Home | General Bird Care | Iodine Deficiency (Avian Goiter, Thyroid Hyperplasia) in Parrots, and Other Cage Birds

Iodine Deficiency (Avian Goiter, Thyroid Hyperplasia) in Parrots, and Other Cage Birds

Causes and Symptoms
Avian goiter or thyroid hyperplasia is most commonly caused by an iodine poor diet. The afflicted bird’s thyroid gland cannot produce enough thyroxine, and the brain responds by signaling the gland to increase the number of thyroxine-synthesizing cells. These additional cells cause the thyroid gland (located in the throat) to enlarge, which is the main symptom of the condition. The resulting goiter may be accompanied by vomiting, lethargy and difficulty in swallowing. Eventually, pressure upon the circulatory system and other complications may lead to the bird’s death.

Seed vs. Pellet Based Diets
Seed-eating birds, especially budgerigars (parakeets), are particularly susceptible to thyroid hyperplasia. Seeds vary, among species and locality grown, in iodine content and hence a seed-based diet may be fine in some cases but iodine-deficient in others. The surest way to prevent an iodine deficiency is to wean your pet onto a pellet based diet, with seeds being used as a supplemental food. Lafeber, ZuPreem, Pretty Bird and our other pelleted foods have been formulated to meet the specific nutritional requirements of a variety of bird species, and provide complete, balanced diets.

Iodine Supplementation
If your bird will not accept pellets, you might consider adding a preventative medication, such as Gimborn Iodine Solution, to the diet. Budgerigars seem to have rather high iodine requirements, while other birds vary in this regard, so each case must be reviewed with your veterinarian on an individual basis.

Please write in if you are considering iodine supplementation, or have questions regarding pellet-based diets.

A comprehensive bibliography of papers dealing with wild and pet bird nutrition, including iodine requirements in budgerigars, is posted at:


  1. avatar
    Yvonne MacMillan

    Dear Frank,
    I find the above quite fascinating.
    I once read that a lady treated her African grey who had a feather plucking problem with sea salt. Initially i was horrified but seemingly this did the trick. I am now wondering if it was the Iodine in the sea salt that did the trick.
    What do you think?
    Yvonne MacMillan
    Island Parrot Sanctuary

  2. avatar

    Hello Yvonne, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog. Interesting point…assuming the iodine is in a form that is usable by the bird, it may very well have helped.

    During my early years at the Bronx Zoo, before there were so many standardized diets for different animals (today there are “moose pellets”, “marine turtle pellets”, etc.), we did quite a bit of experimentation when it came to certain creatures. I recall adding sea salt (and powdered instant breakfast, for protein!) to the mashed fruit that was fed to various South American bats. This was probably a recipe handed down from older animal keepers…the salt may have been included as a safety measure, for iodine.

    Some bird food companies add sea salt into their products today, as an iodine source, but I have not come across any research directly on point.

    Thanks again, please forward other thoughts and observations when you have a chance,

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  3. avatar

    The style of writing is quite familiar to me. Have you written guest posts for other blogs?

  4. avatar
    Yvonne MacMillan

    Hi Frank.
    Thank you for your reply.
    I do think that sometimes too much is put on the psychological side of the Parrot species (albeit very important.)rather on the general health. I had a very popular Avian vet tell me once that he had a Cockatoo that had plucked a whole in its chest. Two skin grafts were attempted and initially worked until the collar was removed. Subsequently the bird died and on performing a necropsy he found that the birds was suffering from angina. I personally feed a mix of Tidy Mix which has powdered Kelp added and complete pellet, but I am sure we are missing a very important part to the Avian diet. I do not have the skills to research this and would love to find out more.

    Thank you for your patience.

  5. avatar

    Hello Yvonne, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your kind words. You raise a very important point concerning the interplay of psychological/medical aspects in parrot care. Both are, as you say, important. I do agree that there is a tendency for people to emphasis the psychological when it comes to parrots…I have seen this in professional zookeepers and even curators dealing with parrots, marine mammals, primates and other social, intelligent and charismatic animals as well.

