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Avian Illness

Acutely ill birds, whether juvenile or adult, often have ruffled feathers, diarrhea, listlessness, weakness, shivering, or vent picking.Common avian illnesses Salmonella

Psittacosis or "Parrot Fever"

Psittacine Beak & Feather Disease (PBFD)


Bacterial enteritis (an irritation of the intestinal tract) is a common cause of diarrhea in cockatiels; salmonella, coliforms and E coli, are the most frequent culprits behind this malady.


Affected cockatiels may often be carriers that don’t show disease symptoms, and are not themselves acutely or chronically ill. Carriers may spread the infectious bacteria to other adult birds or to their offspring; the babies usually become acutely ill and frequently die.

Acutely ill birds, whether juvenile or adult, often have ruffled feathers, diarrhea, listlessness, weakness, shivering, or vent picking. The degree of illness depends on the age of the bird, the strength of the bacteria, stress and other factors. Cockatiels with chronic salmonella infections may pass contaminating bacteria intermittently; they may also form abcesses, fail to hatch eggs, or show changes in their eating habits.

Cockatiels most frequently get infected from contaminated feed or water dishes. The salmonella bacteria may survive long periods of time in warm areas on wood, feces, or dirt.


Treatment of salmonella, E coli, or similar infections in an acutely ill bird is usually started immediately based on clinical symptoms, even before a definitive diagnosis is reached; infection of this type is extremely serious, and the timespan of the diagnostic tests (which take 24-48 hours) could allow the patient's condition to worsen irreparably in the meantime, possibly even allowing the bird to die if symptoms are left untreated in the interim.

If the cockatiel is not eating, an antibiotic is given right away by gavage mixed with food and vitamin supplements. If the diarrhea is severe, Kaopectate may be given. Water consumption should be monitored closely to be sure the sick cockatiel is drinking enough to prevent dehydration. As with any sick bird, the environment should be as stress free as possible; an incubator or heating pad under the cage should be used to keep the temperature between 85º-90º Fahrenheit.


Bacterial enteritis may be prevented by the following methods:

1 Keeping water and feed dishes spotless and free of all fecal material
2 Identifying and isolating carrier birds
3 Controlling contact between your bird and any outside birds
4 Careful disposal of contaminated material
5 Minimizing stress and creating a happy, healthy environment

People working with contaminated material should be careful and always practice good hygiene. Salmonellosis is a disease common to both humans and birds.

Psittacosis or "Parrot Fever"

Birds in the parrot family (such as parrots, macaws, cockatiels, and parakeets) usually carry the infection. Other birds, like turkeys and pigeons, may also spread the disease. Both sick birds and birds that look healthy may spread the disease, especially if the birds are stressed by crowding or shipping. Usually, people get infected after breathing dust from dried bird droppings or secretions. It’s rare for one person to get psittacosis from another person.

The culprit for this malady is Chlamydia psittaci, which behaves both like a bacteria and like a virus. This is a mystifying disease in more ways than one; it can cause illness in humans, other mammals and birds. It can kill a bird in 48 hours, or else it can survive in a bird for as long as 10 years, causing no symptoms at all. It can be massively contagious or barely contagious. It can be destroyed by antibiotics easily, or with great difficulty. It can be easy to diagnose or extremely frustrating. It can kill baby birds and cause no disease in their parents. It can live outside the body, as well as within. It causes massive flock outbreaks one year, and none the next.


The disease is transmitted through the nasal secretions and the infected stool. Once outside the body, the organism can live for a long period of time, drying into dust and infecting susceptible hosts as they breathe. Fecal and oral contamination are especially likely in crowded conditions, as well as in nest boxes. As a general rule, inhaled Chlamydia will cause severe disease, while ingested Chlamydia will tend to develop into carriers.


The "typical psittacotic bird", if there is such a thing, is ruffled, depressed, has labored breathing, nasal and ocular discharge, and is neither eating nor vocalizing. The appearance of lime-green or yellow droppings, especially when the urine component is discolored, is highly suggestive of the malady (although this alone is not diagnostic proof).

