Most disease in caged birds is directly or indirectly related to
malnutrition and stress. Malnutrition most often stems from what the
bird eats, rather than how much it eats. Most caged birds are offered
enough food, but they do not receive enough of the proper foods and in
the proper proportions. Stress results from any condition that
compromises a bird's state of well-being. Examples include poor
husbandry, inadequate diet, rapid temperature changes, and trauma.
owners of caged birds must understand that birds tend to 'hide" signs
of illness. Birds can compensate for serious internal disease in such a
way that they appear healthy externally. It is theorized that evolution
has 'taught' birds to hide signs of illness to avoid being harassed and
possibly killed by other birds in the same flock.
Because of this
disease-masking tendency, by the time a bird owner recognizes illness
in a pet bird, the bird may have been sick for 1-2 weeks. Therefore,
one cannot afford to take a "wait and see" approach and hope the bird
improves. Be observant and act promptly. Learn to look for subtle signs
of illness, and take special note of changes in the routine and habits
of your pet bird. Seek veterinary assistance promptly if you suspect
The following is a list of signs of illness easily
recognizable by the concerned bird owner. Alone or in combination, they
signify potential illness in your bird.
from the eyes -Change in clarity or color of the eyes -Closing of the
eyes -Swelling around the eyes -Discharge from the nostrils -Obstructed
nostrils -Soiling feathers on head or around nostrils -Sneezing -Inability to
manipulate food within the mouth -Reduced appetite or not eating at
-Fluffed-up feathers -Inactivity -Droopy wings -Decreased preening and
feather maintenance -Break in the bird's routine -Changed voice or no
vocalization (may be serious) -Weight loss -Equilibrium problems (very
serious!) -Inability to perch (bird on cage bottom) -Limping or not bearing
weight on 1 leg -Swollen feet or joints -Change in quality or quantity of
droppings -Open-mouthed breathing when at rest (very serious!) -Tail
pumping (rhythmic back and forth motion of the tail when at rest) -Lumps
or masses anywhere on the body -Bleeding (always an emergency situation,
regardless of the origin)
bird's droppings reflect its state of health. Therefore, it is a good
idea to pay close attention to them. A bird's digestive, urinary and
reproductive tracts empty into a common receptacle called the cloaca
and the products from them are expelled through the vent, which is the
opening at the bird's 'south end.'
A normal dropping may contain
excretory products from the intestinal tract, urinary tract or both.
The fecal (stool) portion of the dropping should be green or brown. The
color is influenced by the bird's diet. Normal droppings are formed
into a coil, reflecting the size and diameter of the intestine. Along
with the fecal portion is a variable amount of uric acid or urate
('whitewash') and urine ('water'). The urates are usually in a blob or
mixed in with the feces and should be white or beige.
portion soaks the papers on the cage bottom for a variable distance
beyond the perimeter of the dropping. It is important to regularly
observe the amount of urine being excreted in the droppings. For this
reason, such material as crushed corn cobs or walnut shells should not
be used on the cage bottom. It is impossible to evaluate each dropping
when these materials cover the cage bottom. These materials also tend
to promote rapid growth of disease-causing fungi on the cage bottom,
especially when wet with urine or water. Newspapers or paper towels are
Smaller caged birds (finches, canaries,
parakeets) tend to have an individual blob of fecal material with an
accompanying amount of urate. The amount of urine excreted is usually
A bird has diarrhea when the fecal portion of the
dropping lacks form ('pea soup'). Diarrhea is not very common in birds.
A dropping with a normal fecal portion but a large amount of urine
around it represents a watery dropping (polyuria), not diarrhea! All
diarrheic droppings appear loose, but not all loose or watery droppings
constitute diarrhea. This Is a very important distinction. Polyuric
droppings may indicate disease (diabetes or kidney disease), but more
often they result from increased water consumption or consumption of
large amounts of fleshy fruits and vegetables.
consistency and amount of each component of the droppings of normal
caged birds frequently change, depending on the type of food consumed,
amount of water consumed, amount of stress experienced, mood changes,
and other factors. Abnormal droppings typically remain abnormal in
appearance during the entire course of a bird's illness. The
bottom line is, bring a sample of your bird's droppings with you to
your appointment so your veterinarian can evaluate whether or not the
droppings are normal.
you suspect illness in your bird, do not delay in making an appointment
with your veterinarian. Either transport your bird to the doctor's
office within its cage or use some other suitable container (smaller
cage, pet carrier, box). Never visit the veterinarian with your bird
perched on your shoulder. This method does not provide enough
protection for your pet. Whatever container you choose should be
covered to help minimize the stress to your sick bird during its visit.
If you take your bird the veterinarian in its own cage, do not clean it
first. The material you discard could represent valuable information to
As a general rule of thumb, any caged bird
that appears ill to its owner is seriously ill. One day of illness for
a bird is roughly equivalent to 7 days of illness for a person. The
tendency for pet bird owners in this situation is to first seek advice
from pet stores and there purchase antibiotics and other medication for
their sick pet bird. With very few exceptions, these non-prescribed
products are worthless. They allow the sick bird to become even sicker,
and greatly compromise the results of diagnostic tests that the
veterinarian may require to properly diagnose and treat the patient.
Contact your veterinarian at the slightest sign of illness in your bird.
After a sick bird has been initially treated by
a veterinarian, home care is very important. Sick birds must be
encouraged to eat and must be kept warm. Illness can cause significant
weight loss in a matter of days, especially if the bird stops eating.
If this happens, the patient must be hospitalized. However, even a sick
bird with a "healthy appetite" can lose substantial weight because of
the energy drain caused by the illness.
heat (space heater, heated room, heating pad under the cage bottom or
wrapped around the cage, heat lamp) is vital for a sick bird. It is
especially necessary if the bird's feathers are fluffed up. Provide
just enough heat so that the feather posture appears normal.
Overheating the patient must be avoided at all costs. Heat-stressed
birds pant, hold their wings away from the body, depress their feathers
close to the body, and appear anxious and agitated. Heat stroke and
death can result if the bird continues to be overheated. The
environmental temperature should be kept at 80-95 F for sick birds. The
patient's cage should be covered (top, back and sides) during its
If a bird refuses to crack seeds or eat other
foods that require a great deal of work, offer hulled or sprouted seeds
or other "easy" foods, such as warm cereal, cooked rice, cooked pasta,
vegetables, applesauce and other fruit sauces, and peanut butter.
Remember, birds that refuse to eat must be hospitalized. Few people
can successfully force-feed a sick bird at home.
If you suspect your bird is sick, do not wait! Contact the Merrick Veterinary Group at 516-379-6200 to schedule an appointment immediately.