Budgies can usually swallow food whole without choking, but sometimes things get lodged in the throat. If your budgie gags for a long time or can’t seem to breathe, you should provide immediate assistance.
To help a choking budgie, determine if it’s choking on liquid or a solid object. Food, toys, and other objects can be dislodged by holding the budgie upside down.
If it’s liquid or you’re unsure of the blockage, massage its keel bone (ridge on the sternum) to stimulate its regurgitation instincts. Never give a budgie the Heimlich maneuver or force it to drink water.
You may need to take your budgie to the vet, where an endoscopy or nebulization can be performed to identify the source and location of the blockage.
Why Is My Budgie Gagging?
When a budgie gags, it can have three possible meanings:
These can look the same for an inexperienced owner, but they have different meanings.
Regurgitation is a part of food sharing and breeding behavior, occurring when a budgie:
- Bobs its head up and down in a pumping action
- Opens its beak
- Purposefully expels partly digested food
Vomiting appears more like a flicking of the head. The budgie can often appear unhappy, restless, or anxious. While the head-bobbing can resemble regurgitation, it’s usually more of a shaking. This manifests in a splattered, sticky fluid that may contain food.
If your budgie looks like it’s trying to regurgitate but appears distressed and agitated, it could be choking.
What To Do If My Budgie Is Choking
When you find your budgie choking, give it a few seconds to recover unassisted.
Remain calm and give your budgie reassurance. Panicking or acting flustered will only worry your budgie, making an unaided resolution less likely.
Interfering too soon can stress a budgie and cause more choking. If the choking seems to last longer than a few seconds, you should provide help.
Do your utmost to determine if your budgie is choking on a solid object, such as food, wood, or plastic.
These are the most likely objects for a budgie to choke on. If you saw it playing with a toy or eating nuts just before this happened, it’s likely the cause of the problem.
That’s further validated if the budgie isn’t coughing up liquid, or the gagging sound it makes doesn’t suggest that any watery substance is responsible.
However, if the budgie is choking on water, you should hear a wet sound and see it spitting up liquid. It should cough it up in a short while, so leave it alone.
Here’s what to do if a budgie is choking:
- Choking on a solid object: Hold the budgie upside down. This will open its jaw, so your budgie will naturally expel the object.
- Choking on liquid: Keep it right-side-up and don’t intervene.
- Unsure: Keep it right-side-up. Gently massage its keel bone, or take steps to stimulate a regurgitation response.
Hold Budgie Upside Down
A budgie will relax its jaw when upside down.
As it hacks and coughs, this will contract the muscles in its throat, pushing the object forward. Gravity will assist by dragging the object down and out rather than remaining caught in the middle of being swallowed further.
This is the right option if the budgie is choking on food or other solid objects.
However, if your budgie is choking on liquid, holding it upside down can cause further choking. The water or fluid can even flow into its air sacs.
Rub The Keel Bone
With fluids, a budgie can clear its throat unassisted if given enough time. Use the keel bone technique if you’re unsure what your budgie is choking on.
The keel bone is an extension of the sternum and runs perpendicular to a budgie’s ribcage. Rubbing the keel bone will help expel the object by stimulating the airway as coughing does.
Lightly press and massage its keel bone. Too much pressure can end up bruising or hurting them. The keel shouldn’t be pushed too hard since it’s a bone, not a muscle.
Carefully hold the beak with your fingers and mimic the head-bobbing motion you see when your budgie is about to regurgitate. This will encourage it to bring up the object or water.
The budgie may resist being held and restricted, so only do this as a last resort.
No Drinking Water
Humans and mammals instinctively reach for water when choking, but this isn’t suitable for birds.
If your budgie is choking on solid food, you should not force it to drink water. It can inhale the water and drown, so be sure to remove any water sources in the area.
No Heimlich Maneuver
The Heimlich maneuver can stop asphyxiation in mammals, but this isn’t the case for birds.
The Heimlich technique should never be attempted on a budgie. This method can kill a budgie since its respiratory system differs significantly from mammals.
Parakeets don’t have a diaphragm, which is the muscle that contracts to allow air in and out again. This means they do not have a muscle you can push on to create outward air pressure.
Instead, you’re more likely to break their keel bone.
In severe cases, you may need to take your budgie to the vet for an endoscopy, which involves the insertion of a narrow tube with a camera.
During severe choking, it is possible that your budgie experienced some internal damage to its respiratory system or esophagus.
Nebulization involves using an abdominal air sac tube to allow your budgie to breathe while the vet removes the obstruction.
Do Budgies Choke?
It’s rare for a budgie to choke on food or water because budgies have throats and airways designed to avoid choking.
According to Respiration Physiology, the avian trachea is larger and more elongated than the mammalian trachea. This allows birds to swallow large chunks of food without it getting stuck.
Budgies don’t have an epiglottis to cover their trachea or teeth or mastication (chewing) muscles. Instead, they use their tongue and grooved mouth to move food down the esophagus.
However, if the budgie eats something too large or oddly shaped, it can get stuck. That’s why birds often use their beak to break food into smaller pieces.
You’ll regularly see budgies shelling their seeds before eating them whole. Ripping apart soft fruit or angling a strip of a vegetable with their beak before swallowing is also common. However, if the chunk of food a budgie tries to swallow is too big for its throat, it can choke.
According to Watchbird, chicks can choke when hand-fed meals. Their food will be soft and difficult to cough back up. It can spill out if the crop becomes overfull, suffocating the chick.
How To Tell If A Budgie Is Choking
Coughing and choking look similar since both are an attempt to clear the breathing pathway.
A cough can often sound like a soft chirp. Light choking can be mistaken for a cough, especially if your budgie can clear its throat without third-party assistance.
However, severe choking is usually unmistakable.
Here are the signs of a budgie choking:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Bobbing its head while wheezing
- Gasping for breath
- Extending its neck back and forth
- Scratching its beak or throat
- Appearing distressed
- Flapping its wings
Pay close attention if your budgie starts choking, as you need to determine if it’s choking on water or a solid object. Holding it upside down works if it’s choking on food or a piece of toy.