PET BIRD ILLNESS
Emergency First Aid At Home
The early implementation of emergency first aid treatment is vital to ensuring a favourable outcome. If your bird suddenly becomes unwell, and you are unable to get to Carlingford Animal Hospital immediately, please follow this step by step guide to help your bird through this critical period. Veterinary attention should be sought as soon as possible and remember, if you have any concerns about the health of your bird please contact us immediately.
Step by Step Guide to Emergency First Aid at Home
Isolate your sick bird from any other pet birds and provide heat. A hot water bottle wrapped in a towel and placed on the bottom of the cage is ideal. Cover the cage with a cotton towel to keep your bird calm and collect fresh droppings from the floor of your bird's cage. Place these in a sealed container (e.g. zip topped plastic bag or small Tupperware container).
Give Quik Gel into the drinking and disinfect cage with a water cleanser until you can get to your bird veterinarian. These emergency products are available through Carlingford Animal Hospital and may be ordered online.
Contact bird veterinarian Dr. Marshall for advice and to make an appointment.
Telephone: (02) 9871 6036 - Sydney, Australia
Take your pet bird in warmed and covered cage to your bird veterinarian with the sample of fresh droppings. Present the dropping sample to the veterinary receptionist on arrival to accelerate diagnostic proceedings.
Detecting Illness at Home
For pet bird owners an ability to detect the first signs of an illness is essential as many diseases are rapidly fatal. Changes in the behaviour or physical appearance of an individual bird may indicate the beginning of an illness. Individuals that display any of the distant signs of failing health or disease should be examined more closely in order to identify the exact nature of the health problem.
During a close examination the eyes, cere, nostrils, body condition and plumage (frontal feathers, feathers above the nostrils, facial feathers especially around the mouth, breast feathers, vent feathers, wing and tail feathers) are inspected systematically for symptoms of failing health or disease.
Assessing Health by Symptoms
- Going Light
- Nostril Problems
- Red Eye
- Staining Above the Nostrils
- Facial Feathers
- Tail Feathers
- Wing Feathers
Feet & Legs
- Monitoring Droppings
- Healthy Droppings
- Abnormal Droppings
- Watery Droppings
- Larger Droppings
- Effect of Stress on Droppings
- Signs of Stress from Droppings
- Vent Feathers Changes and Droppings
* Wet Vent
* Pasted Vent
* Caked Vent
The abdomen is examined by passing the middle or ring finger over its length whilst holding the bird in such a way as to avoid the feet. Changes in the abdomen include a "soft belly", hernias, internal tumors, ovarian cysts, fatty, or cancerous tumors. Treatment varies according to the exact diagnosis.
In the hand, the healthy pet bird feels strong but buoyant. The body should be carefully examined using the fingers to feel for abnormalities.
The crop region is gently examined for the presence of bloating or crop herniation. Air in the crop is an abnormal finding in pet birds and is a sign of crop stasis, trichomoniasis or a crop infection (sour crop).
The weight of a pet bird can be assessed in the hand by feeling for fat depots or a prominent keel. Overweight pet birds are less likely to talk and more prone to bumblefoot and symptoms associated with fatty liver (long beak, long claws, lethargy, recurrent illness etc.).
Often pet birds become fat because of an inability to fly due to clipped wings or missing flight feathers. In overweight birds, paired fat depots may be found in the area between the crop and breast muscle. Fat tumors may also be found in this area. Galahs, cockatoos, budgerigars and desert bird species such as princess parrots are particularly susceptible to fat tumors. Additional fat depots may be found as small bean shaped fat pads in front or behind the vent.
The degree of prominence of the keel bone and fullness of the breast (pectoral) muscles help identify weight loss in pet birds. Going light is a sign of an unhealthy pet bird and describes an excessive loss of weight that occurs in birds that are not eating, digesting or absorbing enough food. A prominent keel bone accompanies the weight loss. Going light may occur rapidly within a day when toxic diseases cause a sudden dehydration and worm infestations prevent the digestion and absorption of food so that birds "go light" more gradually.
