Milk Thistle And Miracle Cures For Parrot Liver Problems

Milk Thistle And Miracle Cures For Parrot Liver Problems

 July 5th, 2013
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You're interrupting me preening, shove off.


There is a danger attached to writing the words “my bird is sick” and then putting that out somewhere on the Internet or on social media for others to read. Whether you want it or not, you’re going to get people trying to help you. That in itself is a great thing because it is a sign that people care enough to try. The problem is that some of the advice you can get from the Internet is often misinformed or even dangerous. The Internet is a wonderful thing, but it shouldn’t be used as an alternative to taking your bird to a vet.


Since writing about my galah Morgy’s liver issues, I have received countless messages with advice in them. It’s all well intentioned (or at least I hope so) but some of it has been just plain scary if not downright crazy.


More than one person has sent me an avocado liver cleansing program that they said would 100% save my bird’s life in the same way that it had saved their own. The liver being a regenerative organ – it is possible to help a liver recover. A quick google search tells me avocado is amazing for helping the liver. At a glance it looks good. I could easily have been tempted or desperate enough to try it based on the advice I was receiving. Only problem with that – this is a diet designed for humans. Avocado is very toxic to birds. Knowing that, reading that advice was like reading a book titled “101 ways to poison your bird”. An avocado diet would not save my bird, but would actually kill her. Scary that people would even suggest it. Scary too that more than one did.



Dandelion weeds. A regular addition to all of my parrot's diets. This has the added benefit of being good for a bird's liver.


The most common advice I’ve received for Morgy has been the advice to try her on milk thistle. People are quite right in saying that milk thistle has the reputation for helping the liver to regenerate. It is safe for birds. In fact, Morgy has been on a milk thistle extract for a few months now and I do credit it with helping her blood test results normalize. It’s good advice. Sort-of. That little piece of advice is all over the Internet for people to randomly follow. It’s great stuff when it comes to liver problems but I just want to take the time to caution people about its use. There are a few things you need to know before you rush out and buy it.


Milk thistle seeds are bitter and many birds won’t even touch them. For this reason, most people use an extract that comes in a liquefied form. Most commercially available extracts are mixed with alcohol and therefore aren’t safe for birds. This is true for a lot of natural remedies (including dandelion which is another that people have recommended). I am using an alcohol-free extract that isn’t available over the counter. I have to go to a qualified naturopath to get it dispensed. I don’t think there even is an alcohol-free version sold over the counter in Australia.



Milk Thistle Extract. Alcohol free, this one is only availalble in Australia if it is dispensed by a naturopath.


The other thing that I’d say about milk thistle extract is that it is possible to overdose a bird on it. Make sure you use it under a vet’s supervision, don’t just randomly add it to your bird’s diet. There are people who live in a part of the world where avian vets don’t exist (so they have no choice but to use the Internet for advice). I also know a lot of people who have been told to use it by a vet who haven’t been given a dose rate so for the record, the dose rate I have been given by an avian vet is 50-75mg silibinin per kg of bird. As knowledge and research happens, that recommended dose rate will change over time – so be sure to confirm the dose rate appropriate for your own bird with your own vet.


Nothing replaces taking your bird to a vet when it is sick. As it happens, some people’s advice has hit on what my vet has suggested for treatment just from reading my blogs. However, it is my vet whose advice I’m following. He’s the one who has physically seen the xrays and knows what her blood results are. He has the full picture that I can’t possibly fully explain in a short blog. He’s experienced and I trust him. That’s not to say that I don’t learn from the advice Internet friends send me. I do. But I’d run it past my vet before trying anything he hasn’t suggested. Who is to say what might interact with the medications Morgy is already on? Milk thistle is not the only thing that has been prescribed and there is a reason I don’t list her medications here. I don’t want to see people self-prescribe based on what I’m writing because her medications won’t suit all situations. I’m not a vet (yet) and I can’t diagnose a bird over the Internet anymore than a vet can/should.



Male Eclectus Parrot. Difficult to get the diet right if you're following Internet advice as there are many "experts" arguing out there. Would you trust an "expert" if you realised they felt expert enough to write a book on these birds, when their qualification for writing the book is simply owning one of these birds for only a year? These books exist and people do blindly trust them.


