Parrots are hearty and healthy creatures that rarely experience health problems if given an appropriate diet, clean air and water, sufficient exercise, and a safe environment. They seldom require medical treatment unless they suffer accidents or disease exposure. If birds do become ill, it takes a heavy toll on both bird and owner and can create a financial hardship as well. One might mistakenly assume that medical treatment for creatures as small as birds would be relatively inexpensive. In reality, Avian medicine is a highly specialized field requiring veterinarians to complete a great deal of extra training. This increased expenditure of time, effort and money is reflected in the price of Avian health care.
Prevention is the obvious solution to avoiding the physical, emotional, and financial losses of Avian health problems. In birdkeeping, an ounce of prevention is worth much more than a pound of cure. There are a number of natural substances that help to prevent psittacine illness. Let us examine a few of the most helpful preventive remedies available to birdkeepers.
There are many varieties of aloe but the one most often used for its medicinal value is Aloe Barbadensis. Very little is known of the plants utilized by wild parrots to meet their nutritional needs and to maintain health. We do know that captive birds do not have the opportunity to pick and choose their food. By offering as many healthful plant foods as possible, we hope to provide some of the trace nutrients that they might seek out for themselves in the wild.
Aloe Vera contains an immune stimulating complex, galactomannan, a class of polysaccharides that acts as an anti-inflammatory agent. Galactomannan apparently binds to a receptor site and activates macrophages, which are the cells that control the immune system. A healthy, functioning immune system is essential for disease prevention.
In Florida, the owner of an aviary that houses two hundred rescue parrots routinely uses slices of fresh aloe as a preventive and curative remedy. The owner of the birds attributes the lack of health problems in the birds from less than ideal backgrounds partially to the healing effects of aloe. Parrots sometimes suffer digestive and intestinal disorders, and aloe is the most healing of all herbs for these problems. Aloe’s beneficial effects on the immune system of birds makes it a great preventive remedy. Aloe contains at least twenty amino acids, nine enzymes, many polysaccharides, vitamins, minerals, trace elements, growth stimulators, naturally occurring electrolytes, and wound healing hormones.
If you grow aloe plants, feed several thin slices of the largest stalks of the aloe plant a few times a week. When a bird appears to feel unwell, fresh aloe or pure aloe juice added to dry food or drinking water in the ratio of one part aloe juice to three parts pure water can make a positive difference in the demeanor and activity level of the bird.
The feeding of aloe can possibly prevent feather destruction in parrots. Its effectiveness is due mainly to its magnesium lactate content, a chemical in aloe that is known to inhibit the release of histamines responsible for skin irritation and itching. Another form of aloe treatment for feather plucking is aloe spray. It helps to alleviate itching and irritated skin. The easiest way to obtain a quality aloe spray for parrots is to buy it from a health food store. I use George’s Aloe Spray, which is a steam-distilled aloe available in an eight-ounce spray bottle for approximately five dollars. Otherwise, a spray can be made with a clean, new pump spray bottle filled with a solution of one part pure aloe vera juice to three parts distilled water. Steam distilled aloe is best for use as a topical spray because it contains no additives.
The prevention of infection in skin wounds is important to parrot health. Aloe’s ability to penetrate all the skin layers helps to account for its healing properties when used for burns, cuts, scrapes, abrasions and other skin problems of parrots. It draws infection out of wounds as it regenerates healthy tissue.
A lesser known benefit of aloe is its pain-killing properties. The lupeol, salicylic acid and magnesium in aloe are effective pain killers without side effects, making it helpful to birds and their caregivers. Bird bites can be treated with a thick coating of aloe gel. For a badly bitten finger, fill a rubber finger cot with aloe gel and wear it on the finger for as long as the pain-killing benefits are needed. Five minutes usually is sufficient to stop the pain, but it can be used for as long as needed. Aloe also helps to coagulate blood in injured tissue and minimize swelling and bruising. Aloe is sold in pharmacies, supermarkets, and department stores. Read labels and look for the highest aloe content with the least number of additives.
GARLIC (Allium sativum)
Garlic is helpful in the prevention of illness caused by viral, fungal, and bacterial pathogens. In fact, Garlic contains an impressive number (eighteen to be exact) of anti-viral, anti-fungal, and anti-bacterial substances! Studies have shown activity similar to the antibiotic, chloramphenicol, which is sometimes used to treat parrot illness. Garlic also contains anti-parasitic properties. Treating for parasites with conventional remedies can be harmful to the liver, but garlic kills many intestinal parasites without harming liver tissue. It actually protects the liver from the damage of chemical pollutants in the air, food and water supply. Researchers at the University of Cambridge in England found that garlic juice is as strong as Amphotericin and Nystatin, anti-fungal drugs used to combat a common problem of parrots.
A chemical in garlic called allyl sulfide is showing promise in cancer research. The organic allyl sulfur component of garlic inhibits the cancer process. Studies have shown that the benefits of garlic are not limited to a specific species, a particular tissue, or a specific carcinogen.
