Can Cockatiels Choke? (Explained!)

Choking is a serious event that requires immediate attention to save a cockatiel’s life. However, if you are a first-time owner it can be difficult to determine if a cockatiel is choking. This is because they use different signals and body language. But, can cockatiels choke at all?

Can Cockatiels Choke? It’s rare for a cockatiel to choke on food or water because cockatiels have throats and airways designed to avoid choking. However, though choking is not common for cockatiels, it can still happen. If a cockatiel swallows something too large for its throat, it can choke on that object.

According to Respiration Physiology, the avian trachea is bigger and longer than the mammalian trachea. As a result, birds can swallow whole food without being stuck.

However, cockatiels don’t have an epiglottis to cover their trachea or teeth or mastication (chewing) muscles. Instead, they push food down the esophagus using their tongue and grooved mouth.

But, if the cockatiel eats something too large or oddly shaped, it can get stuck. That is why cockatiels often use their beak to break food into smaller pieces.

You will regularly see cockatiels shelling their seeds before eating them whole. It’s also typical for birds to use their beaks to tear apart soft fruit or angle a strip of vegetables before swallowing.

However, if the chunk of food a cockatiel tries to swallow is too big for its throat, it can choke.

In this article, I will explain everything you need to know on how to tell if your cockatiel is choking, the cause of choking, how to prevent it, and much more!

How To Tell If A Cockatiel Is Choking?

Choking and coughing look similar since both are an attempt to clear the breathing pathway.

In many cases, a cough sounds like a soft chirp. Sometimes, light choking can be mistaken for a cough, especially if your cockatiel can clear its throat without third-party assistance.

However, severe choking is usually unmistakable.

Below I listed the most common signs of how to tell if a cockatiel is choking:

You should always pay attention if your cockatiel starts choking, as you need to determine if it’s choking on water or a solid object. If it is choking on food or a toy, holding it upside down will help you.

Pay close attention to see if your cockatiel is choking on water or something solid. If it is choking on food or a toy, holding it upside down will help you.

What Causes Cockatiels To Choke?

While cockatiels are skilled at eating sharp or clunky objects without choking, it does happen.

Here are the common causes that cockatiels choke on:

Broken toys

As your cockatiel plays with its toy, it may break off a piece. This is especially true of chunks of wood, discarded bones, and toys made of tough plastic.

While some cockatiels refuse to eat the fragments, some may swallow them accidentally. This is particularly typical in toys that contain buttons, beads, or rubber components.

Even in the wild, cockatiels avoid eating bone fragments instead of picking out the marrow. However, a baby cockatiel may still be learning this survival tactic. It might suffocate if it swallows a chunk of one of its toys out of curiosity.

Chunks of food

If you feed your cockatiel nuts or shellfish, it will enjoy pulling the shells apart. Although it can be a pleasant and healthful enrichment, there are certain risks involved.

Your cockatiel might crack off a piece and accidentally swallow it. But, If it gets lodged, the cockatiel will choke.

Also, avoid giving your cockatiel food that is too hard or dry because this can easily cause them to choke.

On the other hand, there is a variety of safe foods that you can provide to your cockatiel. This include, cooked rice, pasta, oatmeal, fruits, vegetables, etc.

But, before providing fruits or veg to your cockatiel make sure to remove all seeds because seeds are dangerous for your bird and may cause them to choke.


While cockatiels can eat seeds without danger, accidents do happen. Your cockatiel may have swallowed a seed whole rather than piecing it apart.

It may become stuck in an awkward posture and cause a temporary choke. Likewise, your cockatiel may have swallowed a seed whole rather than piecing it apart.


If the cockatiel tries to talk, whistle, or move around while drinking, it may aspirate some water. This is the least dangerous kind of choking, but it is still uncomfortable.

Also, if your cockatiel is drinking too much liquid at once or if the water is moving too fast, it may lock in your bird’s throat causing it to choke.


Cockatiels are curious and playful and will pick up anything within their reach. Beware of loose buttons, small ornaments, and jewelry.

Beads of your necklace or a stay earring could end up stuck in your cockatiel’s throat.

Baby Cockatiel Choking On Formula

When your cockatiel eats soft food, like formula, it’s not really choking on the food. Baby cockatiels are choking on the water content. It might have consumed the food too quickly and inhaled some of the liquid mixtures.

To prevent choking and to prevent food from becoming stuck in the throat, food content is intentionally kept soft. Once the cockatiel begins coughing, the muscles in its throat will contract and expand. This will cause the goopy, soft substance to move around and eventually pass.

However, the only exception will be if you have overfed the cockatiel. AFA WatchBird claims that as the crop overfills, the formula would be stuck.

Coughing Vs. Choking: What’s The Difference?

Coughing is often mistaken for choking. Although coughing and choking can sometimes look like the same thing, there is still a difference between them.

Like choking, coughing is a way for your cockatiel’s body to clear its respiratory pathway. Generally, coughing is caused by an infection or other respiratory problem. The difference here is that choking generally occurs while something is obstructing the pathway.

In most cases, choking occurs when your bird tries to eat something it shouldn’t. For instance, if your cockatiel unwillingly eats a bigger piece of food or toys it may cause them to choke.

Choking cockatiels will also typically have a stretching neck and will make a gurgling noise.

While light choking could be fooled with a cough, severe choking is unlikely to be.

But, regardless of whether your cockatiel is coughing or choking, if they are doing it regularly, you should take them to a vet immediately.

What To Do If My Cockatiel Is Choking?

What To Do If My Cockatiel Is Choking?