One relatively rare form of psittacosis manifests through the central nervous system; tremors, shaking, head twisting and convulsions may be the only symptoms you see. Cockatiels can develop a psittacosis syndrome that causes paralysis of the limbs, and dark, tarry stools. Additionally, cockatiels and neophemas (turquoisines, scarlet-chested parakeets) with low-grade infections may seem to have an eye disease resembling a sty.


Most vets use tetracycline and its derivatives, mainly Vibramycin, to treat sick patients as well as carriers. The antibiotic can be given by intravenous or intramuscular injections, orally, or mixed with food. Patients in chlamydial crisis need intense, supportive care (heat, isolation, extremely clean conditions, absence of stress, etc.) as well as drug therapy for immediate relief of concurrent symptoms.

Control and prevention

In the wild, psittacosis is controlled naturally by the inability of sick birds to keep up with the flock. The clinical disease that we see in pet birds is typically promoted by confining, crowding, transporting, dietary changes, exposure to other infections and forced exposure to infective excrement.

To prevent psittacosis, avoid contact with birds that are sick. Signs of illness in birds may include runny eyes, runny noses, or diarrhea, and birds that are thin or have ruffled feathers.

• Buy birds of the parrot family from dealers with exotic bird permits; birds are more likely to be infected if they are brought into the country illegally.

• Keep new birds away from other birds for 30 to 45 days; have the birds tested or treated for psittacosis before they are added to a group of other birds.

• Clean all bird cages, food bowls, and water bowls every day and disinfect them at least once a week. (To disinfect items, use a household bleach mixture [1½ cups of bleach in 1 gallon of water], Lysol®, or rubbing alcohol. Wash the item with a household detergent, rinse with water, soak in disinfectant for 5 minutes, then rinse again. When cleaning birdcages, spray the floor of the birdcage with a disinfectant before cleaning to cut down on the dust that you could breathe. For new birds or cage changes, throw away wooden perches and other things that cannot be disinfected).

•Take sick birds to an avian vet right away for treatment.

•Report all bird and human cases of psittacosis to your local health department.

Psittacine Beak & Feather Disease

Psittacine beak and feather disease (PBFD) is a very serious viral disease that can affect all birds of the parrot family. The virus attacks the cells of the immune system, as well as those that produce feathers and beak. Affected birds gradually lose their feathers and develop beak abnormalities. Because the virus attacks the immune system, affected birds succumb to infection by other diseases. This disease occurs in both captive and wild bird populations. Parrots known to be particularly affected by PBFD include, but are not limited to, Cockatoos, Macaws, African Grey Parrots, Ringneck Parakeets, Eclectus Parrots and Lovebirds.


Transmission of the virus from one bird to another is primarily through direct contact, inhalation or ingestion of aerosols, crop-feeding, infected fecal material, and feather dust. The virus can also be transmitted via contaminated surfaces such as bird carriers, feeding formula, utensils, food dishes, clothing, and nesting materials. The viral particles, if not destroyed, can remain alive in the environment for months, long after the infected bird is gone.


Symptoms include irreversible feather loss, development of abnormal or pinched new feathers, and loss of powder down. Other possible symptoms include overgrown or abnormal beak, symmetrical lesions on the beak and sometimes the nails.

Rapid weight loss and depression may also appear in later stages of the disease. The virus can compromise the liver, brain and immune system, causing premature death usually from secondary bacterial, fungal, parasitic or viral infections. PBFD is usually fatal in young birds; older, stronger birds may overcome the disease with few lasting effects, although they may become carriers of the virus.


Strict isolation of any diseased bird is mandatory to halt the spread of the virus. DNA testing must be done as well on all other birds of susceptible species to rule out latent infection. DNA testing of aviary equipment and environment is also necessary to test for possible contamination.


There is no known treatment. An experimental vaccine has been developed which protects birds from infection by the virus; two injections, four to six weeks apart, must be administered.