Birds with weight loss need immediate veterinary attention.
When cere changes are discovered look for other symptoms as an abnormal cere may occur as a result of natural hormonal fluctuation or as a result of a disease process. Cnemidocoptes mites may infect the surfaces of the cere and facial skin and may permanently damage the beak. This condition is not highly contagious but a reflection of a nutritional imbalance or inherent weakness.
Treat according to veterinary recommendations.
In some pet bird species such as the budgerigars, the cere colour and texture vary between sexes. The colour of the cere of healthy female budgerigars is brown across all varieties. The blue cere colour of male budgerigars is present in all varieties except albinos, lutinos and some individual pied birds. The surface texture of a healthy male is smooth and that of a healthy female is rough.
The nostrils should appear clean and dry. Redness or discharge indicate a health problem that requires immediate veterinary attention. Nostril and cere changes may be associated with female hormones or Cnemidocoptes mites.
Stress related infections can produce a watery discharge from both nostrils and this is often seen in Eclectus parrots, Quaker parrots and cockatiels. Veterinary testing is required to reveal the underlying stress factors and prevent the condition from worsening. It also allows the identification of the most suitable treatment regime.
Ear infections are quite common in pet birds but most often associated with dust-related Staphylococcus infection. There is usually scratching of the face next to the eye.
Close inspection of the eye whilst holding the bird is required to detect infections, inflammations and injuries as most pet bird's eye and eyelids are very small. As the eye is connected to the nostril by the orbital sinus, eye and sinus infections often occur concurrently. Sneezing may therefore be a symptom of an eye infection.
"Red eye" is a common condition of pet cockatiels and budgerigars that starts as a painful conjunctivitis, has several underlying causes and is symptomatic of self-inflicted trauma. Eye symptoms should be viewed with great caution, as they may be the only indication of the presence of contagious diseases such as Psittacosis and Mycoplasmosis.
All eye problems require immediate veterinary attention.
Changes to the colour, cleanliness and strength of a bird's feathers offers a warning sign for failing health or disease.
Birds with dry feathers can be recognised from the distance by the physical characteristics of their tail feathers. Frayed, soiled and bent tails warn of dry and weak feathers that lack strength and durability. Their presence is often the result of coexistent infection although genetically based structural weaknesses may also be involved.
Feather soiling is a sign of failing health that indicates dry feathers, "sticky" droppings or reduced preening activity. Dirty feathers are not present in healthy birds under normal conditions but may appear when prolonged wet weather prevents feathers from remaining perfectly dry.
Viewing the vent and tail feathers of roosting pet birds from below offers a good opportunity to identify birds with soiled vent feathers.
Feather Stains Above the Nostrils
Staining of the feathers above the nostrils is an indication of an established sinus infection, the cause of which is most commonly a stress induced Streptococcus or dust related Staphylococcus infection. Sneezing is often associated with this symptom. This is a common problem in cockatiels, budgerigars and eclectus parrots and requires immediate veterinary attention.
Feather picking is a sign that a bird is experiencing internal pain or a metabolic disturbance caused by energy & mineral depletion. A veterinary consultation is required to identify any underlying physical problems that often predispose birds to this abnormal behaviour. Once established, feather picking can become habitual and difficult to cure.
Facial Feather Changes
The facial feather area starts beside the cere then follows the margins of the beak down the length of the mask. The feathers of this region should be clean and colourful.
The persistence of food remnants that soil or adhere to these feathers is an indication that the feathers are dry and failing health. Slimy, bubbly and discoloured mouth discharges that matt the facial feathers is a sign of vomiting and a serious disease. Seek a veterinary consultation.
