Although we often praise cats for their excellence in hiding signs of illness, exotic pets, such as birds, are even better. Most exotic pets are prey animals, so they try their best to hide any illness until they are so sick, they are too weak to continue the disguise. At this point, birds—small birds in particular—have such little reserve left that being handled can put them into shock, or kill them. Fortunately for your feathered friend, we have three highly skilled avian veterinarians on our team, who will help you spot signs of illness more quickly, and then treat your sick pet.

Illness signs in birds

Many illnesses in birds cause the same signs, but a few categories of unhealthy changes to monitor in your pet include:

  • Changes in appearance or stance
    • Huddled posture
    • Sitting low on a perch, or on the bottom of the cage
    • Head tucked under the wing and standing on two feet
    • Weakness
    • Losing balance, teetering, or falling off the perch
    • Lumps or swelling on the body
    • Trembling
    • Walking in circles
    • Drooped or elevated wings
    • Unusual odor
  • Changes in behavior or attitude
    • Inactivity
    • Decreased vocalization or singing
    • Poor response to stimuli
    • Personality changes
  • Changes in color, volume, consistency, and amount of droppings
    • Loose or hard feces
    • Blood in the droppings
    • Undigested food in the feces
    • Decreased number or size of the droppings
  • Changes in head appearance
    • Dull or sunken eyes
    • Discharge from the eyes, or around the nares
    • Squinting, or closed eyes
    • Overgrown or flaky beak
    • Redness or loss of feathers around the eyes
    • Beak discoloration

  • Changes in feathers
    • Decreased preening
    • Ruffled or fluffed feathers
    • Broken, lost, or misshapen feathers
    • Wet, stained, or matted feathers on the head, vent, or other areas
    • Dull feathers
    • Long or excessive molt
    • Pulling or picking at feathers
    • Abnormal color or barring
    • Bald spots

  • Changes in legs or feet
    • Lameness
    • Abnormal nail growth
    • Flaking, crusting, or discoloration of the feet
    • Swollen feet or joints

  • Changes in breathing
    • Difficulty breathing
    • Breathing with an open beak
    • Tail bobbing when taking a breath
    • Sneezing
    • Wheezing or clicking sounds
    • Change in voice sound
    • Heavy breathing after exercise

  • Changes in eating, drinking, and digestion
    • Vomiting or regurgitation
    • Increased or decreased appetite or thirst
    • Straining to defecate or pass an egg
    • Swelling in the crop area
    • Weight loss, or a prominent keel 
    • Protrusion from the vent
    • Inability to pick up food

This list covers almost all illness signs you may see in your sick bird. Essentially, if you notice anything amiss, contact us immediately, as your pet may be seriously ill by the time she shows any signs.

Common avian diseases

While some avian diseases are species-specific, some affect all types of birds, or birds of a certain class. A few common diseases we see in birds include:

  • Proventricular dilatation disease — This disease, which affects the nerves that innervate the gastrointestinal tract, is also known as macaw- or parrot-wasting disease, as it most commonly attacks macaws, parrots, conures, and cockatoos. Proventricular dilatation disease signs include weight loss, vomiting, dropping changes, and a swollen crop. Sadly, this disease has no cure, and the bird can only receive nutritional and pain management.

  • Psittacosis — “Parrot fever” is a highly contagious infection caused by a Chlamydia bacterium that affects hookbills (i.e., birds who belong to the parrot family and have curved, hook-like beaks). Signs of psittacosis, which can be passed from birds to animals and people, may include difficulty breathing, eye infections, lethargy, and loose, watery droppings. Antibiotic administration is an effective treatment.

  • Candidiasis — This disease can affect all bird species, as it flares up when an overgrowth of natural gastrointestinal yeast occurs. Signs of Candida infections include white lesions in and around the throat and mouth, vomiting, decreased appetite, and a crop that is slow to empty. Most Candida infections are successfully treated with an antifungal medication, but they often develop secondary to another disease.

While these are but three diseases that commonly affect birds, your particular feathered friend may be prone to other illnesses specific to her species. Whether you have a parrot, parakeet, finch, canary, cockatiel, or other pet bird, we can discuss the conditions that may affect your bird during her wellness visit.

Services Loving Family Animal Hospital offers for your bird

We have three doctors on our team who enjoy expanding their knowledge of avian medicine, behavior, and care. They are dedicated to specializing in exotic-animal medicine, and strive to offer the best advice to bird owners to ensure their feathered friends live in the ideal habitat and are appropriately nourished, mentally and physically.

To help you provide the optimal care for your bird, we are extending a generous discount on bird exams in January. During your pet’s wellness exam, we can discuss the environment needed, illness warning signs, feather care, and proper nutrition. We also have a variety of diets available that will provide your bird with the most appropriate nutrition for her species. Give us a call to schedule an appointment for your bird at half off the normal price.