly was taking it pretty well, but she had a weekend where basically all systems shut down and she went into a serious rest mode.

She was very listless and puffy and we were even having a hard time convincing her to eat millet. She’s usually very active, but spent a couple of hours sitting on my shoulder. Even though Patrick kept reminding me that this happens every time, I was thisclose to calling the vet.

To help her out with possible tummy trouble we dosed their drinking water with Bragg Organic Raw Apple Cider Vinegar, which is part of our parakeet first aid kit. We also had their Zoo Med AvianSun Deluxe Floor Pet Lamp and Zoo Med 24975 Avian Sun 5.0 Uvb Compact Fluorescent Lamp, 26W on for the entire day so she could soak up the full spectrum lighting and make sure she was able to synthesize her vitamin D. As a side note: even if your birds are near a nice big window you still need to provide full spectrum lighting, as window glass blocks out the rays that your budgies need most.

We also kept things relaxed and quiet around the house and went out for a while to give her time to rest fully in a nice calm environment, and also so she wouldn’t feel obligated to try and come out to be with us and wear herself out.

For Toby, on the other hand, this was the best day of her life; she played on the play gym and dominated every toy and perch, all of the resources were hers!

But the best part was that Kelly, who is usually very standoffish about physical contact, didn’t have the will to resist Toby’s snuggling advances.  When bed time came around, Toby plopped herself right up against Kelly and proceeded to spend the next 45 minutes preening every single inch of her, while Kelly alternately tolerated it or tried to weakly fight off the grooming!

Toby was SO efficient that the next morning when Kelly sat on my shoulder and started preening a shower of black dots came off of her like dandruff.  I’m not ashamed to say that we immediately freaked out, put some on a white sheet of paper and grabbed a magnifying glass, thinking they were bugs!  It turns out that Toby released every single one of Kelly’s pin feathers and what was raining off of Kelly were the keratin sheathes.

Kelly started to rally shortly after but did stay quiet for a couple more days, at least once she was eating and pooping regularly I felt like we were safe to just keep watch over her and monitor at home.  Now of course she’s back to her regularly scheduled program of hand-biting and making Toby keep her distance!

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Kelly says molting is NO FUN!

Budgies/parakeets do not need grit

There are several species of bird that need grit (like Manna Pro Poultry Grit, 5-Pounds) added to their diet to aid in digestion. For example, adult chickens need grit; they swallow their food whole and the grit they eat sits in their gizzards and helps break down larger pieces of food or hard-hulled seeds. Many chicken owners use ground oyster shells for grit, which also provides much-needed calcium to the chicken.

Years ago, after noting that many birds needed grit, it became widely accepted that budgies must need grit too, and it was quite common to offer household pet parakeets grit.

This is, we now know, wildly unnecessary. Unlike chickens, budgies hull their seeds before they eat them, meaning there is nothing hard to break down once it reaches their crop. Also, when they are eating other foods they use their beaks to break it down, so there is again no need for grit assistance.

Beyond just being completely unnecessary, gravel can be detrimental to your budgie’s health. Because of the way the budgie digestive system is designed, there’s a good chance the grit will get stuck in their bodies instead of excreted, and this will cause blockages and potentially death.

Budgies DO need additional calcium like the oyster shell grit would provide, but this can easily be achieved by offering Penn Plax Cuttlebone Natural 6 Pack and/or Zoo Med 26384 Bird Banquet Fruit Mineral Block, 1 oz/Small. You could also feed your budgie crushed eggshells for calcium.

So, grit is one thing you can remove from your shopping list, which is always nice!

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Healthy Weight for Budgies

I’ve been watching my waistline and trying to get fit lately and it made me reflect on my parakeet’s weight. Similar to humans, there is a target range for budgie weight that relates to optimal health.  This range is about 1.1 to 1.4 ounces (or 25 to 36 grams).

It may seem sort of impossible to weigh a flying target that amounts to less than a package of 2 Reese’s peanut butter cups, but it’s actually pretty easy.  Some folks get an official bird scale like the ZIEIS Digital Bird Scale | A63SS-NMP | Mounted Wooden T Perch | 1.0 Gram or 0.05 Ounce Accuracy | 3000 Gram or 96 Ounce Capacity | Stainless Steel Platform, which comes with a perch and should be very simple for a large parrot to use, but for a small parrot like a budgie, I have found it’s easy enough to use a basic food scale like the Ozeri Pronto Digital Multifunction Kitchen and Food Scale, Elegant Black (and some Kaytee Spray Millet for Birds, 12-Count).