Tail Feather Changes
The tail feathers provide information regarding the genetic quality of the plumage, conditions under which pet birds are kept and their health status in respect to infection. It is the longest paired tail feathers that reveal most about health and these are best viewed from beneath. Nutritional deficiencies are a common cause of tail feather abnormalities.
Tail feather changes represent a fundamental problem in a pet bird that needs to be addressed in consultation with a veterinarian.
Wing Feathers Changes
Both wings should be examined one at a time by first passing the finger over the outside rim of the wing to feel for any lumps (feather cysts) and then extending each wing fully to inspect its outer and inner surfaces for mites and lice. The number and condition of the primary flights of each wing reveals much about the stage of moult and health. Abnormal or missing flight feathers and a delayed moult represents failing health irrespective of the outward appearance of the individual bird.
Polyomavirus (French moult) and PBFDS are a common cause of missing flight feathers.
Quill mites are a major underlying cause of failing health in pet birds.
Feather cysts and tumors may be felt along the rim of the wing as hard fleshy swellings. They are usually found towards the wing butt in the area of the outermost primary flights (treated with surgical excision by a veterinarian).
Feet & Leg Problems
The feet of healthy pet birds remain clean as a result of a good circulation keeping them warm and dry. The scales should be well defined and bordered in white, giving the overall foot a glowing white appearance (see photo). Subtle changes in the cleanliness of the foot should alert you to a health problem. Soiling of the feet, toes or toenails is a sign of failing health and indicates poor circulation and cold feet.
The feet are examined by enticing the pet bird to grasp a finger in order to check the perching reflex. If the feet are cold when your bird steps up onto your hand, this may be a sign of unwellness. Cold feet can also indicate that the bird's environment is too cold.
Bumble foot is a common condition of pet birds and related to inappropriate perches and nutritional deficiencies. Birds with this condition may stand on one foot and have difficulty perching. This disease must be confirmed by a bird veterinarian as there are other conditions such as gout which have similar symptoms.
Scaley foot or tangle foot is a common condition of budgerigars, canaries and poultry and reflects a poor diet or hygiene. Recovery requires mite treatment and nutritional supplements. Veterinary testing is required to diagnose this condition and prescribe the appropriate treatment.
Splay legs and deformed toes are poorly understood conditions that may occur with nutritional deficiencies, incubation problems, injuries sustained in the nest or with inappropriate perch shape and size.
Preen gland infections and associated tumors are usually the result of vitamin D deficiencies and lack of direct sunlight.
Preen gland problems are common in pet budgerigars as a result of their high need for vitamin D and regular preening activity. In a healthy pet bird, the preen gland is barely discernible as a slight swelling near the base of the tail. Roughened feathers or excessive grooming over the preen gland area is the first sign of a blocked preen gland. Tail feather abnormalities occur with large preen gland tumors because of the close proximity of the tail feather follicles with this gland.
Vomiting is a life-threatening symptom requiring immediate attention. It is often difficult for owners to recognize vomiting as the signs of vomiting are different from that seen on other animals. Wetness or bubbles from the side of the mouth is the most serious kind of vomiting. Seeds stuck to the top head or face are typical signs of vomiting in birds. Shaking the head from side to side is another sign of vomiting. Vomiting may also occur as a normal occurrence associated with courtship activity. Excessive courtship vomiting in male or female birds will result in a crop infection. Whatever the underlying cause, vomiting represents a very serious symptom in pet birds. Pet birds with any form of vomiting need to see a bird vet immediately. The most likely causes of vomiting in pet birds in order of frequency are:
Foreign body impaction of crop or stomach
Heavy metal poisoning
Sour crop from contaminated food, infection or blockages
Proventricular gas bubble
Prolapsed crop associated with excessive courtship feeding behaviour
The appearance of the droppings is a very reliable and sensitive reflection of health. The careful observation and understanding of dropping changes in the pet bird is an incredibly powerful health management tool, allowing the observant owner to quickly restore the health balance of individual pet birds by using health products (Quik Gel, Megamix or a water cleanser) rather than medicines.
