Over-The-Counter Medications For Pet Birds


You believe your beloved pet bird is ill. Your first idea is to go to the nearest pet shop and get some “medication.” When you arrive, you ask the clerk what you should do and are shown to a shelf with several “remedies” labeled for pet birds. What’s the deal with these store-bought “remedies?” you may question. Are any of these useful? Is there anything they can do, or should you see a veterinarian?

In this short post, I will answer these issues as well as explain how the Food and Drug Administration regulates animal medications.


The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates all goods classified “drugs” for humans and animals under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA). This legislation and its supporting rules were enacted to govern the quality, safety, and efficacy of pharmaceuticals used in humans and animals, as well as to attempt to put an end to the quackery and harmful patent medicines that were prevalent years ago. The Center for Veterinary Medicine is one of the FDA centers in charge of enforcing the rules that govern animal medications and equipment. This covers not just pharmaceuticals for pets, but also a large market for drugs and medicated feed additives for food animals such as cows and chickens.

According to the FFDCA, a product is deemed a medicine if it is labeled to cure or prevent illness in any animal or man. As a result, it must be demonstrated safe and effective for its intended purpose. This usually always implies that the sponsor must acquire FDA permission before lawfully marketing the product in the United States. This takes the form of a NADA-approved animal medication (New Animal Drug Application). The sponsor must provide considerable proof of the product’s safety, effectiveness, and production controls that ensure purity, potency, stability, and consistency under the authorized NADA. Furthermore, the sponsor must continuously monitor the product for manufacturing issues, adverse reactions, and other issues that may impact the product and report any such issues to the Agency.

What does this have to do with my pet bird?

It all has to do with your pet bird. Many items on the market are branded as medications for the treatment of sickness in pet birds. With the exception of one or two unusual exceptions that are not widely accessible in pet shops, NONE of the treatments labeled for treating illnesses in pet birds on pet store shelves have been authorized by the FDA. The FDA’s scientific criteria do not support the safety and efficacy of these items for the treatment of illnesses in pet birds. Unfortunately, unlike medications for food animals and conventional companion animals such as dogs and cats, such products have not historically received much regulatory attention. The FDA devotes the majority of its efforts on regulating pharmaceuticals for food animals in order to ensure the safety of our food supply. This may alter in the future as a result of the rise of unapproved pharmaceuticals used to treat ailments in pet birds, fish, reptiles, hamsters, and other small mammals, as well as the public health concerns these animals present.

There is little, if any, scientific evidence that any of these products are safe or effective for their advertised use. Furthermore, unapproved items are not subjected to regular FDA supervision of the manufacturing process. Unlike certified items, the public has no means of knowing whether or not these products are created in accordance with suitable standards. These items are not subject to the same level of scrutiny as authorized products. The companies who sell these goods defend them by claiming that they have been on the market for a long period. A successful marketing history, on the other hand, does not prove that they are safe or effective. It demonstrates that the businesses’ marketing methods are effective.

Many specialist avian vets believe that most of these over-the-counter medications do more damage than help. I agree as both a practicing avian veterinarian and a veterinary medical officer at the FDA.

Birds are skilled at concealing sickness signs. This is a well-developed defensive system that was created to ensure their survival in the environment. They often do not seem unwell until the illness has progressed. Birds, such as the hummingbird, have a fast metabolic rate and hence need frequent influxes of energy (nutrients) to live. They often have little body fat and consequently a low energy reserve. As a result, if they get unwell, they swiftly deteriorate. If you experiment with over-the-counter medications, it may be too late to assist your pet by the time you notice the bird is really ill and seek medical attention.

Because of the high death rate, small animal doctors have traditionally been hesitant to treat pet birds. Due to the loss of crucial time, the use of these drugs might considerably increase this rate. Recent breakthroughs in avian medicine and surgery are overturning these old beliefs, and the level of treatment provided now is much superior to that available twenty or even 10 years ago. The contemporary, well-trained avian physician has a wealth of expertise that may benefit the pet bird. Improved information, as well as new apparatus and surgical procedures, diagnostic approaches, and medications, have advanced avian medicine significantly.

