Can parrots eat onions?
Onion is not safe for parrots.
Dogs, cats, guinea pigs, monkeys and other animals have all shown to be unable to cope with the sulfoxides that are found in onions, whether they are raw or cooked. It only takes a small amount of onion can cause toxicity effects in these animals.
The effect of onions on birds is not widely studied. (And frankly – would we want it to be? Absoultely not when it involves live birds being used in labs and animal experiments – something that very sadly and cruelly does continue to happen in other areas of scientific ‘research’).
However with the known toxicity that occurs in other species, and despite the differing anatomy of birds compared to mammals, it is simply common sense to not provide onions or any foods containing onion to parrots.
This includes dried and powdered onion or any other form, including shallots which are in the same family as onions.
We are yet to hear of an avian vet who says otherwise and likely never will. The risk is simply too great, and with so many safe foods to give to parrots, onions can and should be left off the list.
It’s not just onions – but pretty much anything in the family of plants that the familiar onion is in. That family is the Allium plant family and includes other foods you’ve heard of like shallots, leeks, chives and garlic (some people believe garlic is fine for parrots – we prefer to err on the side of caution and avoid garlic completely as well).
Pet Poison Control clearly states that all members of the Allium family are toxic to birds. They also note that toxicosis can occur from Allium plants can occur when only “0.5% of the animal’s body weight is ingested” – this is an exceptionally small amount for a parrot.
Avian and Exotics vet in Bedford Hills, NY notes that onions and garlic have caused deaths in geese and other birds. The veterinarian stresses that any form of onion – whether raw, cooked or dehydrated – is a massive risk to the red blood cells of birds and can cause rupturing of these cells.
In the paper Toxicology Brief: Allium species poisoning in dogs and cats, the author R.B. Cope (BSc, BVSc, PhD) states that “All Allium species and the products derived from them can be toxic to dogs and cats”. This points to Allium plants as having extremely strong properties, and while birds are not dogs or cats or mammals, we know from avian vet advice that onions are a bigno-no for parrots – and it is wise to apply this to the entire Allium plant family.
The author of that paper also states that “cooking or spoilage of Allium species does not reduce their potential toxicity” – therefore we should never think it’s OK to feed parrots cooked onion or other related plants either.
A common garden “weed” in some parts of the world is known as Onion Weed (Nothoscordum species), and it’s part of the wider Onion family (Amaryllidaceae), but not in the same genus as the familiar edible onions that people eat (which are in the genus Allium).
Other well known foods in the Allium genus include garlic and chives; which are also recommended not to be given to parrots (although some people believe that garlic is safe, but this is highly questionable and a risk that the majority of parrot owners intelligently don’t wish to take).
Onion weeds are a perennial herb, with the common one popping up in gardens being Nothoscordum inodorum. It is native to South America.
Onion weed produces many underground bulbs, which is why it easily spreads as a weed; as well as by seed.
Onion weed is sought after by wild cockatoos in Australia. Galahs, Little Corellas and Long-billed Corellas are well known for their love of onion weed; often digging through large patches of ground to access the bulbs. Clearly, this indicates that Onion Weed is not dangerous for wild parrots to eat.
Onion weed is relatively easy to identify. Although there are several species with the same common name, they generally look similar, with noticeably wide flat and long leaves, and white flowers.