These health products stimulate health by returning the pet to its natural organic balance. The best results are achieved when they are used at the first signs of a change in health. They act differently to medicines, which cure illness by killing the germ. Instead they restore the natural conditions of inner health to the body, having no direct effect on the germs. There action prevents illnesses before they can become established within the body and work best when used at the first signs of diminishing health.
Close scrutiny of the droppings on a daily basis is the best method available to prevent disease. This monitoring system allows the pet owner to identify the very first signs of an altered health balance. Treatment at this early stage of diminishing health promotes the control of illnesses in a most natural way and before they have time to become established.
It is best to have the cage floor free of any grit, sand, wood shavings or saw dust so that the droppings can be easily monitored every day. The appearance of a healthy dropping varies from one bird species to another and also depends on the type of food provided. Seed eating birds produce a small well formed dropping capped with a small white urine portion.
Budgerigars produce a small black and white dropping when in good health. The droppings of healthy cockatiels are small tight (i.e. very low water content) and fawn in colour. In Nature, these two nomadic bird species are ground foraging seedeaters and possess a highly efficient energy and water conservation metabolism that produces droppings that are small and low in moisture (i.e. tightly formed). Changes in colour and moisture content of the droppings of cockatiels and budgerigars are a reliable indication of a change in their health status.
Larger parrots produce larger droppings that contain more moisture, as their diet is usually a combination of fruits and seeds. Eclectus, Galahs, Cockatoos and Macaws are included in this group. The colour and moisture content of these birds' droppings vary according to the food they eat so it is more difficult to detect a health change associated with the appearance in droppings of these bird species. Here a change in the smell and size is a better indicator of changing health.
For lorikeets, excessively watery droppings associated with a sudden increase in thirst are an obvious sign of a health problem and a visit to a bird veterinarian is required.
With all bird species, view with caution any change in the colour, consistency or smell of the droppings. The discoloured dropping is abnormal in pet birds fed a dry seed mix. However, larger bird species may produce larger, green coloured and watery droppings for a short time (24hours) after eating soft foods, greens or soaked seed.
After a short time of carefully monitoring the droppings of your particular pet bird, you will be able to recognise changes that indicate a health problem.
Healthy Budgerigar Droppings
Small, black with white caps
Have an attached down feather
Dry with no sign of wetness or smell
Healthy Cockatiel Droppings
Small, fawn with white caps
Have an attached down feather
Dry with no sign of wetness or smell
What is the significance of "down" feathers in the droppings?
Down feathers or pin-feathers are those very small fluffy feathers that are dropped every day in perfectly healthy budgerigars and cockatiels. They are seen on the floor, attached to the wire or droppings in the cage, but are no longer "dropped" at the first instance of stress of any kind. Their absence from the cage floor is a sure sign of a potential health problem.
Healthy parrots (budgerigars, cockatiels, galahs cockatoos and eclectus etc.) produce "down" feathers soon after the juvenile body moult is complete. The down feathers are used for insulation and produce a fine powder that waterproofs and lubricates the feathers. Their growth reflects the health and vitality of a pet bird. The healthiest birds drop down feathers daily, producing copious amounts of powder (bloom) in the process. Some people may develop an allergy to this fine dust (dander).
The droppings reveal a wealth of information for the observant pet bird owner, reflecting the health and management given to the bird. It is possible to monitor the health of the pet bird by observing for any dropping changes. The early recognition of a dropping change allows an immediate recovery plan to be initiated that protects the health by using the water cleansers (Quik Gel, Megamix or a water cleanser).
The detection of abnormal droppings is only possible when the cage floor is cleaned regularly. It is impossible to detect early illness in cages where the floor is lined with sand, grit or deep litter systems.
These changes can indicate deterioration in health, not a disease:
Watery droppings or wet vent
Absence of down feather on droppings.