Toby is very happy to do a photo shoot on the scale for treats, you can see that the scale shows she appears to be at the upper limit of healthy weights, but I didn’t weigh her at the best time of day so it was a bit elevated.  For the most accurate weight reading you will want to weigh your parakeet after their large morning poop but before they have had breakfast.

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It’s quite common for budgies to become obese, particularly if they are sedentary and stay at home in their cage most of the time.  Also a lot of commercially available seed mixes are high in fats and it can be extremely difficult to get parakeets to eat healthy (again, like people!).

This is another reason I would advocate strongly for allowing your budgies to be flighted; this will really help them get the exercise they need to maintain a healthy weight.  If you choose not to have flighted budgies then please make sure yours have the largest cage possible/lots of toys to play with and when outside of the cage you encourage them in physical play.  Well, really either way your budgie should have the biggest cage you can afford and a suitable number of toys and perches.

So – what are the health risks associated with obese budgies?  The big one is liver disease/fatty liver. Liver disease occurs because birds store excess fat in their livers, and over time an obese bird’s liver tissue is replaced with fat, compromising the liver function.

The symptoms of liver disease could be difficult to detect at first or confused with other diseases, they include (but are not limited to) loss of appetite, breathing difficulty, diarrhea, depression, distended abdomen and lethargy.

The best way to avoid fatty liver disease is to help your budgie maintain a healthy weight and an active lifestyle, and offer a diet that includes a good quality seed mix (like Dr. Harvey’s Our Best Parakeet Blend Natural Food for Parakeets, 4-Pound Bag) and depending on your preference, pellets (Harrison’s High Potency Super Fine 1lb …) as well as vegetables and fruits.

As long as you are keeping an eye on your parakeet’s weight and offering a good diet and lots of opportunities for exercise your parakeet should be able to easily avoid the perils of putting on a few ounces.

Additionally, thinking of the holiday season, it may be particularly tempting to feed your parakeet some human treats, or even things like crackers, cereal etc, but they don’t need it and it’s not good for them.  Since it should be pretty easy to avoid I recommend not feeding any “human” food at all outside of veggies and fruits.


Does molting make a parakeet sick?

Molting is a very difficult time for parakeets, most of them do it a couple of times per year; typically it would be a spring/summer and a fall/winter molt. Toby is very lucky and molts approximately every 6 weeks, this is pretty common for indoor living parakeets, with the temperature being fairly even it messes up their natural triggers.

During the molting process, which takes a few weeks, the parakeet loses a significant portion of feathers and grows them back. Seeing the piles of lost feathers under the cage every day can be alarming, but it doesn’t seem to be the worst part of the process for the parakeets. At least Toby and Kelly aren’t that bothered by it, even when they are losing more feathers per day than I would have thought they had in the first place!

The part that seems to be much harder on our parakeets is growing in the new feathers, and this stage is where, in my experience, the parakeets can seem to be quite ill.

Both Toby and Kelly, during the time of popping out a lot of feathers, will have about a 24 hours period where they have many classic symptoms of budgie sickness.

This involves listlessness, disinterest in eating, puffing up, napping on both feet, loose poop, general malaise and crankiness. It typically hits them in the early afternoon, they rally right before bed, and then the next day they are pretty “off” as well without seeming as close to death’s door. The first few times this happened to Toby I was absolutely certain she was going to die at any moment.

One nice thing is that the parakeets are very solicitous to each other when they are afflicted. Usually they argue passionately every evening about who will sleep highest in the cage (hint, it’s going to be Kelly), but when someone is not feeling so hot they sleep close together without any argument at all. In the daytime too, the parakeet that’s feeling good hangs out near the molting parakeet and tries to regurgitate to her and make sure she’s doing alright.

During these times we make some extra effort to use our Zoo Med AvianSun Deluxe Floor Pet Lamp, which we should be using regularly anyhow, and try to tempt them to eat millet at least. It’s best, I think, to just let them stay in the cage on these days and get the rest they need for the hard work of growing out feathers.

The only real recommendations I can make are to get used to your parakeet’s molting procedure and try to assist as much as possible. If he lets you, scritch his head to help to pin feathers, and offer frequent baths in whatever capacity he accepts. Let him have quiet days when needed and help him relax and get extra rest. Most importantly, try not to stress about it too much yourself, it’s hard to see them during a tough time, but they will come through it. Your vacuum, however, may never be the same…