Basics of Parakeet Care

Kelly Roper
Contributor: Mychelle Blake
Pet parakeet eating millet

Knowing how to care for a parakeet is essential for its lifespan and health. Parakeets, also known as budgerigars, are one of the most popular pet birds. According to South Coast Pet Hospital, these little beauties can live as long as 15 to 18 years, but you have to give them excellent care for them to live that long. With the right parakeet care inclusive of diet, environment, and routine veterinary care, you can enjoy a long relationship with your little feathered friend.

A Healthy Parakeet Diet

Seed mix used to be the standard diet for parakeets, but there have been a lot of advances in avian nutrition over the last few decades. Your parakeet needs a varied diet in order to receive rounded nutrition.

Pellets

Pellets are a combination of proteins, seeds, grains, vegetables, and fruits that are ground up and baked into uniform shapes. Unlike seed mixes where a parakeet can choose just the seeds he likes and leave the rest behind, pellets provide rounded nutrition with every bite. Birds eat throughout the day, so keep about two tablespoons of pellets available, and replenish them whenever they run low.

Whenever possible, choose natural color pellets instead of pellets that contain artificial coloring, and be sure to choose the right size pellets for your pet, Brands like Roudybush offer pellets sized for parakeets and a variety of other species.

Basic parakeet seed mix; © Cpaulfell | Dreamstime.com

Seed Mix

Parakeet mixes usually contain a blend of white and red millet, oat groats, and other seeds and grains. They are good for your pet, but not as a sole diet, so feed about a teaspoon daily.

Egg Food

Dried egg food is available at most pet supply stores. However, you can boil an egg for your bird at home, and mash it up with the shell to provide a little extra protein and calcium. Serve about one teaspoon of dried or cooked egg about twice a week.

Assorted Fruits and Vegetables

According to Doctors Foster and Smith, the list of safe fruits and vegetables is long since parakeets can eat nearly anything that people do, with some important exceptions. Here is a partial list that will offer your pet plenty of variety. Note that these foods are typically chopped fine for a bird this small, and you can combine these foods in any combination your bird likes. Plan to offer about one tablespoon daily.

  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Blueberries
  • Carrots
  • Cucumbers
  • Green beans
  • Kale
  • Papaya
  • Peaches
  • Peas
  • Peppers, sweet and hot
  • Radicchio
  • Sprouts
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Swiss Chard

Be sure that all fresh foods are washed before chopping and remove any uneaten food within a few hours so your bird doesn't eat it after it begins to spoil.

Foods to Avoid

According to Christal Pollock, DVM, certain foods should never be fed to parakeets because they are widely considered toxic.

  • Apple seeds
  • Avocado
  • Chocolate
  • Fruit pits
  • Onions
  • Garlic

Sugary or salty junks foods should also be avoided.

Minerals

Parakeets also need minerals for their bones and feathers, and hens that lay eggs need to replace their calcium. Although pellet mixes include minerals, you can also hang a mineral block and a cuttlebone on the side of your pet's cage so he can chew on them.

Note that parakeets don't need grit in their diet since they remove the hulls from any seeds that they eat.

Proper Parakeet Habitat

The right cage, placed in a draft-free area out of direct sunlight, will provide an adequate home for your pet.

Minimum Size

Parakeets benefit from living in a roomy cage. South Coast Animal Hospital recommends you provide your pet with a cage that is no less than 18" L x 18" W x 18" H. Even better, give him a cage that is 30" L x 18" W x 18" H so he has more room to fly. You can even provide him with a larger flight cage if you have room for one, as long as the bar spacing isn't too large.

Parakeet and cage with proper bar spacing

Bar Spacing

Parakeets should be housed in cages with bar spacing that is no wider than half an inch. Any larger than this and your pet may be able to push his head through and become trapped or even injured.

Floor Grate

Ideally, the cage should also have a floor grate. The grate keeps your parakeet from walking through his droppings, and it will also keep him from shredding the cage lining.