Change in colour of the droppings
A watery dropping is the very earliest sign of illness in pet birds and is recognized by wet vent and watery droppings on the cage floor.
Watery droppings in the morning.
Watery droppings in the morning but turning normal in the afternoon is stress induced indicating conditions are incorrect (i.e. too cold, too wet, insecurity created by incorrect cage position or exposure to outside light etc.).
Watery droppings in the afternoon.
A watery dropping in the afternoon rather than first thing in the morning is also stress induced and may occur with predators (rats, mice, snakes, dogs, cats), draughts or a sudden weather change.
An increased water intake due to thirst is also a cause of a watery dropping. Often the pet bird will pass a watery dropping within ten minuets of drinking a lot of water. There is a wetness around a normal looking "snake like" dropping when an increased thirst is the cause of a watery dropping. A wet "mushy" abnormal looking dropping is caused by bowel infection. The cause of watery droppings can be determined by the time of day that they occur.
Watery droppings during night and day.
Watery droppings appearing during the day and night are commonly associated with illness. Immediate veterinary assistance should be sought with pathology tests taken to identify the most appropriate medicines needed to restore the health of your pet bird. Wet droppings also occur when sugar based medications are given (vitamins, electrolytes, antibiotics etc.).
White, watery droppings.
White droppings occur when there is a gizzard obstruction or the bird is not eating. The bird with white watery droppings requires immediate veterinary treatment and emergency first aid treatment administered by a crop needle. The white watery dropping is a common finding with cold stress when birds over-engorge on grit. It is important to remove all grit temporarily from the cage when white watery droppings are seen.
The size of the droppings is a very good indicator of the fitness and health of pet birds. The metabolism of the most healthy and fit birds purrs with efficiency and requires minimal energy to run at top capacity. Pet birds in top health eat and drink less because their energy systems are highly efficient. They produce droppings that are small, tight, low in water and are well formed; the fittest birds have the smallest droppings. Large droppings occur when birds eat too much food. Excessive hunger occurs as a result of illness, parasites or as a habit. Large droppings may indicate a fitness or heath problem and should be tested microscopically.
Large droppings reflect a continuing stress.
The use of acid water cleanser (Quik Gel, Megamix or a water cleanser) at the first indication of large droppings in your pet bird remains the best method for preventing illness.
A large dropping is an early sigh of a health problem.
Fit and healthy pet birds have smaller droppings. Pet owners should constantly monitor and think about the droppings when they change from perfect form. An increase in the size of the dropping is usually the first noticeable sign of change. On closer examination a change in the colour and wetness becomes more obvious. Persistently large, discoloured, wet droppings indicate a major health problem and require immediate veterinary treatment and emergency first aid treatment administered by a crop needle.
The Effect of Stress on the Droppings.
The high metabolic rate of birds protect them in the wild but rapidly exposes the health of the pet birds to the stresses of captivity. Australian nomadic desert birds such as budgerigars, cockatiels and Galahs have adapted to the harsh arid environment of central Australia largely due their high metabolic rate. It has evolved totally dependent upon the perfection of nature. Unfortunately, the captive situation is far less then perfect in providing our pet birds with their evolutionary requirements for health. It is the high metabolic rate of birds, the Achilles heel for survival in the wild bird that exposes the captive pet bird to so many illnesses. This high metabolic rate allows it to withstand the effects of stress for onlyshort periods of time. The sudden onset of illness is usually the result of prolonged stress.
The careful observation of the droppings is by far the best remedy against disease. Any change in character of the droppings is a warning sign of an immediate health problem, because stress of any kind provokes an immediate change in the droppings of birds, especially those with a rapid metabolism such as the budgerigar and cockatiel. The changing droppings reflect the bird's natural response to stress largely controlled by the body's protection and survival systems.