Fresh garlic, rather than concentrated forms such as garlic powder, should be offered to parrots. Garlic belongs to a family of plants that can cause anemia in some animals if given in large amounts for long periods of time. I can find no evidence that garlic is harmful to parrots but because of the anemia problem with other small animals, I would not feed it in large quantities. One clove from a regular size bulb of garlic (not an entire bulb of many cloves) given two or three times a week is sufficient as a preventive food supplement for parrots, who love the pungent taste. Leave the peeling on so that the birds can unwrap their aromatic and medicinal food gift from Mother Nature.
GSE (Grapefruit Seed Extract)
This food-derived substance is used by a growing number of aviculturists, pet bird owners, and veterinarians. It is a natural, safe and non-toxic disinfectant and cleaner as well as a preventive against disease-causing pathogens. This extract of the lowly grapefruit seed is effective at combating hundreds of pathogens that adversely affect birds, including parasites, bacteria, virus, and various fungi. GSE is used to disinfect food and water, to prevent mold growth on home-grown sprouts, to clean cages, aviaries and homes — all without harming the birds or the environment.
Here are some of the specific uses of GSE for birdkeepers:
- To disinfect surfaces and items in the aviary and nursery such as brooders, incubators, cages and carriers, make an all purpose cleaner by adding 30 to 60 drops of GSE to a 32-ounce pump spray bottle filled with water.
- To disinfect wood surfaces like cutting boards and perches, apply a few drops of GSE to the cleaned wood while still wet. Let stand for half an hour before rinsing
- To clean formula from baby parrots’ faces and feathers after syringe feedings, add a few drops of GSE to a bowl of warm water to wet the cleaning cloth. It kills bacteria and gets the skin and feathers squeaky clean
- To sterilize syringes, pipettes, spoons, and other handfeeding utensils, make a solution of 15 to 30 drops of GSE per pint of water. Soak between feedings
- To make your own antibacterial soap for the nursery and kitchen, add ten to fifteen drops of GSE to an eight-ounce pump dispenser of handsoap.
- To make a disinfectant soak for produce, add 10 to15 drops of GSE per gallon of water and submerge the fruits and vegetables for 15 to 30 seconds.
- To make a disinfectant spray for produce, add 20 or more drops to a quart spray bottle and spray on fruits and vegetables.
- To prevent the growth of algae and mold in incubators and humidifiers, add three or four drops of GSE per gallon to the water reservoir.
- To clean and disinfect cutting boards, apply 10 to 20 drops of GSE to the cutting board. Rub it into the board with a wet sponge or cloth. Leave the GSE on for at least 30 minutes and rinse.
- To purify water, add 10 drops of GSE per gallon of water and stir vigorously. It is more effective than iodine.
- To treat skin fungi, parasites, or bacterial diseases of the skin of birds and other pets, mix 30 to 50 drops of GSE per quart of water and spray on the infected area.
- To prevent the growth of pathogens and to kill existing parasites, (such as giardia in well water), use one drop of Nutribiotic GSE in an eight-ounce water cup. Daily use is safe and a probiotic can be used if you are concerned about maintaining healthy intestinal flora.
- To boost the cleaning power of dishwasher detergent for bird dishes, add 15 to 30 drops of GSE to the dishwasher along with detergent.
- To disinfect towels and cloths used for baby parrots, add 30 to 50 drops to the wash cycle, or add 10 to 15 drops of GSE to the final rinse to ensure that the laundry is free of fungi and bacteria.
- To disinfect carpet in bird rooms, add 10 to 15 drops of GSE per gallon of water to the reservoir of the carpet-cleaning machine.
NONI (Morinda Citrifolia)
Noni fruit is a natural food remedy useful as a preventive of bird problems. Tropical fruit is a mainstay of the diet of many wild parrot species. Fruits supply the quick energy necessary for flight and other vigorous activities of birds, as well as trace nutrients that maintain health. Noni is a tropical fruit that is unknown to many birdkeepers even though it has been used for over 2,000 years as a preventive and healing herb by the people of the South Pacific. Noni fruit grows on the Morinda Citrifolia tree, indigenous to areas of Malaysia, Australia and Polynesia. Native to Southeast Asia, it grows from India to the Eastern region of Polynesia.
Morinda Citrifolia is a small evergreen tree of the Genus Rubiaceae and it is known by various names, depending on its location. In Hawaii, it is referred to as the Noni tree; in India, it is called Indian Mulberry tree; and in Tahiti, it is called the Nono tree. In various other regions, it is referred to as the painkiller tree, the headache tree and other names indicative of its medicinal uses. Although most parts of the tree have medicinal value, it is the noni fruit that is considered most valuable as a healing agent.
The noni fruit is fleshy and resembles breadfruit. It has a lumpy surface covered by polygonal-shaped sections. It resembles a small, lumpy potato. The fruit tastes bitter and has a distinctly unpleasant odor. Ancient Polynesian healers used the noni fruit and other parts of the Morinda Citrifolia tree to treat ailments such as arthritis, candida, coughs and colds, fevers, hypertension, infections, parasites, and skin problems. Ongoing scientific research at the University of Hawaii, the University of Illinois and other research centers has confirmed the value of this ancient remedy.
