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Hemolytic Anemia - Allium Foods (Garlic, Onion, Leeks, Etc)


Hemolytic Anemia:

Today someone “tagged” me on a thread regarding the feeding of “Onion Weed”. I would question which Onion Weed this is. There are a couple. One is a member of the Allium family known as Allium triquetrum. The other is NOT a member of the allium family, not related to onions or garlic known as  Asphodelus fistulosus and is considered a noxious weed by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. I could not respond on the thread I was tagged in due to the fact I am not a “friend” of the person who originally posted the thread so I decided to write an informative article on my nutrition page.

However, with all of that being said the person who tagged me on Facebook was involved in a thread where a flock of Galahs were busy happily pecking at ground covered in Onion Weed. Again, what variety of Onion Weed I am not certain, but I will address the possibility of the Galahs consuming the “Allium” variety further down in my article just in case.

If the Galahs were eating the second variety of Onion Weed, the weed deemed noxious by the U.S. Dept of Agriculture, not a member of the Allium family, this article has no real bearing on Hemolytic Anemia caused by consuming onion or garlic except for knowledge going forward in regards to feeding our birds foods from that plant family.

Asphodelus fistulosus would not have any potentiality of causing hemolytic anemia due to the fact that even though its name bears the word “onion” it is not a member of the “Allium” family and does not contain the constituents that would cause hemolytic anemia.

Hemolytic Anemia is more often caused by infection rather than consuming food, but it can be caused by ingestion of a member of the onion or garlic family and even fava beans. This is most common in dogs and cats, but suspected that it could potentially take place in exotic birds as well. Several veterinarians have cautioned their clients against feeding onion and garlic to their companion birds. For that reason I do not advocate feeding onion or garlic to exotic birds simply because I don’t see any real benefit of doing so with such an unknown risk involved.

Let’s take some obvious points into consideration.

I have always said that wild birds have access to and instinctively know what foods to consume in order to counter any toxins they may encounter in the wild. In captivity this is a completely different story; they do not have access to these other detoxifying foods and we certainly do not have enough knowledge to know what to offer them in order to counter all possible toxicities. Birds in the wild also instinctively know precisely just how much to consume of any given medicinal food.

Next, we do know for certain that birds can develop hemolytic anemia; there are plenty of articles to back this fact up. (References below) What we do not know for certain is if they can develop hemolytic anemia from consuming onions and/or garlic; this is only a hypothesis at this point in time.

Birds have nucleated red blood cells whereas humans, dogs and cats do not. Nucleated red blood cells are basically immature red blood cells with a protective barrier around them, for a very simplistic explanation. In other words those nucleated red blood cells do not allow certain toxic substances to enter. This could also be an explanation why birds seem to be able to consume substances that would otherwise be toxic to us but birds seem to consume those toxic substances with no side-effects whatsoever.

Even knowing this about a bird's protective nucleated red blood cells we still don’t know if there is a certain threshold to what those cells can bear. How many toxins can their blood system handle at any one time? How many grams of onion and/or garlic can they eat before the barrier is potentially ruptured? These are questions we just cannot answer at this point in time. When we mix these foods in with their foods, blending them in such a way that our birds don’t have any choice but to eat the onions and garlic we may be pushing the limit their nucleated red blood cells can tolerate at any one time.

If we are feeding onion and garlic as a natural antibiotic there are other natural foods with similar actions such as Wild Mountain Oregano Oil and Colloidal Silver, both in small doses. Neither of these come with the possibility of causing hemolytic anemia. Neither of these will wipe out the healthy gut flora like pharmaceutical antibiotics do.


Personally I am not willing to take the risk with my own sanctuary birds feeding foods that may potentially cause hemolytic anemia. There are a wide array of foods from which to choose my birds can enjoy without me worrying about potential side-effects, and there are other, safer options to use medicinally as well.

©2016 Machelle Pacion   Passion Tree House LLC   All Rights Reserved



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2 Responses

Cherie Perrin

Cherie Perrin

June 27, 2023

The article focuses, generally, about feeding exotic birds foods, foods from the onion and garlic family, that could, possibly, cause hemolytic anemia. While it is unknown whether onion and garlic actually causes hemolytic anemia in exotic birds, they can develop that condition so it is a concern for parrot owners. Wild Galahs were observed feeding on wild onion weed which may or may not have been a noxious weed belonging to the allium family. It is probably unlikely because wild birds, generally, instinctively know which foods are noxious and which ones should be avoided. To be safe with our own exotic birds, it is better to avoid foods belonging to the onion and garlic family.

Catherine Sidor

Catherine Sidor

June 27, 2023

This article talks about getting hemolytic anemia from onion weed. Since not enough is known about this, I don’t see any reason to feed that to our birds. There are many other choices we can make and many lists online of safe vegetables and fruits for birds. In the wild birds are able to eat foods that will counteract the toxins in something they may eat. We don’t know what those are and may not have them available. Exotic birds that are kept as pets don’t know the amounts to eat of different foods to keep them so safe, so it is our responsibility to feed them the right foods. Onions and garlic are always off my list of foods to feed my bird, and that includes onion weed.

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