    Both aspects need to be addressed, and each affects the other. Even where people are concerned, Western medicine has only in the past few decades begun to give more consideration to the non-medical aspects of disease treatment. We can now measure the output of hormones and other chemical messengers which are, for example, excreted during stress, and which compromise the immune system, so we know that mind and body both matter. The same applies to birds…more so where social, intelligent species are concerned. I often cite an example from my zoo years…birds which easily tolerate normal environmental levels of Aspergillosus can be rendered ill or even killed by the same levels of the fungi when stressed by, for example, a move to a new exhibit (many zoos now routinely pre-medicate birds in these situations).

    That being said, a secure environment, proper social group etc. can only go so far – medical intervention is needed where appropriate; the key is finding that fine line.

    As for general nutrition, you are certainly correct – there is much we need to learn, and many surprises await us. As a starting point, I always go back to sources that cite field observations – Forshaw’s classic Parrots of the World (TFH, 1997), for example. Unfortunately, direct observations of what parrots eat, seasonal variations, etc. are not easy to come by, and are given far less importance today than in years past… but such are well worth searching for.

    Please be in touch if you need information in the future…I have access to people and journals which may be of use to you as regards difficult-to-find information.

    Good luck, enjoy and best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  6. avatar
    Yvonne MacMillan

    Thank you for your time and patience Frank

  7. avatar

    Greetings Frank, I am looking for just a little help for our parakeet. In May, my husband literally FOUND a bird in the middle of the busy road, half starved and exhausted. He bought a temp cage and brought it home because he couldn’t find a place that would take it. So we added a bird to our little zoo. A week later we bought a bigger cage, many cool toys and a companion parakeet. In general the birds have been easy….with the exception of them NOT eating/trying anything other than seeds, and not bathing. Both of which our book said the opposite: ALL birds love to bath, and all parakeets are curious and will try something if you keep trying for a week or more… NOPE, not ours. No for the real issue: the male has been fluffing up and sleeping a lot more, and seems to have developed a growth or swelling in his neck; research sounds like a goiter…but my husband is pretty adamant against an expensive vet bill for a rescue animal. SO we are trying to do what we can at home to see what might work. We put him in his own little cage with a heating pad on low to keep it between 80-90 degrees at one end. We read about trying an iodine supplement, and we have some, but not sure if it is the same type to use. Don’t know what to feed him to ensure he is getting healthy. And wondered how long to keep him separated from the big cage and female parakeet? At what point do we just put him back in there and let nature take its course or not. How do we know if we are helping the situation? If we do add iodine, will the swelling ever go down, or would that be permanent? I realize that the absolute best answer would come from a vet check up. But without that, what types of things can we do for him at home to see if they are working? Help Please….

  8. avatar


    Unfortunately there is no way to diagnose the cause of a growth w/o a vet visit, as there are a great many possibilities, each with a different treatment. There would be no point in trying an iodine supplement at home w/o knowing the cause of the condition., The fact that the bird is puffing up etc. likely indicates that the problem is systemic or an infection is involved; such conditions progress rapidly in birds if untreated.

    Best regards, Frank

About Frank Indiviglio

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I believe that I was born with an intense interest in animals, as neither I nor any of my family can recall a time when I was not fascinated by creatures large and small. One might imagine this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances for a person born and raised in the Bronx, but, in actuality, quite the opposite was true. Most importantly, my family encouraged both my interest and the extensive menagerie that sprung from it. My mother and grandmother somehow found ways to cope with the skunks, flying squirrels, octopus, caimans and countless other odd creatures that routinely arrived un-announced at our front door. Assisting in hand-feeding hatchling praying mantises and in eradicating hoards of mosquitoes (I once thought I had discovered “fresh-water brine shrimp” and stocked my tanks with thousands of mosquito larvae!) became second nature to them. My mother went on to become a serious naturalist, and has helped thousands learn about wildlife in her 16 years as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo. My grandfather actively conspired in my zoo-buildings efforts, regularly appearing with chipmunks, boa constrictors, turtles rescued from the Fulton Fish Market and, especially, unusual marine creatures. It was his passion for seahorses that led me to write a book about them years later. Thank you very much, for a complete biography of my experience click here.
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