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August Abbott, CAS
August Abbott, CAS, Certified Avian Specialist
Category: Bird
Satisfied Customers: 7608
Experience:  Cert. Avian Specialist; Int. Assoc.Animal Behavior Consult; Pet Ind. Joint Advisory Council; author
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My parakeet is 17 years old and is acting lethargic and off

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My parakeet is 17 years old and is acting lethargic and off balance. He's not chirping much and is having trouble getting up and down on his perches. He's eating and drinking fine but just not himself at all. Any idea what could be wrong?
So far you've done all the right things in making him more comfortable and less likely to hurt himself with a fall.

17 years is into the 'golden years', a geriatric bird.

As unusual as it may sound, when a bird loses its balance, it is usually the result of an internal problem.

Let’s go over a few of the more common:

Sometimes a tumor on the kidney will not appear on the outside of the body, but other symptoms such as limping, the loss of use of a leg (or both) and/or imbalance might occur. This happens when the tumor presses on certain nerves.

Tumors can also be in a male’s testes or female’s ovaries and there are not always obvious changes until later on when the growth is more dominant inside.

Other indications that there may be tumor activity would be a change in cere color, weight loss, changes in droppings (often becoming pasty, soiling around the vent) and just subtle, overall changes that owners may sense more than actually see or be able to describe.

Fatty liver disease is something that is often seen in a bird on a seed only or predominantly seed diet. No matter how much the manufacturer insists they are fortified and healthy, they are misleading all of us.

and though a cockatiel site, this will apply to all psittacines (parrots)

Skeletal problems, deficiencies and even toxicities can cause a loss of balance and restlessness in some birds, as well as the more common symptoms such as breathing difficulties, open mouthed breathing and so on.

Zinc and other toxic metals or substances can be ingested slowly over time when toys, clasps, chains, links or even cages are chewed on or played with. Other poisonings occur when the bird actually swallows a toy, link or piece of one. Watch out for bell clappers for instance.

Take a look here under critical conditions to reassure yourself that urgent veterinary intervention may be necessary (these symptoms apply to all birds, not just ‘tiels)

Vitamin A/Beta Carotene may help produce some improvement if this is related to a deficiency. It's certainly not going to hurt to try.

However, it must be administered with natural food sources if done at home.

Vitamin A is most ideally received from natural foods like sweet potatoes, yams, carrots, squash and other dark colored vegetables. If your bird doesn’t care for fresh vegetables, a ½ teaspoon of natural baby food (human baby food) of any of these vegetables. Again, it must be all natural and nothing but the vegetable with water sufficient for processing.

If this were my bird, yes, I'd see a vet about this. If for no other reason than to know I did everything I could - and in a best case scenario, this might be something treatable and able to overcome.

You've done an excellent job in getting him to this age. I wish you only the best

Customer: replied 8 years ago.

Thank you for this info.


1. Do you know which of the vegetables would he be most likely to want when he feels bad?


2. Secondly if fresh veggies, should they be cooked or raw?


3. How would I get him to eat baby food if he won't eat the real veggies?


4. He has only ever eaten seed and millet so is your best guess a deficiency or old age?


5. What are the symptoms of old age?



I've found that a favorite with many birds is sweet potatoes. You can mix in a dab of applesauce - it helps make it even more convincing to those birds who like sweet foods.

When it comes to veggies, gosh, it's really a hard call. I have one bird that took more than a year to try a raw carrot! I persisted, gave her carrots in every way, shape and form regularly - until the one day she actually a small, baby carrot raw.

I've tried shredded, partially cooked, fully cooked, over-cooked, sliced, diced and julienned. I'm nothing if not determined.

Overall though - the baby food wins every time. Stick to the orange colors and add the applesauce as needed, or mashed banana.

As for #'s 4 & 5, the symptoms you're seeing are often seen with old age, but they usually come on slowly and increase over time. If he were 10 years old or younger I'd be "sure" this was a deficiency at the very least with possible tumor(s) and likely liver disease given a seed and millet only diet.

At 17, while it's still likely to be these things, "old age" is added and could be the sole reason for the symptoms. It's not likely, but it's possible.

An elderly bird sleeps more, moves around a bit less and may have arthritic changes, almost exactly like humans do, but it also comes on nearly the same too.

I'd still see a vet about this, if for nothing else than to be sure - and to discuss options, including pain relief meds if applicable.

Only a hands on exam will really know

And I'm here every day (though my hours are not always the same) so if you need support through this, in any way I can, I'm hopeful I can help

Customer: replied 8 years ago.

When I accept will I be able to reach you again? If yes, how?


Another couple things I forgot to tell you, this issue only arose over the last 2-3 days, when he gets upset that when I'm moving something around in his cage (of course to make life easier for him) he squaws a lot and moves around just fine not appearing off balance, in fact he even flew upstairs twice today when I took him out to change things around, after which he was breathing heavily for a bit but seemed recover fine. Since he is restless and can't seem to balance steadily I wonder if he's not able to sleep and therefore exhausted. Does any of this help you with a diagnosis

Yes - you can reach me any time and you do not have to press accept again on this question - I'll be happy to follow up with you as often as you'd like

All you have to do is press 'reply' or 're open' this question on your account page. If you ever have a problem with the 'reply' or 're open' option, just notify a moderator by emailing [email protected] and they will gladly help you

Of course no one can make a diagnosis under any circumstances online, but we can often help guide you based on your description of symptoms and our experience with birds and similar symptoms

If there's one thing to keep in mind about birds is that they are masters at hiding their illnesses, weaknesses and problems. This is called "masking" and it explains how some birds will seem very sick for days, or even just for a matter of hours, then apparently recover or improve --- only to have what looks like a relapse that's even worse.

