Revised May 21, 2022
So, what can you do to help your hand-reared pet manage its stress and anxiety? There is hope of calming a parrot down with the help of a few evidence based-strategies. These include creating optimum parrot husbandry conditions to reduce physical and emotional stress, ramping up behavior modification efforts to shape the behaviors that you’d like to see and implementing an avian calming formula into your care system.
As mentioned earlier, caring for exotic pets can be difficult since their bodies have not adapted to domestic home environments, so you have to consciously make accommodations to help meet their needs. When a parrots physical and emotional needs are inadequately met, it may feel physical and emotional discomfort. Imagine how a combination of stressors, such as an inadequate diet, not enough sleep, inability to exercise, not enough socialization and no sunlight can result in a stress response in your pet. Make it a point to arrange your pets environment to meet its needs.
Let’s review some of these needs:
PHYSIOLOGICAL NEEDS: Parrots have a variety of highly specialized physiological systems which are adapted for flight and life in the rainforest. These include everything from their bone structure to their skin, feather structure and health, foot, beak and eye structure to a highly adapted breathing system.
Related Blog Series: Parrot Plucking Series
ENRICHMENT NEEDS: We already know how highly intelligent parrots are. Scientists have uncovered that our avian friends have a highly sophisticated brain structure, which, while different from mammals, performs the same functions. Parrots need a wide variety of daily activities to maintain a healthy brain. Neuroscience tells us that brains rely on physical exercise, healthy brain foods, and brain workouts for optimum functioning. Brain workouts include novel activities, foraging for food, problem-solving activities, auditory, visual, kinesthetic and other enrichment activities, and healthy, non-sexualized socialization to thrive in home environments.
PSYCHOLOGICAL / SOCIAL NEEDS: Piggy-backing from above, not only are parrots highly intelligent, but they are low on the food chain and they rely on their flock for safety throughout their entire life span. Imagine, then, being pulled from your parents, whose job it is to teach you about safety, then being hand-reared only to be acquired by a well-meaning care-taker who leaves you alone in a cage with a few toys and a bowl full of food. You can rest assured that this parrots brain has now become hardwired toward hyper-vigilance and anxiety.
Don’t worry, we can help you discover specifics about your individual parrots plucking or other behavioral patterns so that you can get a clear understanding of what triggers your parrots behavior, put a quantitative measure to the behavior in order to see improvements or regression, and rearrange the outcome of the behavior. accommodations to support your pet. What’s more, we can help you learn how to apply behavior modification techniques to actually improve the chances of turning your parrots anxiety around for the long-term. We’ll briefly discuss some strategies here but for targeted help with developing a behavior modification plan for your pet, get The Behavior Modification for Feather Picking Workbook. It will help you make sense of this proven, scientific approach to changing unwanted behavior.
First let's talk about natural parrot behaviors that may be “built in stress reducers” for your parrot. Make it a point to learn about natural parrot behaviors that can potentially replace your pets current ways of dealing with stress. The goal here is that you’re reinforcing behaviors that you enjoy and that come naturally to your pet. It’s a win-win situation when your parrot is rewarded for “acting like a parrot.”
You most likely acquired your parrot for its exotic qualities, many of which you’d like to enjoy. Reasons that people often cite for acquiring a parrot include their intelligence, how easy they are easy to train, how social they are along with talking abilities, their astonishing beauty and ability to fly, how they are easy to be around, and their long life span. Some of these qualities can result in maladaptive behaviors. An intelligent parrot may be more prone to stress and it’s easy to mis-train behaviors. Wild parrots communicate with screaming and these highly social birds can scream a lot! And, more! Behavior modification helps us shape these natural behaviors in a manner that can work in a domestic environment.
But, anything that you can do to reduce your pets stress will help to alleviate the intensity of its anxiety and develop a better understanding of its needs will be helpful. And, just as important, developing your behavior modification skills will give you the tools needed to change parrot behavior for the better, for good.
Keep in mind that there are a lot of myths and fallacies regarding parrot training, so sticking with a scientifically based program that is known to work is important. Simply put, the Law of Effect has been known since Aristotle observed it and it’s been effectively used with hundreds of species. It simply states that behavior is a function of its consequences. Here’s an image to help you understand better.
“Positive reinforcement is the process of increasing (a) behavior by delivering a consequence that tends to be something that the bird behaves to get. Food and attention are often highly motivating for parrots and they may speed behavior change. By positively reinforcing a desirable alternative behavior at the same time as ignoring an undesirable behavior you’ll increase behaviors that you want to see more of and decrease those that want to see less of.” Friedman, S.G. 2004. In other words, all behavior serves a purpose. Using these scientific strategies, you can even change innate behaviors like excessive screaming.
1. First things first - reinforce (reward) natural behaviors that you want to see more of.
What natural parrot behaviors do you enjoy or can you tolerate, that will allow your parrot to be a parrot? Keep in mind, that with a little behavior modification training, you can establish some effective strategies to reinforce the behaviors that you want to see more of while decreasing unwanted behaviors. Your bird can be nurtured using proper positive reinforcement techniques that psychologists have honed for companion-animal training. Encourage your parrot to behave in a manner that works well with your within your entire household. Here are some examples of common natural parrot behaviors that you can nurture:
The bird is simply doing what it has been taught to do when it experiences desired "consequences" such as attention, for a behavior.