Although the signs of stress in birds are subtle, they become more obvious to the trained and observant eye. The weaker birds are the first to show signs of stress. The watery dropping is the first sign of stress but is very short-lived (24-48 hours) and often missed. After a day or so the droppings become larger and change usually to a green colour. Without treatment at this time the stressed birds' health deteriorates and disease appears soon after. Treatment to restore the health of the flock is best given at the first signs if stress.
Signs of Stress from Droppings
A watery dropping or wet vent is a sign of sudden (acute) stress. This is by far the most effective stage to prevent illness. Health is restored using water cleansers, energy supplements and by repairing the management flaw.
Large, soft, discoloured droppings appear with prolonged (subacute) stress. Illness can still be prevented at this stage without using medicines.
Pasted vents, large watery and often smelling droppings are signs of long standing (chronic) stress. The disease already established within the pet bird at this stage requires veterinary assistance, pathology tests and the appropriate use of medicines to restore the health of the pet bird.
The absence of down feathers is an early sign of stress.Down feathers on the droppings is a good sign that your pet bird is healthy and their absence reflects a stress of some kind. Quik Gel should be administered immediately down feathers disappear from the droppings. At the same time the dropping should be examined microscopically to see if additional treatment is needed.
Flawed environmental conditions may be responsible for the absence of down feathers.The correct cage positioning the house can be assessed by looking for down feathers on the droppings first thing in the morning. When down feathers appear in the afternoon and not in the morning, then environment is too cold, too hot, too wet or humid. Poor environmental conditions "stress" birds, depriving them of restful sleep, retarding down feather production, reducing their ability to conserve body heat and exposing them to illness. The absence of down on the droppings may be the only sign of illness in many pet birds.
Vent Feather Changes & Droppings
The vent feathers of the healthy pet birds remain are dry and clean. Examination of the vent feathers can be a useful procedure to check the health of the individual pet bird.
Early Signs of Deteriorating Health
Droppings attached to the vent
Wet vent refers to the wetness around the vent feathers. Wet vent is related to the action of the cloaca and is the most obvious sign of acute stress in a pet bird. This unique three-chambered structure separately stores the droppings passed down the bowel from the urine produced in the kidney. The uterus also opens into the cloaca. In the healthy pet bird, the water from the urine is recycled into the bowel and absorbed into the body. This system provides birds with an extremely efficient method for conserving water. Under stress, the bird becomes highly excited and defecates before the water absorption is complete producing the very watery dropping that stains the feathers around the vent. The appearance of a wet vent indicates a potential threat to the health of the pet bird. Treat immediately with Quik Gel and seek veterinary assistance if wet vent persists for more than 24 hours.
The wet vent is a common occurrence in the birds under acute stress. Acute or sudden onset stress is associated with emotional stress as seen following a trip to the vet or when your pet bird is left alone for more than a day. Physical factors that cause wet vents include sudden changes in temperature in the home (too cold or too hot), fright (predators) and fighting between birds.
The presence of wet vents is an early warning signal of an imminent and possibly serious health threat to the pet bird. The natural resistance and fortitude of pet bird can be assessed by the absence or presence of wet vents. Birds consistently exhibiting sudden onset wet vents are most likely physical or emotional disturbed. Such birds require a complete health examination and consultation with Tailai O'Brien our animal behaviouralist.
Caked or Pasted Vents
A pasted vent indicates a prolonged stress.
Pasted vents indicates a long standing and potentially serious illness that is often fatal when left untreated. The smell associated with a pasted vent indicates an infection requiring antibiotic medicines. Quik-Gel, Megamix or a water cleanser are not effective at this stage, as they do not kill germs.
Moist, large khaki green droppings caked around the vent.
These droppings carry a bad odour when removed from the vent. Bacterial enteritis, coccidiosis and uterus infections are the most common cause of these droppings.
Quik gel is a broad spectrum first aid treatment that is given whenever you feel your bird is tired or unwell.
Emergency rescue formula is best administered using a crop needle, but it can also be given by spoon or syringe.
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