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Lactose Intolerance

Expert Question

I have read a lot about lactose intolerance in parrots, but most of it has just been confusing. I also know many parrots who love cheese (of various kinds), yogurt and milk and consume them in varying amounts. How does one know which milk products contain lactose (apart from writing the manufacturer, which doesn't always produce a satisfying answer)? Is lactose really bad for parrots? All parrots? In what amounts? What are the signs of lactose intolerance? Any and all information appreciated, thanks so much, Gina

Expert Answer

Great question, Gina! I haven’t met a parrot yet who doesn’t love some form of dairy product.  However, dairy products are not very compatible with a parrot’s digestive tract!  When you think of where most parrot species originate, you can understand why they do not digest dairy.  Not any milk trees in the rain forests. However, parrots are not 100% lactose intolerant.  Very tiny amounts of yogurt or hard cheeses seem to be OK for certain individuals. You can tell if your parrot cannot digest what you give him because he will have diarrhea-the solid portion of his droppings will be runny. This is from Web MD “The most common foods that are high in lactose include dairy products such as milk, ice cream and cheese. Lactose is also added to some foods, such as bread and baked goods, cereals, salad dressings, candies and snacks. Foods that contain whey, curds, milk by-products, dry milk solids and nonfat dry milk also contain lactose.”

Ellen K. Cook, DVM
About Ellen K. Cook, DVM

Dr. Ellen K. Cook has been practicing small animal medicine since 1975. In 1998, she rescued Merlin, a six-year-old Moluccan cockatoo with many undesirable behaviours, and soon began focusing primarily on avian veterinary medicine and behavioral issues.

Dr. Cook is a member of the Association of Avian Veterinarians, the International Association of Trainers and Educators, the Animal Behavior Management Alliance, and the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behaviorists.

She has published numerous articles over the years on avian veterinary and behavioural care, and serves as on online consultant for the World Parrot Trust. Dr. Cook has been teaching basic behavior classes to parrots and their caregivers since 2009, and is the founder of Parrots Anonymous, an organization dedicated to educating those who live with companion parrots.

To book a consultation with Dr. Cook, visit the Cicero Veterinary Clinic at