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What Are Common Pet Bird Illnesses?

Learn about the most common pet bird illnesses from veterinarian Laurie Hess in this Howcast video.


Dr. Laurie: So when a bird becomes ill there are some general signs that we'll see. Being lethargic, fluffed up, tucking the head under the wing, not eating, producing fewer droppings, but there are really some specific signs of illness that can be indicative of certain diseases. If you have a female bird, we are always concerned about egg laying and egg binding where a bird may not be able to pass an egg out of her system and it gets stuck inside.

It could be very not obvious, too or some bird owners don't even know that they have a female bird, until they lay an egg, if you see a bird that is fluffed up and straining or passing bloody droppings or breathing rapidly, because that egg can actually push up on their airways. They don't have a diaphragm muscle between their chest and their abdomen, so anything that goes on in their reproductive tract can actually push up on their airways, their lungs. They can become very, very ill, very quickly and that's something that you would want to have checked out. What are some other illnesses that we see, Sarah?

Sarah: I think some other illnesses that we see most commonly are the generalized upper respiratory infection where people will notice a nasal discharge or a sneeze in their bird or maybe they'll just be acting a little sad and they'll cough a little bit. The problem is that these upper respiratory infections can be caused by a number of different pathogens be it viral, bacterial or even fungal. And some birds are actually very susceptible to severe fungal infections that can very easily kill them.

Dr. Laurie: Yeah, and we will see with several animals, certain birds the larger birds that get fungal infections tend to get them in their trachea in their upper airway. And people will come in and say, "Oh, my bird sounds really hoarse or is making sort of a squeaky sound and not vocalizing the same way."

Similarly, little budgies or parakeets actually will get voice changes when they become hypothyroid. Their thyroid glands actually sit inside their chests and they can swell and push on their esophagus and on their trachea, and change their voices, and actually often lead them to throw up. So that's a very common sign we'll see. You know, we'll see a lot of changes. I mean, there are certain very specific signs. Amazon parrots when they eat lead paint will have sort of brown, muddy, reddish droppings, and we'll see some birds have neurologic problems of all kinds, when they get into toxic metals.

Sarah: Absolutely, I mean we'll have birds come in seizuring and one of the first things that we think when we see seizuring or tremoring, is heavy metal toxicity. A lot of people don't think that there is a possibility for exposure to lead or zinc in their home. But you'd be surprised at how many places in your home probably have these metals.

Dr. Laurie: So the take home message really is to familiarize yourself with common bird diseases. But most of all, have a relationship with a bird veterinarian that knows your bird and you can call on that person when you suspect illness in your bird.

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