When you find your cockatiel choking, give it a few seconds to recover unassisted.

Try to remain calm and give your cockatiel reassurance. Panicking or acting flustered will only worry your cockatiel, making an unaided resolution less likely.

Interfering too soon can stress a cockatiel and cause more choking. Help should be given if the choking appears to last for more than a few seconds.

Immediate Assitance

Do your utmost to determine if your cockatiel is choking on a solid object, such as food, wood, or plastic.

There are the most likely objects for a cockatiel to choke on. It is probably the root of the issue if you spotted it playing with a toy or eating nuts right before this incident.

That is further validated if the cockatiel isn’t coughing up liquid, or the gagging sound it makes doesn’t suggest that any watery substance is responsible.

However, if the cockatiel is choking on water, you should notice it spitting up fluids and hear a wet sound. Leave it alone; it will eventually cough it up.

Here is what you can do if your cockatiel is choking:

  • Choking on a solid object: Hold the cockatiel upside down. This will open its jaw, so your cockatiel will naturally expel the object.
  • Choking on liquid: Keep it right-side-up and don’t intervene.
  • Unsure: Keep it right-side-up. Its keel bone can be gently massaged, or you can take actions to trigger a regurgitation response.

Hold Cockatiel Upside Down

A cockatiel will relax its jaw when upside down.

This will cause the muscles in its throat to constrict and force the object forward as it hacks and coughs. In order to prevent the thing from getting stuck while being swallowed further, gravity will help by pushing it down and out.

This is the right option if the cockatiel is choking on food or other solid objects.

Holding your cockatiel upside down while it is choking on fluids, however, can make it worsen the condition. Even its air sacs may be affected by the liquid or water.

Rub The Keel Bone

With fluids, a cockatiel can clear its throat unassisted if given enough time. Use the keel bone technique if you are unsure what your cockatiel is choking on.

A cockatiel’s keel bone is an extension of the sternum and runs parallel to the rib cage. By stimulating the airway as coughing does, rubbing the keel bone will aid in the expulsion of the object.

Lightly press and massage its keel bone. They may wind up wounded or bruised from applying too much pressure. Since the keel is a bone rather than a muscle, it shouldn’t be pressed too forcefully.

Regurgitation response

Hold the beak firmly in place with your fingers and make the head-bobbing motion the cockatiel does just before it regurgitates. It will be encouraged to raise the item or water if you do this.

Only attempt this as a last resort because the cockatiel might fight off being restrained and held.

Humans and mammals instinctively reach for water when choking, but this isn’t suitable for cockatiels.

However, you shouldn’t force your cockatiel to drink water if it is choking on solid food. Remove any nearby water sources because it could breathe in the water and drown.


In severe cases, you may need to take your cockatiel 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 cockatiel experienced some internal damage to its respiratory system or esophagus.


Nebulization involves using an abdominal air sac tube to allow your cockatiel to breathe while the vet removes the obstruction.

How To Prevent Your Cockatiel From Choking?

Because choking can be a serious issue, prevention is the best course of action. The good news is that wilt a little bit of effort, most cases of choking can be prevented.

However, there are things in a cockatiel’s environment that can be hazardous, including:


Not all toys are completely safe, so make sure that the following apply:

  • Appropriately sized: You should not give small toys that your cockatiel can swallow.
  • Durable: If cheap and poorly made, it’s easier for a cockatiel to break off fragments.
  • Not made of soft materials: For example, certain kinds of rubber, can easily be torn by a cockatiel.
  • No extra pieces: Some toys have beads, bands, or jewels. These should be avoided as cockatiels can pry them off and choke.


Cockatiels have no teeth and cannot chew their food.

Instead, cockatiels swallow most food whole, utilizing their gizzards to consume larger morsels. This is a ridged internal organ that grinds food to improve its digestibility.

When offering food to cockatiels, portion sizes are crucial. Cutting food into bite-sized pieces will allow the cockatiel to swallow food without harming itself.

Household dangers

If your cockatiel is out of its cage, never leave it unsupervised. Certain things constitute choking hazards, such as:

  • Loose wiring: Cockatiels love exploring their surroundings with their beak. Even when unplugged, cables can become a choking hazard once a cockatiel chew through the rubber covering.
  • Remote controls: A cockatiel may pry off a rubber button, which can become lodged in its throat.
  • Inedible foods: Chewing gum.
  • Decorations: Christmas tree ornaments.

If your cockatiel swallows any of these items, you can use the methods above to remove the blockage. Cockatiels don’t choke often, and they usually resolve the matter on their own.

Can Cockatiels Choke To Death?

Cockatiels choking to death in the wild is a rare occurrence. However, cockatiel has choked to death in captivity.

If they eat something that fits in their beak but is too large for their throat, it will get stuck there.

Oxygen is cut off when food becomes stuck in the trachea. The air sacs surrounding its body won’t be able to receive air anymore. The absence of oxygen might result in lasting damage within minutes.

Likewise, the item stuck in the cockatiel’s throat may harm the soft lining of the esophagus. Scratching, bleeding, and scarring may result.


Cockatiels can choke and choke sometimes can be fatal. The best treatment is prevention.

With that being said, if you own a cockatiel, you should familiarize yourself with choking procedures.

No matter how many safety measures you take, choking is still a possibility to happen. It is best to be prepared and know how to handle it if it does.

Cockatiel Enthusiast

My name is Bojan. I have been around Cockatiels for the past 7 years. I love writing about Cockatiels and helping people understand how these beautiful birds live, what they like, and how to provide them the best possible care.

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