Care Information for Parrots
Diseases & Parasites
Please note that this section is intended to serve only as a description of health problems and some possible treatment procedures. It should be seen as an outline, aiding to form your expectations of treatments and helping you recognize symptoms of problems. Unless you are qualified to diagnose ailments or to perform these treatments, you should see a veterinary professional.
Zoonoses are diseases that are communicable from animals to humans. Zoonoses are most likely to affect young, elderly, or immunocompromised humans. However, some zoonoses can affect humans and can be deadly. Parasites are another problem that is communicable between different types of birds and which humans can contract.
Avian zoonoses include Chlamydia psittaci, Avian Influenza, Allergic Alveolitis, Avian Tuberculosis or Mycobacteriosis, Giardiosis, Histoplasmosis, Cryptococcus, Salmonellosis, Campylobacteriosis, Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae, Pasteurella multocida, and Newcastle Disease virus.
Aspergillosis - fungal disease of the respiratory tract more commonly seen in young or stressed birds. This disease can take a chronic or an acute form and may spread throughout the bird's body.
Physical Symptoms - anorexia, dyspnea, voice change, emaciation, polydipsia, polyuria, depression, lethargy.
Cause/Transmission - inhalation or ingestion of spores in air or moldy seeds, dirty cage conditions, poor husbandry.
Treatment - consult your veterinarian. Generally he or she will prescribe the removal of lesions, especially those in major airways, supportive care, and some fungicidal treatment. Although the chronic form may be more treatable, often death results before symptoms are present with acute forms.
Avian Influenza - contagious respiratory disease that can take several forms. Because of the constantly changing nature of this disease, vaccines have proved largely ineffective.
Physical Symptoms - lethargy, depression, dyspnea, diarrhea, eye discharge. May be asymptomatic. More acute forms may result in bleeding disorders or sudden death.
Cause/Transmission - contact with infected birds or people.
Treatment - consult your veterinarian. Prevent contact between your bird and wild birds, or any sick mammals or people. Generally, symptoms are treated.
Beak and Feather Syndrome - also known as PBFDS, this disease is most commonly seen in younger parrots and cockatoos. Birds can be carriers that pass on the disease to their young without developing it themselves.
Physical Symptoms - abnormal growth of new feathers, swollen or gnarled feather shafts, absence of dust tufts, absence of feather dust in older birds, elongated beak growth, easily broken beaks, paralysis, death.
Cause/Transmission - airborne vectors from contaminated dried feces or feather dust, or passed from infected parents to young.
Treatment - there is no cure for this disease. Isolate the infected bird to avoid contaminating other parrots, and consult your veterinarian.
Egg Binding - most often seen in finches and canaries, a condition that can become fatal if left untreated.
Physical Symptoms - bird sitting at bottom of cage, ruffled feathers, loss of appetite, abdominal distension, labored breathing, depression, anorexia.
Cause/Transmission - poor egg condition, obesity, poor husbandry, lack of suitable nesting site, breeding exhaustion, calcium deficiency, infection, reproductive tract damage, or genetic predisposition.
Treatment - consult your veterinarian. Keep the bird warm. Often, calcium injections may be prescribed; the egg may be aspirated to allow for easier passage; in some cases, simple lubrication can be used to aid the bird in passing the egg.
External Parasites - small organisms that live outside the host's body. These can include mites, particularly nocturnal red mites, and lice.
Physical Symptoms - may be visible as specks in cage or, at night, as specks moving over a white cloth used to cover the bird's cage. Itching; scaliness around the face or legs; poor feather condition; feather plucking.
Cause/Transmission - xposure to parasites or parasite eggs.
Treatment - consult your veterinarian. You should remember that the entire enclosure that the bird inhabits must be treated along with the bird to ensure complete elimination of parasites.
Internal Parasites - parasites that live inside the host's body. These can include coccidia, giardia, roundworms, air sac mites, or trichomonas.
