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Ask S. August Abbott, CAS Your Own Question
S. August Abbott, CAS
S. August Abbott, CAS, Certified Avian Specialist
Category: Bird
Satisfied Customers: 9078
Experience:  Work w/Avian Vet; published bird care nutrition& behavior articles; consults, research
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My african grey parrot is chewing his claws, his name clive

Customer Question

my african grey parrot is chewing his claws
JA: I'll do all I can to help. Strange behavior is often perplexing. I'm sure the Veterinarian can help you. What is the gray's name and age?
Customer: his name clive and i dont no his age because we found him in swansea 15 years ago
JA: What is the gray's name?
Customer: his names clive and i dont no his age we found him 15 years ago in swansea
JA: Is there anything else the Veterinarian should be aware of about the gray?
Customer: no never been ill before
Submitted: 7 months ago.
Category: Bird
Expert:  oleksandrav-mod replied 7 months ago.
I've been working hard to find a Professional to assist you with your question, but sometimes finding the right Professional can take a little longer than expected.
I wonder whether you're ok with continuing to wait for an answer. If you are, please let me know and I will continue my search. If not, feel free to let me know and I will cancel this question for you.
Thank you!
Expert:  S. August Abbott, CAS replied 7 months ago.

I am August Abbott, Certified Avian Specialist and owner of Broken Birds Sanctuary here in CA. I have no idea how your question didn't get answered sooner (sometimes the site has a glitch that annoys the experts as much as the customer since we have no control over these things)

Grey’s have a tendency to develop what can only be described as allergic reactions. Just like in people, these can manifest in various ways, some obvious and others less so. Chewing on their feet and/or feathers is just one of the symptoms of possible allergic reaction. Let's look at a host more of what can 'go wrong' with an A G
There are different possible causes (of allergic reactions) - NOTE that the first section about respiratory symptoms do not currently apply, but are worth knowing about .
Rhinitis (inflammation of the nares/nostrils). There would likely be a nasal discharge involved that may be clear, cloudy or yellowish; thick or thin. The underlying cause may be anything from viral to bacterial or fungal. It could also be a reaction to a foreign object, which could be as common as dust or other bird’s feathers/dander.
Our blue & gold macaw (Sadie) has this condition flare up twice a year during high pollen counts. It’s especially common in macaws, greys and amazons. The discharge may harden (rhinoliths) and if not (gently) wiped away regularly, it may plug the nares and cause several other severely complicated health issues.
If you do see any crusting or blockage, use a soft, warm, moist cloth to gently wipe the nares clear.
Another possibility is infection of the air sacs (air sacculitis). While symptoms for this generally include coughing, wheezing and labored breathing, it can be more subtle very early on. It’s often more noticeable after the bird does something strenuous (like a flight). Treatment would depend on the infection (fungal, bacterial or viral).
When there is any respiratory distress in a bird, veterinary intervention to determine the source of the problem is necessary. If your bird is having normal droppings, is not fluffing, losing balance or sitting at the bottom of the cage, and is eating/drinking normally, it is probably not an emergency; however, it is something that should be seen within 24-48 hours (the sooner, the better).


If along with respiratory problems you do notice the bird fluffing and preferring to be at the bottom of the cage – or even in one area of the cage, not moving much on their perch – this is an urgent care situation.

In the meantime, as well as keeping the (nostrils) clear try installing a vaporizer (as opposed to a humidifier) in the room. The hot steamy air can be helpful on many levels of health and comfort.


Vacuuming instead of just sweeping or dusting, needs to be done daily. It might sound like a lot of work, but when done on a regular basis it’s really not so bad. I do it twice a day to help one of the permanent residents, a wonderful macaw with acute allergies. She’s improved quite noticeably with these efforts.


Calcium Deficiency Disorder is rather common in African Grey’s. It’s not that they need more calcium than any other bird (though this is a popular myth), they seem to have more severe reactions to lower calcium levels than many other birds.
You may see imbalance, falling, what appears to be fainting and even seizures. Sometimes feather destruction and/or biting their feet, itching/scratching are what you'll see early on
It’s not suggested that you use calcium supplements since over dosing on calcium is also a possibility that will produce dangerous results.
The first thing you should do is have a vet check your bird’s BCL (blood calcium level).

With avians, blood calcium levels are deceptive. They will often fall within the normal range (8.0 - 13.0 mg/dl), so an ionized calcium level needs to be done.