Cage Lining

Newspaper is the least expensive lining you can use on the bottom of your pet's cage underneath the floor grate. Your pet's droppings will fall on the liner, and you can simply take out the paper and throw it away every few days. You can purchase more expensive liners at any pet supply store, but newspaper is safe and cheap.

Cleaning Schedule

A clean cage will help your pet remain healthy, and the following schedule will help keep you on track.

  • Clean the food and water containers daily and change the water whenever you notice it has been soiled.
  • Replace the soiled cage lining every two to three days, or more often if needed.
  • Plan to wash the cage tray once a week with a mix of water and vinegar, and dry it with paper towels before putting the cage back together. Wipe down the cage bars and perches as well.

Cage Accessories

Cages typically come with food and water dishes, but there are some accessories you should consider adding.

  • Extra perches: Parakeets need perches that are roughly 1/2 to one inch in diameter, but having perches of slightly varying diameters provides exercise for their feet. Consider manzanita perches for longer use, and perhaps one cement perch to help wear down your bird's nail tips.
  • A swing: Many cages include a swing, but you should add one if your pet's cage doesn't have one. Swings can be very basic, but many swings come with attached toys or chew items.
  • A water bottle: Many parakeets will soil their water dishes with their food and their droppings. Consider adding a water bottle with a small drinking tube. This will give your pet a clean source of water at all times, but make sure you actually see him drink from it.
  • A bathing tub: Most birds really love to bathe, and they especially love to do it after you've refilled their water dish. If you want to try to keep your pet's water cleaner, try offering him a birdie bathtub first thing in the morning.

Parakeet Enrichment

Parakeets are highly intelligent, and boredom causes stress. You can enrich your parakeet's environment by adding bird-safe toys to his cage, and there is an almost unlimited supply of them available in pet supply stores and online. Keep extra toys on hand so you can rotate them occasionally and renew your pet's interest.

Parakeet in a cage next to a toy; © Galina Khoroshman | Dreamstime.com

Favorites include:

  • Shredding toys: Parakeets love toys they can shred, such as toys made from yucca or wood.
  • Foraging toys: These are toys that you can fill with appropriate food treats that your parakeet must find and dig out of the toy.
  • Bell toys: These are another favorite, but be sure to only purchase toys with bird-safe bells. These bells are tubular, and the clacker is concealed well within so it doesn't pose a choking hazard.

Your pet's toys will also need to be clean whenever he soils them.

Handling Your Parakeet

You should give your parakeet some time to adjust to his new home before attempting to handle him.

  1. Cover half of his cage with a cage cover or a towel or blanket.
  2. Allow him about 48 hours to destress and relax. Avoid hanging out around his cage during that time.
  3. However, do not keep him isolated as you want him to get used to activity in the home. An area where people are often such as a living room is a good choice.
  4. Your next step depends on whether your bird is trained to climb onto your fingers or not.

If Your Parakeet Is Finger-Trained

  1. If he is already comfortable moving onto your hand, gently place your hand in the cage underneath your bird.
  2. Place your fingers by the parakeet's feet and he should move onto them if he's been trained to do.
  3. You can also ask him to "step up" which may have been used when training him.

If Your Parakeet Is Not Used to Being Handled

  1. It helps to have a tasty treat that parakeets enjoy such as a strand of millet. You can use fruit or other treats but the benefit of the millet is that it is long and puts some distance between you and the bird which is less stressful for him. Add the millet to his cage with a clip-on holder.
  2. Gently place your hand in the cage well underneath the bird. Do this until the bird is not disturbed by your presence, which could take a few days.
  3. Once he seems relaxed with your hand in the cage, take the spray of millet in your hand and hold it up for him to eat.
  4. Move your hand slowly closer to him from under him. If he becomes stressed move your hand back down.
  5. If he is eating the millet and seems calm, bring your hand up to the branch he is standing on. If he stresses out, stop and move your hand back down.
  6. If he is calm, slowly and gently move your index finger up against his legs and underneath, so that he'll need to move up onto your finger. You can place the millet next to your finger to entice him.
  7. You can add in the "step up" cue once he is reliably moving onto your finger.
  8. Birds respond very well to clicker training so you can add in a click and treat each time he is relaxed by your presence and when he moves up onto your finger.

