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Birds + Medical Conditions

  • When birds are ill, they will commonly develop a change in their droppings. While not usually specific for any one particular disease, a change in the color, frequency, volume, or character of droppings may indicate a problem that requires immediate veterinary attention.

  • Aspergillosis is a fungal infection that commonly causes respiratory disease in pet birds. It can cause both upper (nose, sinuses, eye, and trachea) and lower (lungs and air sacs – a specialized part of the respiratory tract that birds have) respiratory problems or more broadly distributed systemic infections. Aspergillus is normally an environmental contaminant and is not contagious from bird to bird.

  • Candida albicans is a common environmental fungus that can affect the digestive tracts of birds. It is a common cause of 'sour crop' or a crop infection (ingluvitis), especially in young birds. Candida can be a primary or secondary cause of crop infections. Often, other diseases compromise the bird's immune system and predispose a bird to secondary Candida infection (candidiasis).

  • Chlamydophilosis (psittacosis, chlamydiosis, parrot fever, ornithosis) is a common disease of birds caused by a bacterial organism called Chlamydophila psittaci. While this disease can occur in any bird, it is especially common in cockatiels, Amazon parrots, and budgerigars. Birds with chlamydophilosis exhibit a decreased appetite, weight loss, lethargy, diarrhea, nasal or ocular discharge, a fluffed-up appearance, and breathing difficulties. Some birds can carry C. psittaci asymptomatically, spreading it to other birds (and people) through their droppings and respiratory tract secretions. Because tests for diagnosing chlamydophilosis in birds, are not 100% reliable, veterinarians will often rely on a combination of test results to formulate a diagnosis. Treatment is usually with oral or injectable doxycycline antibiotic for 45 days. In humans, this disease often causes flu-like respiratory tract signs such as fever, sweating, headache, fatigue, muscle pain, inappetence, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and a dry cough. Since chlamydophilosis is a zoonotic disease, all new pet birds should be examined by a bird-savvy veterinarian and have some form of testing for this disease.

  • Chronic egg-laying occurs when a female bird lays one egg after another or lays repeated clutches of eggs. Chronic egg-laying may lead to malnutrition from the chronic depletion of calcium from the body for the production of eggshells. In time, calcium depletion may result in egg binding. A lack of hormonal feedback to a bird’s brain, telling the bird to stop laying eggs, likely occurs in chronic egg-laying birds. Removing eggs that are already laid may induce birds to lay even more eggs, depending on the species. Egg-laying uses up a great deal of the bird’s body stores of calcium not only to make eggshells, but also to help contract muscles and stimulate nerve conduction to push eggs down the bird’ reproductive tract. Birds eating all-seed, calcium-deficient diets may not be able to replace depleted calcium stores quickly enough, and they suffer from hypocalcemia. There are both behavioral and medical interventions to stop chronic egg-laying.

  • Pet birds often become ill when they are not cared for or fed appropriately. Birds can develop infections with bacteria such as Chlamydia psittaci and parasites such as Giardia. They also commonly suffer from reproductive problems, such as egg binding and reproductive tumors. Many feather-pick when psychologically stressed or sexually frustrated. Birds on all-seed, high-fat diets may become obese and develop fatty liver syndrome. Older birds may develop cloacal papillomas or cancer. Your veterinarian familiar with birds will formulate an appropriate diagnostic and treatment plan if your pet bird becomes ill.

  • Crop infections are common in pet birds, especially baby birds that are being hand fed. While not usually fatal if treated early, crop infections can be serious and result in a complete loss of appetite.

  • Egg binding is not uncommon in birds and may be resolved easily if treated early. Egg binding occurs when the female bird is unable to expel the egg from her body. If a prolonged period has elapsed since the bird began attempting to lay the egg, she may become critically ill. Birds with egg binding may or may not have passed an egg more than 2 days ago, are usually weak, not perching, often sitting low on the perch or on the bottom of the cage, and are straining as if trying to defecate or to lay an egg. Treatment varies depending upon how sick the bird is, as well as the location of the egg and the length of time the bird has been egg bound. Critically ill birds are first treated supportively for shock, and then attempts are made to extract the egg. If your veterinarian cannot see the egg through the vent, surgery under general anesthetic may be necessary to remove the egg from the abdomen. A hysterectomy (removal of the oviduct and uterus) is typically the last choice therapy, when medical and egg extraction through the vent are not possible.

  • Egg yolk peritonitis is commonly diagnosed in laying hens when yolk from a developing egg or an incompletely shelled or ruptured egg is deposited within the body cavity rather than passing normally from the ovary, into the oviduct, and then out of the body as a fully shelled egg. The yolk material that is released into the coelomic cavity causes inflammation of the peritoneum and typically the development of fluid within the coelom. Affected birds will often stop laying, become less active, have distended abdomens, and have difficulty breathing. Veterinarians diagnose egg yolk peritonitis through a combination of physical examination findings, blood testing, and imaging with radiographs or ultrasound. Treatment is supportive, with supplemental feeding, anti-inflammatory medication, antibiotics, hormones to prevent further egg laying. With more advanced cases, oxygen therapy and fluid drainage from the abdomen may be necessary.

  • A feather cyst is equivalent to an ingrown hair on a human except it is much bigger (as a feather is a much bigger structure compared to a hair). The cysts form due to malformation of the growing feather within the follicle, which is located under the skin.