Noni fruit contains phytonutrients, selenium, and “xeronine” as well as its precursor, “proxeronine”. Xeronine is an alkaloid that helps to repair damaged cells by regulating the particular proteins comprising those cells. Although noni contains only small amounts of xeronine, the content of its precursor, proxeronine, is considered important to the healing effects of noni juice. The phytonutrients in noni prevent and correct damage caused by chemical pollutants in the air, water and food supply. Selenium is a well-known antioxidant considered responsible for some of the healing properties of noni fruit.
Listed here are some of the benefits of noni in the Avian diet:
- The alkaloid and other chemical compounds in noni are effective against several bacterial strains, including E.coli, salmonella, and staphylococcus aureus.
- Phytonutrients in noni protect against free radical damage of pollutants in air, water and food.
- Xeronine promotes faster healing of skin damage from burns, wounds, abrasions, and bruising.
- Xeronine has analgesic effects making noni useful for painful conditions.
- Lab tests have confirmed noni’s ability to kill certain pre-cancerous cells.
I had never heard of noni fruit until my dentist recommended the juice for oral and general health. My family and I started using it daily over a year ago, and we liked the results. Shortly after that, I happened to speak with Florida veterinarian, Dr. Joel Murphy, author of The Parrot Care Handbook and director of the Murphy Exotic Bird Research Center who has long been involved in Avian medicine and nutritional studies. Dr. Murphy recommends noni for his Avian patients. He uses a concentrate of noni. The concentrate is available in a one-ounce bottle that is equivalent to a 32-ounce bottle of juice. He adds the noni concentrate to other rainforest botanicals that are useful to birds. When asked about the safe dosage of noni for parrots, Dr. Murphy replied, “there is no unsafe amount of noni”. As Dr. Murphy pointed out, prozeronine is not found in any prepared parrot foods and therefore noni is an excellent addition to the Avian diet. He uses 0.1cc of the noni concentrate for Amazon-size birds and 0.2cc’s for Macaw-size parrots. He said that many of his Avian patients enjoy the taste of noni mixed with cranberry juice or Fruitopia juice drink.
I started giving noni juice to my birds daily because I like the idea of giving them a preventive remedy made from a tropical fruit, and the birds enjoy the treat. I tried to import fresh noni fruit from Hawaii, but the owner of the company that grows the bitter and malodorous fruit for processing assured me that my birds definitely would not like it! Since my small Eclectus flock had no health problems beforehand, I cannot attribute any specific health benefits to their intake of noni juice. They have continued to thrive and have experienced no illnesses and I give them noni as a preventive supplement.
Most vets do not recommend adding anything to the drinking water of birds that might promote bacterial growth. My birds will drink noni juice from a spoon or small cup. I also add it to dry foods that I know they will eat. Birdie bread soaked with their daily portion is a treat for them first thing in the morning. The protocol for human use of noni juice is to take one ounce of juice on an empty stomach so I also give it to my birds first thing in the morning. Even though it is can be expensive if large amounts are used, because of the small amount needed by birds, it is not an expensive tonic to use for birds. They each get about a teaspoonful of noni juice daily but if they were ill, I would increase that amount.
I spoke with Amy Steider from Albuquerque, New Mexico who shared with me her story of using noni for “Bashful”, her six-year old Parakeet. Said Amy, “In February, 1999, I took my bird to my veterinarian because he had lumps on his lower belly that were gradually getting bigger. The vet said they were benign fatty tumors, and that there really wasn’t anything he could do. The tumors were very large, unsightly, and obviously irritating to Bashful because he constantly picked at them, causing them to bleed and then scab over. I was afraid we would lose him in a matter of months. I decided to try giving him noni juice and another nutraceutical that my vet recommended since we had nothing to lose. In one month’s time, his tumors were considerably smaller, his energy level and appetite had increased, and his feathers began to grow back on his belly. It has been nearly a year now since our visit to the vet and Bashful is the picture of health and as feisty as ever!” ([email protected])
I also spoke with veterinarian, Virgil Byrd, from Santa Fe, New Mexico who has a trauma clinic for small animals. He also treats sport horses. He uses noni juice for his small patients and for the horses that he treats. Dr. Byrd says that his equine patients are helped by noni’s anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties. He also shared that it is calming to the horses and promotes endurance, both important for race horses. Dr. Byrd said that recent research at the University of Hawaii has proven noni juice to be highly effective against equine tuberculosis.
Noni is available in health food stores and from private distributors. All of the vets that I spoke with used the same brand name of noni that my family and birds enjoy. The consensus seems to be that there are varying degrees of noni quality, as in all products. Do some research, read labels, and ask for recommendations before choosing a brand of noni, but do consider adding this rainforest botanical to your “preventive medicine chest” for your birds.