What's really happening is that they are finding the strength to "mask" - to hide their symptoms and act perfectly normal. Right down to singing, talking, game playing, everything they usually do.

Masking is hard wired to birds because in nature, the slightest sign of acting 'off' would make them instant targets of multiple preditory animals, sometimes even their own kind or flock mates!

I know how you feel and how you're hoping that there's any other explanation for this rather than his being very ill. I'm right there with you in hoping it's a simple nutritional deficiency and perhaps a modification, a boost of vitamin A in his diet will make all the difference you need.

But, 17 years is an old parakeet - and a lifetime of seeds is like a human spending their life eating nothing but ice cream and candy. It's amazing he didn't have other problems until now. You (and he) have been very lucky

Until having him seen, by all means try helping him sleep more, get some good food into him and keep him as comfortable as you have been doing.

You have some very good instincts - and honestly, it shows.

I'll be back on tomorrow/Friday. Let me know how he's doing

August Abbott, CAS and 2 other Bird Specialists are ready to help you
Customer: replied 8 years ago.

Good morning, Jack is still about the same this morning. I just found a vet open who does handle birds. Of course they are booked so it would be an emergency visit but hopefully they can help.


I am going to get some baby food as you suggested but I am wondering how I feed this to him. Should I: 1)Put it in a dish and try to lead him to it but if he steps in it, it will be a mess. 2) hold a spoonful in front of him, but thinking that may spook him, 3) put a little on top of his seed and hope he finds it?


Lastly how much do I ive him at once, 1/2 tablespoon or more?

I'm glad to hear he's still with us although unchanged.

Just like with a baby, try whatever you need to get him to take some food. Pretend to take a taste yourself and then offer him some right from the spoon - eventually putting it down on a little, shallow plate of his own.

Dip a piece of banana into it and then offer him the banana. Try mashing some banana together with sweet potato and a dab of applesauce for a very unique, tempting 'mush'

Sprinkle his favorite seed mix lightly over the top and gently push some into the food

If he likes it, eating a teaspoon a day is fine for this size bird.

Keep checking back ok? I've gotton rather attached to him !

----remember - do not press accept again on this one ---------
Customer: replied 8 years ago.

I really wish I knew your name, seems like you're a friend already here to be on this momentary journey with me. I did take Jack to the vet today and they said more than likely it is a tumor pressing on a nerve causing pain in his left leg. (of course one of the very options you mentioned.) His weight was only 28 when a healthy parakeet should be about 35. The comparison the Dr gave was Jack was like a 110 year old ill person who weighs about 90 lbs. He said he would need to take blood to run tests and an xray to confirm but he said Jack was too frail and by drawing the blood now there was a 30% chance he would die. He spoke of antiboitics, syringe feeding to put some weight on him but more than likely since he was in bad shape it may not work. So when I asked the Dr. if it made more sense to put him to sleep so he wouldn't suffer he agreed it was the best thing for him. I spent some sweet time with Jack for the last 5 hour we were in the vet. Even though he wasn't feeling well he was comforted to sit under my chin and rest most of that time. It was hard to say goodbye because he was a special little guy and brought a lot of joy in our home for so many years. Of course I have been crying now for about 1.5 hours but I know it's part of life and maybe when I get to heaven he will welcome me there! I will miss his chirps and squawking (especially during conference calls when my employees have a hard time hearing me over him :)) but at least I know he is not suffering for sure! Thank you so much for all of your time & help since late last night. To be honest I was extremely skeptical of websites taking peoples money and giving nothing in return but I have to say, you made this journey so much easier and I will highly recommend this site to anyone in need!


If you are a praying person, please pray for my friend Koral next door and her missing dog Dasher. He got loose somehow last Monday from her MIL's home and is lost. In fact Dasher's mom is my Shih-Tzu Mango's baby! It's like loosing a grandbaby to some extent! In fact this has been a very emotional week for us all!


Thank you again and God bless! Have a wonderful holiday weekend! Brenda

Brenda, my name is August. I'm deeply sorry for how this turned out and yes, while Jack is at peace and (I believe) flying free in eternity, the pain you are left in is excruciating for a while.

It gets better as time passes, but this is little comfort right now.

You did all the right things, you know? It's important that you don't second guess yourself - which is going to be easy to do over the next many days. When that starts, come right back here and I'll do my best to reassure you.

I am sincerely sorry for what you're going through - and yes, a rather praying person, I'm a (real) minister, ordained and with a doctorate, retired now, but managing my animal rescue org as a ministry.

You have my prayers and my promise that God will give you the strength to get through this time, as long as you let Him

----------- remember, do not press 'accept' again on this question so you won't be charged any further ----------

Customer: replied 8 years ago.

Hey August,


Thanks so much for your response! I am ok and like you said I'll have moments here and there, but I am not blaming myself at all. I believe Jack had a very nice life for his 17 years with us and I'm just so glad he is out there feeling great today!! Thanks for your prayers for my friends dog, I still hope somehow he is returned to her, but if not that he is safe and sound somewhere.


Take care and thanks again for all you do to help others in need. It is truly a wonderful ministry you have!


God Bless, Brenda