Parrot Diseases: Recognizing Symptoms and Caring for Accidents Correctly

Parrots and many other bird species are not easy patients: Internal illnesses or infections are often noticed very late because the animals do not show anything. In the wild there is an understandable background: a recognizably sick bird becomes easy prey for predators. Therefore, birds try to hide symptoms of the disease for a long time. This is tricky when it comes to keeping pets.

Many bird keepers notice a disease far too late, which – treated in good time – could possibly have been cured. Always watch your bird carefully: any change or unusual behavior that lasts for several hours can be alarm signals that an ornithological veterinarian should clarify.

If the Parrot is Sick: Signs of Malaise

Any pet owner who spends some time with his or her charges will immediately notice if something changes in their behavior. Especially with parrots and parakeets, which normally stand out for their lively behavior and tireless chatter, unusually calm behavior should make one suspicious. Of course, the bird can simply be tired and rest for once.

Signs of malaise are:

  • Nervousness and restlessness;
  • Withdrawal from the partner bird;
  • Secretions from the swarm;
  • Raised plumage;
  • Apathetic behavior;
  • Closed eyes;
  • Sitting with legs apart;
  • Tail wobbling while breathing.

A good indicator of health disorders is the consistency of the bird droppings. In the case of the grain eater, it should be a relatively solid greenish-white heap that turns black and white when it dries. Short-term deviations can result from food (e.g. cherries). Feces that have been discolored for a long time, blood or undigested food in the feces, persistent diarrhea with sticky anal plumage, hard or unusually large lumps of feces indicate that something is wrong with the bird. Completely green droppings, so-called “hunger droppings”, indicate that the bird is not eating or is eating too little.

Diarrhea is particularly dangerous because birds become dehydrated quickly. Diarrheal feces are similar but caused by kidney dysfunction, feces with a permanently too high urine content. Due to their fast metabolism, birds excrete feces several times an hour. Watch your bird doing it. Is it in pain, does it fluff its plumage and wag its tail before depositing its blob? This can be a sign of constipation and, in the case of hens, an impending egg problem. Take the sick bird to an ornithological veterinarian.

Fungi and Germs: Aspergillosis – the Fungal Attack on the Respiratory System

The anatomy of the parrot’s respiratory system is fundamentally different from that of mammals. In addition to their lungs, birds have air sacs that blow air through their lungs like bellows. Air sacs and lungs are connected by branched chambers, their skins thin and moist. If the bird’s respiratory system dries out, it can be colonized by germs and spores of the Aspergillus fungus – so-called aspergillosis. These spores can be found both in the ambient air and inside incorrectly stored nuts. This allows the spores to get into the birds’ lungs when they crack. Therefore, do not offer your bird any unshelled nuts or peanuts. Especially if you keep tropical birds, you should make sure that there is always sufficient humidity and that the rooms are not overheated.

Signs of breathing problems are:

  • Loss of voice;
  • Breath sounds;
  • Heavy breathing with tail rocking;
  • Puffed plumage;
  • Emaciation;
  • General weakness.

Feather Plucking – It Can Also Be Parasites

Every parrot friend knows the pathetic pictures of naked birds that have torn all their feathers. This pathological feather plucking is often a behavioral disorder that occurs in lonely or grieving birds. If your well-socialized, well-balanced, and the otherwise perky bird suddenly starts over-grooming, tearing feathers, and scratching frantically, there may be other causes.

Possible causes of feather plucking:

  • Parasites (fleas, featherline, mites);
  • Main problems/eczema;
  • Hormonal disorders;
  • Acute stress;
  • Infections;
  • Organ diseases;
  • Skin tumors.

The bird-savvy veterinarian must clarify what is missing from the parrot, which suddenly plucks or itches, and there are many possible triggers. A mite infestation can also cause proliferating changes on the wax skin and feet.

The “Parrot Disease”: Ornithosis or Psittacosis

The (outdated) name for the parrot disease is “psittacosis” because a parrot was the carrier of the first medically documented infection. However, this disease is not only spread by parrots, so that today we correctly speak of ornithosis – a “bird disease”. It is a highly contagious notifiable disease because, as a zoonosis, it is not limited to winged patients but can spread to humans.

People with a susceptible immune system, pregnant women, and very young or old people are primarily at risk of infection. In these, the animal disease manifests itself in a similar way to a severe flu illness with particular stress on the bronchi. The disease is transmitted by birds infected with chlamydia. Infection with the parrot disease occurs through the droplet, smear, or contact infection with feces or other excretions, bird sand, or feather dust. Ornithosis infections are extremely rare in humans; only a few cases have been reported in Germany in recent years. Poultry farm workers were mainly affected. The disease is much more common within bird populations and in pets. The insidious: Ornithosis can express itself unspecifically in birds through all sorts of symptoms. These include conjunctivitis and brain inflammation, runny nose, diarrhea, and respiratory problems.

The parrot disease can be diagnosed in humans by blood analysis, in birds by an eyelid swab. Incorrect or untreated, ornithosis can be fatal for humans and animals. Recognized in good time, the disease can now be successfully treated with antibiotics.

First Aid for Accident Birds

In addition to infections and organic diseases, accidents and minor wounds are other incidents that make your intervention necessary: approach trauma when colliding with obstacles in the flight, bleeding wounds and bloody torn feathers after disagreements with conspecifics, poisoning, or household accidents.

If the bird is sick or injured, please follow these steps:

  • Separate the bird from its conspecifics and put it in its own hospital shelter. The best way to catch smaller birds is with a landing net, as they can be seriously injured in a collision. If the bird looks dazed, put it in the hospital shelter or in a transport box and darken it before you go to the vet who knows the bird.
  • Small minor injuries, for example after a beak, can be dabbed off with a hemostatic gelatin sponge, depending on the location of the injury. In the event of severe injuries, especially when approaching or crushing, there is always the risk of a bone fracture – the bird must immediately see an ornithological veterinarian.
  • In sick birds, the body temperature often drops, so that the animal freezes. If the bird sits in the quarantine cage after treatment, you can – in consultation with the veterinarian – add vitamin supplements to support recovery.

Checklist Bird Pharmacy

You should have a bird first aid kit ready in case of an emergency.

The first aid kit for the bird includes:

  • Feeding syringe (without a needle!);
  • Bandage cotton, gauze compresses, swabs, cotton swabs;
  • Glucose;
  • Sick or quarantine cage;
  • Pet crate;
  • Landing net;
  • Telephone number and address of an ornithologist veterinarian.

Note that a sick bird must always see the vet as soon as possible. Sick birds break down quickly – hesitation can be fatal.

Mary Allen

Written by Mary Allen

Hello, I'm Mary! I've cared for many pet species including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, fish, and bearded dragons. I also have ten pets of my own currently. I've written many topics in this space including how-tos, informational articles, care guides, breed guides, and more.

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