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Think You Have a Sick Bird? Symptoms to Look Out For and How to Help

While it’s fairly easy to notice when your pet dog or cat isn’t acting like itself and might be feeling a bit under the weather, it can be significantly more challenging to notice the negative symptoms of birds. Not is it more difficult to spot personality changes that might indicate health problems, but your pet bird might actually try to hide its illness. Sick birds, just like many other animals of prey, actively hide signs of illness in order to protect themselves, and by the time you start noticing symptoms, they may already be pretty ill.

So pay attention to your pet bird! And take note of any of these signs that might indicate that your bird isn’t feeling well. Plus, learn how to help them feel better!

Signs of a Sick Bird

There are certain physical changes, behavioral changes, and specific activities that a bird might exhibit if it’s not feeling so great.

Digestive Changes

  • Change in the color or consistency of droppings
  • Decreased number of droppings per day
  • Blood in droppings
  • Undigested food in droppings
  • Digestive issues, like vomiting or diarrhea 

Physical Changes

  • Eye discharge and redness, especially if an eye can’t open fully
  • Flaking on the beak
  • Changes in color of the beak
  • Flaking on the feet
  • Nail abnormalities, like quickened growth
  • Swollen feet
  • Swollen joints
  • Ruffled or broken feathers
  • Dullness in the color of feathers
  • Weight loss
  • Mouth discharge
  • Lumps on the body 

Changes in Breathing

  • Breathing issues and difficulty breathing
  • Sneezing
  • Breathing with an open beak 

Behavioral Changes

  • Sudden change in appetite, either increasing or decreasing
  • Sudden change in drinking, either increasing or decreasing
  • Trouble eating or disinterest in food
  • Sudden change in personality (e.g. more aggressive than usual)
  • Lethargy and increased time spent sleeping
  • Changes in vocalization and decreased ability to “sing”
  • Overall lack of activity or motivation
  • Seizures
  • Trouble maintaining balance

Specific Activities to Note

  • Spending most of its time sitting at the bottom of its cage or low on its perch
  • Hanging off the side of the cage by its beak
  • Tucking its head under its wing
  • Walking in circles
  • Consistently drooping or elevating wings

What to Do If Your Bird Is Sick

If your pet bird is showing any of the above symptoms, it’s safe to assume that it’s sick. But what do you do if your bird isn’t feeling well?

First, assess the situation to determine whether your bird is having a medical emergency and is in need of critical care.

If your pet bird is in the following situations, reach out to your vet immediately for emergency medical care:

Excessive Bleeding

If your bird is bleeding and your efforts to stop the bleeding have been unsuccessful, you need to get your pet immediate medical attention. Since birds are small and don’t have high blood levels, excessive bleeding can severely weaken your bird and potentially lead to death.

Ingestion of Poisons

If your pet bird ingests any toxic substances or poisons, like household products, it should be seen by your vet immediately. If possible, bring whatever your bird ingested with you to the vet’s office, so they can assess the toxicity and determine the right course of action.

If your bird doesn’t seem to be in immediate danger, your vet will be able to tell you the proper steps to care for your bird.

Gasping for Breath

If your bird is visibly gasping for breath, you need to get it to a vet immediately. If there is something (like a foreign object) obstructing its ability to breath, your vet may be able to place an air sac tube and reopen the airway.

If your bird isn’t in immediate, life-threatening danger, give your vet a call and describe your bird’s symptoms. They’ll be able to recommend a course of action—which may include nutritional support, changes in temperature, and proper supportive care—to get your pet bird back to feeling its best.

sick bird

Common Bird Illnesses That Can Be Transmitted to Humans

It’s important to take notice when your bird is sick because some bird illnesses can be transmitted to humans and cause serious health problems.

One common bird illness that can be harmful to humans is Mycobacterium avium complex, more commonly known as MAC or avian tuberculosis. Avian Tuberculosis can cause your pet bird to lose weight and act depressed. If the illness is transmitted to you, it can cause digestive issues, anemia, and exhaustion.

Another illness that your pet bird could pass on to you is parrot fever. Parrot fever stems from bacteria found in the urine and feces of ill psitticine birds, which include common pet species like parrots and parakeets. These bacteria travel through the air and, when inhaled by humans, causes flu-like symptoms including fever, chills, and fatigue.

To avoid catching an illness from your pet bird, make sure to monitor your bird for signs of illness. You should also always wash your hands after handling your bird or its cage.

If you suspect you might be dealing with an illness you caught from your pet, let your doctor know that your bird has been feeling under the weather, so they test you for common bird illnesses.

Watching your pet bird struggle with an illness is never easy. But now that you know how to tell whether you have a sick bird, you’ll be able to work with your vet towards getting your feathered friend back to its happy, singing self

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The Team @ Cinco Ranch Veterinary Hospital

Cinco Ranch Veterinary Hospital serves Katy, TX and the surrounding areas with a dedication and passion for our animal friends that is unmatched. Our veterinarians are highly trained, experienced, and compassionate when it comes to giving your pet the care they deserve. If your companion is in need of emergency care, a dental cleaning, grooming, or just a check-up, we would love to see them! Call 281-693-7387 to make an appointment quickly and easily.

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