Taking Your Parakeet Out of His Cage

If your parakeet is comfortable climbing on your finger, you can slowly bring him out of his cage.

  • As with finger training if he becomes stressed slow down and give him time to adjust.
  • If your bird's wings are not clipped, you may want to have your veterinarian do this before bringing him out of the cage to prevent him from moving about your house and getting caught or accessing a place with unsafe items or pets.
  • Have a place for him to settle outside the cage. PetSmart recommends a t-stand or parakeet play area.

Keeping Your Parakeet Safe

Birds can stress out easily and can have a reaction to many toxins in your home. Follow these tips to keep your parakeet safe:

  • Do not get saliva onto your bird, such as trying to kiss it. Our saliva is actually poisonous to birds.
  • Clean his cage often as a dirty cage can affect his health.
  • Do not place his cage where he might feel a draft and keep him someplace that's about room temperature.
  • Do not use anything in an aerosol can around your bird which can be bad for his lungs.
  • Keep him away from your kitchen area as anything with Teflon on it can be toxic when used for cooking near the bird can breathe in the fumes.
  • Make sure you use size-appropriate toys where there is no risk of choking or getting wrapped up on your bird.
  • If your bird's wings are not clipped, be careful about bringing him out of his cage so he does not fly away from you or find himself landing around your other pets or outside.
  • Make sure your windows have secure screens. Free-flying birds are also at risk of crashing into a window or hurt by a ceiling fan.
  • Another item to keep your birds away from is electrical cords which can be enticing for chewing on.
  • Flying birds can also drown in your toilet, so keep your seats down when your bird is outside of his cage.

Health Care for Your Parakeet

Parakeets can be delicate birds that can suffer from diseases as well as come into contact with toxic items in your home. Recognizing the signs of illness is critical to getting them necessary medical care before they become sicker or even die.

Vet Check

When you bring your parakeet home, schedule a veterinary appointment right away for a check-up, and try to use a board-certified avian vet if you can. The vet will assess your pet's current health and likely perform gram stains to check for diseases. It's especially important to have your pet checked for a disease called psittacosis because people can contract this illness from their birds.

After this initial exam, your pet should have a well-visit checkup each fall and spring.

Quarantine

If you have other birds, you should quarantine your new parakeet for a minimum of 30 days unless your vet says it's safe to integrate your new pet into your flock. Quarantining prevents the spread of viruses and harmful bacteria. Always wash your hands after caring for a quarantined parakeet before you attend to the rest of your flock.

Signs of Illness

Birds usually don't show signs of being sick until they are seriously ill, and one may actually be dying before you notice something is wrong. Nevertheless, it's still important to recognize signs that your pet is sick, injured, or infested with parasites so you can take him to the vet as soon as possible.

Some major signs of illness include:

  • Staying asleep for long periods during the day
  • Remaining on the bottom of the cage
  • Discharge from the eyes, nose or mouth
  • Sneezing
  • Labored breathing
  • Drooping wings
  • Bleeding
  • Lameness
  • Lethargy
  • Swelling on any part of the body
  • Wet vent
  • Changes in the droppings or onset of an unusually foul odor
  • Frequent scratching and head rubbing

Grooming for Parakeets

Parakeets require a little regular grooming to keep them in good shape. You can perform some of these tasks yourself, but you might want to ask your vet for help with any kind of trimming.

  • Mist your bird with warm water several times a week to help keep his feathers in good condition.
  • Trim the tips of his nails about once a month or any time they look overgrown.
  • Ask your vet to trim the beak if it becomes overgrown.
  • Wing trimming is optional, and a bit controversial. However, it can help prevent injury or loss in some situations. Discuss it with your vet to get his or her opinion on the subject.

Taking Care of Parakeets

Parakeets may be little birds, but they are just as big of a responsibility as any other pet. Caring for parakeets requires attention and dedication. Make sure you are ready to provide for all of your pets needs before you bring him home. Remember, you're making about a 15-year commitment to giving him the best home possible.

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Basics of Parakeet Care