Keep in mind that simply because your parrot is engaging in undesired behavior, that doesn’t mean that the parrot is inherently a bad or damaged bird. The bird is simply doing what it has been taught to do when it experiences desired "consequences" such as attention, for a behavior. Take plucking for instance. If your bird plucks in your presence and you attend to by approaching it, talking to it, spraying it or any other form of attention, than the bird learns, if I want attention, I’ve just got to mess with my feathers. In A-->B-->C→ this would look like:
Antecedent: bird wants attention
Behavior: Bird picks at feathers
Consequence: bird gets attention
“Behavior that works from the animal’s point of view is repeated and behavior that doesn’t work is modified or suppressed. For example, many parrots vocalize persistently because doing so has produced social reinforcers (human attention) in the past. The bird is a learner not a screamer.” Friedman, S.G. World Parrot Trust. Finding the consequence (what the parrot finds to be rewarding) that the parrot will work for is key. Make it a habit to reinforce the behaviors that you want to see more of.
3. Combine the above strategies with a reputable avian calming formula to kick start improvement for highly anxious parrots.
There are 4 main types of safe avian calming formulas you may choose from at the time this article was written, both over the counter supplements and prescription parrot anxiety medications. In terms of over the counter products, I’ll discuss the best avian calming formula supplement in more detail.
Loose Herbs and Chamomile Flowers are an excellent calming herb that support the relief of mild avian anxiety. Chamomile flowers may be brewed into a tea or served loose in the bowl. Chamomile, the mildest calming herb is the avian calming formula when first starting out to calm a parrot and for ongoing maintenance of a calmer mood. Keeping with dried herbs for calming parrot anxiety, UnRuffledRx Dried Herbs for Parrots combines 16 herbs that support avian health, 5 of which support calmness. We love this as one of the best avian calming formula’s for daily mood maintenance.
A second avian calming formula that is safe, affordable, effective and quite popular one with the active ingredient called L-Theanine. L-Theanine is a tasteless, water soluble calming agent that is found in green tea. The amazing thing about this calming formula is that, not only does it “take the edge off” of mild to moderate anxiety, but it also supports improved alertness. It works best taken with other amino acids. We recommend combining UnRuffledRx FeatheredUp! With UnRuffledRx Parrot Calming Formula. This over the counter combination is the best avian calming formula for acute or persistent parrot anxiety.
A high quality avian specific bird calming formula will have a lower concentration of the active ingredient than is that required to calm a cat or dog and be in a non-alcoholic base, such as vegetable glycerin.
Avian grade CBD Oil is another very popular product that supports avian calmness. Many pet owners have found that CBD can improve their birds health and wellness, especially feather pluckers and anxious, re-homed and rescue birds.
CBD oil comes in a "tinctures" come in formulations for people and all types of pets. But, birds have unique and sensitive body systems so make sure that you're using an avian specific formula.
It is suggested that you look for three things if you’re considering CBD as an Avian Calming Formula.
1. Look for a high quality avian specific formula that has a lower concentration of the active ingredient than that required to calm a cat or dog. After all, you’d not want to give your bird a product developed for a ten pound dog or risk organ damage by serving a product made with an alcohol base. “The rule, says veterinarian Angie Krause, is 0.5 milligrams of CBD for every kilogram of body weight.” So, translated, this would be 0.5 ml for a parrot weighing a 1,000 gm. (say a blue and gold macaw).
2. Find an Avian CBD Tincture that is tincture that is dissolved in a bird safe formulation. Stay clear from those dissolved with alcohol and opt for those dissolved with vegetable glycerine or another bird safe product.
3. Use a product that has a certificate of analysis. Since the CBD industry is currently not regulated, you’ll want to know that the product run has gone through a third party analysis that assesses what is actually in the product that you are purchasing .
As such, a CBD lab report is basically a means to provide an unbiased verification of what’s actually in the product that you’re buying.
According to Dan Ballou, “Third party simply means that the laboratories are separate entities that have no affiliation whatsoever with the brand that they’re testing, or with any other organization that is mandating specific results.” This is especially important with parrots
Birds readily take to a few drops of Avian Specific CBD mixed with moist food. Another way to administer this avian calming formula is to topically apply it to the skin. In addition to supporting a calmer demeanor, CBD may support pain relief, , immunity and it is rich in omega-3 fatty and omega-6 acids. It is quickly becoming one of the most popular avian calming formulas for common anxiety related behaviors such as aggression, screaming, biting, feather plucking and others. It has also shown promising benefits for mild through severe anxiety disorders, including self-mutilation.
Finally, several prescription grade parrot anxiety medications have shown successful outcomes in studies for the treatment of avian anxiety, including feather plucking behavior. We’d encourage you to contact an experienced avian veterinarian to discuss the latest options for supporting severe avian anxiety.
In conclusion, we've talked about how to tell if your parrot is stressed out, what causes maladaptive stress and important solutions to help your parrot manage its stress. We’ve also talked about the most popular and best avian calming formula products and introduced you to prescription grade products.
NOTE: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
How to tell if you're pet bird is stressed
Creating a Parrot Friendly Environment
CBD Oil vs. Tincture: What is the difference?
Cannabis for Pets: Beyond the Basics
Pharmacokinetics, Safety, and Clinical Efficacy of Cannabidiol Treatment in Osteoarthritic Dogs
Diane Burroughs, LCSW is a licensed psychotherapist trained in ABA therapy techniques. She specializes in avian anxiety disorders and is certified in Nutrition For Mental Health. Diane has written a number of bird behavior books and she offers behavior consultations. She's developed a range of UnRuffledRx Science-backed Parrot Wellness Supplies.
Diane's products have been featured in the Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery and at Exoticscon, a conference for exotic pet veterinarians. Her bird collars & supplements are stocked in avian vet clinics and bird stores throughout the US. With over 30 years in the field of behavior, Diane has created thousands of successful individualized behavior plans that help pets thrive.
TAGS: #BirdStress #BirdAnxiety #BirdCBD
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