If it’s low, the vet may offer options. Your own options are to feed a pellet diet for the most part of the bird’s nutritional needs. Supplement fresh foods with higher calcium foods like almonds, natural cheese, natural yogurt and even offering a (cooked) chicken leg with a bit of the meat left on it (no skin, no spices). There’s something a bit curious about watching a parrot snap a chicken bone and expertly dig out the marrow with their tongue.

You can also give an original formulation Tums, although I’ve never had to do this. ½ tab a day or every other day. Some birds eat these like it’s a treat. The fruit flavored types are fine as well, but be sure it’s nothing more than an antacid (calcium) product. You don’t want aspirin or other drugs added.

In order to properly process calcium in their system, birds need adequate D vitamins too. Ideally this is from natural sunlight, but these days with more energy efficient windows, much of the UVA and UVB rays are blocked.


A full spectrum light bulb in the area of your bird for at least two hours a day is a good idea. Not all full spectrum light-bulbs are necessarily the same. It’s best to buy one made specifically for birds and keep in mind that though the light might come on, after many months the efficiency may be down.


I replace them once a year. If you consider it a lightbulb, it’s expensive; but, if you remind yourself it’s a piece of the sun and a health product for your bird - it’s a bargain.


You can see more about Calcium, D, and more here


Heavy metal ingestion might also be behind this symptom

Have your vet perform a blood serum test for zinc levels (just in case your vet isn’t an avian vet, zinc levels over 2 ppm are positive for zinc toxicity). There will also likely be elevated WBC’s (white blood count).

Zinc 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.

Metal toxicity (lead, zinc being most commonly found). Quick links, cage bars, even professionally supplied toys, depending on where they're manufactured, may contain lead and/or zinc. It's frightening to learn how many sources of zinc there are in any household. If anything in your bird's environment is magnetic, it may be a toxic metal.

X-rays should also be employed to rule out toxic ingestion of foreign object.

An approximately one week stay at the vet for monitoring and treatment is generally necessary. Administration of a chelating agent such as DMSA (dimercaptosuccinic acid) to help bind with the zinc is one option for treatment, as well as removal of foreign object (if any).
Calcium EDTA and D-Penicillamine injections may also be employed as deemed necessary and appropriate by your medical caregiver.
The survival rate with early and proper treatment is actually very good.

And then there's food. IF the bird is on a largely seed diet, not only might we see this symptom, but you may be dealing with early signs of liver failure from hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver)

It’s generally recommended that most of today’s companion birds have a predominantly pelleted diet. Pellets have been continually updated since being introduced to the market years ago and today’s formulas are better than ever.

Supplementing this diet with fresh foods every day is ideal and many owners find they can re-introduce seeds - in limited amounts (perhaps once or twice a week) without the bird refusing the pellets overall.

Even though this is a cockatiel site, the information is still applicable to your Grey cites feeding both seed and pellets, but only after weaning the ‘tiel from a mostly seed diet.

Whole grains, dark leafy vegetables, fruits and legumes. Include the colors orange, yellow , green, plus reds too! Think sweet potatoes/yams, squash, melons, oranges, peas, chard, beets and others.
Brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat couscous and natural, whole grain pastas are great choices.
Limit fats, especially the kind from animals. Good fats are most plant fats like soy, olive and canola oils. No fried anything
Another thing you can try is all natural, human baby food. Stick to the orange colors.
They can be mixed with tiny pasta or rice, whole grain bread or toast - remember, be more creative than the bird is stubborn.
As odd as it sounds, birds don’t need much, if any vitamin C. It is a water soluble vitamin which means it passes out of the body after the body takes what it needs and C is available in a wide variety of both fresh and processed foods given to birds.
Vitamin A/Beta Carotene, on the other hand, is frequently found to be deficient in birds. This is a fat soluble vitamin which means it gets stored in the fat cells of the body, so it’s possible to overdose on it. With our companion birds though, too little is the situation most often encountered.
The symptoms a bird will show when deficient are increased allergic reactions, respiratory/sinus infections, reproductive problems, skin and feather disorders, even cysts and tumors, as well as various intestinal complications.
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.

--- Nutritional Overview

I know this sounds like a lot of things that can be associated with this behavior - but with birds one symptom rarely points to one causation.

Do you think you can work with this?