What has become obvious to me is how easy it is to get a bird’s diet wrong. It’s also obvious that birds like Morgy, who were born into a time before humans understood that birds eat more than seed; have an increased risk of developing these issues even after their diet has been updated. Not all will develop liver problems (genetics and other factors definitely play a part) but many birds do.


To those who worry that this scenario fits their bird, I’d say you don’t need to rush out and buy milk thistle extract or start treating liver issues with medications and special foods before symptoms appear. If you are giving your bird a good diet, then you are already treating it and preventing it. A good diet will include most of the foods that will help a liver problem anyway. I have absolutely no doubt that I would have lost Morgy years ago if she’d stayed on a seed diet. A healthy diet is the number one treatment for a liver complaint.



My galah Morgy. That stick will be lucky to last 10 minutes...


I urge people to check out the cookbooks and I’m not doing that just to sell stuff, I do it because I’ve seen the results for myself and I’ve heard vets discuss this diet firsthand.  Believe me when I say that having all that information put together neatly in one place for you, beats doing all the research into a bird’s diet yourself! Anything to avoid being in the position of watching your bird live on borrowed time is a good thing from where I’m sitting. Getting your bird’s diet right as early as you can, is possibly the most important thing you’ll ever do for you bird. It’s one way to keep your bird healthy enough to not need an emergency vet trip.

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8 Comments on “Milk Thistle And Miracle Cures For Parrot Liver Problems”

Sheree' Madic  07/10/2013 7:33 am

Can you give your bird a few dandelion leaves right from the yard, washed of course. I live in Delaware, USA and we have plenty here. Just wondering? Thank you.

Mel  07/10/2013 7:37 am

Yes, that should be fine as long as they’re washed properly and haven’t been exposed to pesticides. I give them to my guys quite regularly.

GinCowen  07/11/2013 9:48 pm

I lost my first parrot (grey congo) tragically to a rare live disease. I’ve never gotten over it. My vet told me about milk thistle after that when I got the courage to obtain 3 more parrots. Alcohol free milk thistle is avaiilable at health food stores for about $18 an oz. A few drops in the water a day was recommended. I admit I’ve been lax about this in the past, but this reminds me how important this could be.Thanks so much for bringing this article to the attention of all bird owners! It could save a life! And as I was told, when you notice your bird is sick, it’s usually too late!…….Don’t go through what I did!

terri Shannon  07/12/2013 8:18 am

I give my Lulu a fresh garden thistle every week I believe much like a human diet fresh is best

Ryan  07/12/2013 7:48 pm

Who wrote these cook books & do any of you have vet degrees or certified parrot nutrionalist at the least? You said people write books all the time so I would like to know the authors’ backgrounds to see if they have more experience than I already have.

Frances England  04/28/2014 10:31 am

Our female Cockatoo has started a twitching in her feet. It will go on for days to weeks and she is unable to rest during that time. (Just as she drops off to sleep, her little foot twitches and wakes her. We have had several tests done by our Avian vet and even gone through a cycle of medications. The twitching stopped for a few weeks and we were encouraged.
Now it comes and goes. Not knowing exactly what were are dealing with and, having gone through everything from cage cleaning materials to her toy box and toys we are just stumped. No that you are a vet but I trust your wisdom, shall we give Milk Thistle a try?

Cindy  05/07/2015 8:47 am

Hi I have a rainbow lorikeet her admin fills with fluid the bird vet has drained it but is coming back we go back next week again she said it might be cancer. She’s on a lorikeet mix for them she’s 13 and is has a extream close bond with her sister raised together I want to help her the vet said there noting they can do we don’t have milk thisth around out house or anywhere nere us as it all sprayed including the park but the shire. Shes happy and not in pain she’s a Avery bird .i love her to bits and want to do every thing I can for her

Cindy  06/07/2015 8:50 am

My lori has iron problem the vet put her on milk thistle tabs quarter a tan in 100 mill of water. Can I gove her any thing else. I can’t afford the fees every week to get her adomon drained I’ve just payed $900 for my girl she has a small part of her liver that’s alive we are desperately trying to save it
. She’s not allowed anything with iron in it or vitamin c yet toTill her liver heals we don’t have any dandy lion in the yard please ?