Physical Symptoms - parasite eggs or parasites visible in feces or fecal sample; diarrhea; regurgitation; weight loss; poor feather condition; loss of appetite. Respiratory symptoms will usually be evident with air sac mites.
Cause/Transmission - exposure to parasites or parasite eggs.
Treatment - consult your veterinarian.
Pacheco's Disease - contagious viral disease that can kill a bird before obvious symptoms are shown. It affects the major internal organs such as the lungs, spleen, liver, intestines, or kidneys. Different strains are probably in existence. Some birds, particularly conures, may carry this disease asymptomatically, and may only become contagious during times of stress. Other birds may suddenly acquire the disease during times of stress.
Physical Symptoms - dark yellow or green colored urates, lethargy, ruffled feathers, anorexia, diarrhea, sinusitis.
Cause/Transmission - herpes type virus acquired through exposure to an infected bird.
Treatment - although a vaccine is available, it can infect birds or may not be effective. Consult your veterinarian. A new treatment uses human herpes control drug, acyclovir, to combat this disease.
Parrot Pox - viral disease evident in both wet and dry forms, often affects budgerigars. The wet form results in systemic disease and oral lesions, while the dry form often only results in passing dry facial scabs.
Physical Symptoms - swollen eyelids, eyelids stuck shut, corneal rupture, facial scabs, scabs on ceres and feet, pneumonia, white lesions on tongue and glottis.
Cause/Transmission - contact with infected birds or insects.
Treatment - consult your veterinarian. Often high dosages of Vitamin A are prescribed along with eyewashes and ointments. Antibiotics may be prescribed to prevent or treat secondary infections.
Polyoma Virus - viral infection often fatal in young fledglings, though older birds may remain infected for long periods of time or indefinitely. Many times Eclectus parrots, African Gray parrots, Amazon parrots, budgerigars, macaws, conures, lovebirds, and cockatiels may be more susceptible to this disease than other Psittacines. Present in both acute and chronic or intermittent forms.
Physical Symptoms - depression, lethargy, anorexia, feather abnormalities, subcutaneous hemorrhages, feather loss, inability to fly, tremors of the head and neck.
Cause/Transmission - exposure to infected birds or passed from parents to eggs. It is believed that birds recovered from this disease remain carriers of it.
Treatment - consult your veterinarian. Infected birds should be isolated. Generally, supportive care may be prescribed.
Proventricular Dilatation Disease - also known as PDD or Macaw Wasting Disease. Little is known about this disease, and it can be difficult to diagnose. Generally, repeated tests should be done in order to provide a conclusive diagnosis. In addition to the degradation of the proventricular, or crop to stomach shaft, this disease can affect the nerve endings leading to most of the bird's major organs. This disease can be carried for many years, although infectious vectors may only be shed in times of stress, or, in some birds, in times of non - stress. Although it is not thought to be highly contagious, transmission is not fully understood.
Physical Symptoms - often, there may be no symptoms until death. When present, symptoms can include tremors, seizures, paralysis, or heart problems.
Cause/Transmission - not fully understood. Generally, it is acquired through contact with infected birds, though other means of transmission may be possible.
Treatment - there is no cure for this disease. Consult your veterinarian; often, birds' lives can be improved or prolonged when they are placed on diets of easily digested foods.
Psittacosis - also known as Parrot Fever, Chlamydiosis, or Ornithosis, this is a bacterial infection that often affects a parrot's liver. Although treatable, this disease can seriously weaken birds, and it can also be contagious to people or other birds. Also, this disease can stress the bird enough that other opportunistic infections can take hold and further harm or kill the parrot.
Physical Symptoms - chartreuse colored droppings, eye discharge, nasal discharge, ruffled feathers, weakness, stress.
Cause/Transmission - contact with infected birds.
Treatment - consult your veterinarian. Often, an injectable or oral regime of tetracycline may be prescribed.