Let us look at some concrete instances from the pet shop shelves:

Respiratory and “cold” remedies

The first and most serious issue with these products is that BIRDS DO NOT GET SIMPLE COLDS. Cecil’s Textbook of Medicine (a classic textbook on human illnesses) defines a cold as follows:

Although the term “common cold” does not refer to a specific disease, it is almost universally understood to refer to an acute self-limited common illness of all ages in which the major clinical manifestations involve the upper respiratory tract, with nasal discharge (coryza) or nasal obstruction as the most common symptom.

“Self-limitation” is the essential term here. Most colds in humans resolve without substantial difficulties and are therefore not considered dangerous. The phrase “cold” on the label of a bird medication denotes a self-limiting, non-life-threatening condition. This is incorrect since most respiratory ailments in birds are bacterial or chlamydial infections that may be fatal if left untreated. Some respiratory disorders have also been linked to allergic illness. Regardless of the reason, most need veterinarian treatment, antibiotics as needed, and some may be fatal. Psittacosis, commonly known as chlamydiosis, may manifest as a respiratory disease. This sickness is transmissible to humans, and dismissing the condition as a “cold” might have negative effects for both the bird and its owner. Some respiratory treatments may help clear channels and give some comfort, but only when taken in conjunction with proper therapy and not as a stand-alone treatment.

Diarrhea treatments

Many treatments are marketed to cure “diarrhea” in pet birds. The majority of them are based on a kaolin-pectin combination similar to those offered for human use. There are a number of issues with this. To begin, diarrhea in pets is seldom the self-limiting, straightforward ailment that it is in people. True diarrhea (as opposed to transient changes in bird feces caused by specific fresh meals) or changes in droppings are regarded uncommon in pet birds and are an indication of a systemic disease. Second, it is normal for a pet owner to notice extra liquid in the droppings and refer to this as “diarrhea.” The majority of the time, the issue is a condition known as “polyuria,” which is an overproduction of urine and urates by the kidneys. An novice bird owner may be perplexed by this. Polyuria is significantly more prevalent and is generally a signal of a larger problem. A symptomatic therapy for “diarrhea” is frequently ineffectual in either diarrhea or polyuria. This is due to:

1] True diarrhea is frequently the result of an underlying ailment that needs more than symptomatic therapy, and

2] If the bird really has polyuria, which is kidney-related and has numerous potential underlying reasons, treating the gastrointestinal system symptomatically makes little logical sense. A veterinarian’s diagnosis and treatment are frequently necessary.


Most pet retailers sell over-the-counter antibiotics for fish and birds. These, too, are not FDA-approved and are created to unknown quality standards (with a handful of minor deviations). Most are designed for use in drinking water and may include tetracyclines and erythromycin. There are several reasons why putting these items on your pet is not recommended and may be harmful. Here are a few examples:

1] When a bird is ill, it does not drink much water. As a result, placing medications in the drinking water does not guarantee that the bird will consume any pharmaceuticals at all.

2] Antibiotics found in drinking water degrade fast and become less effective. Furthermore, many birds dislike the bitter taste of treated water and will not drink it at all, potentially leading to dehydration and severe debilitation.

3] Many of the common bacterial diseases in pet birds are not treatable with medications found in pet shops.

4] Even at low concentrations, these medicines may destroy natural bacteria in the bird’s gastrointestinal tract, weakening it further and rendering it prone to yeast or fungal infections, among other things.

5] Using these items first and then seeking veterinary assistance makes it more difficult to identify the ailment since even low-level antibiotics might interfere with diagnostic procedures like as cultures. Furthermore, you have squandered crucial time.

6] The indiscriminate use of low-level antibiotics may result in the development of resistant bacterial strains and difficult-to-treat “superinfections.” This is well-known in other animals, including humans.

The reason for employing these medications in the water under these circumstances does not hold up to scientific examination, indicating that they are more harmful than beneficial.


Because your bird is essential to you, make an appointment with a certified avian veterinarian before you need one. Although pet shop employees have good intentions, they are not educated in veterinary care and should not provide medical advice except to direct you to a specialist. In the last decade, avian medicine has gone a long way. There are presently a modest number of “board-certified” avian experts in the United States, with the number increasing year after year. Organizations such as the Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV) and other regional groups have also been highly active in teaching veterinarians in all areas of avian medicine and surgery. There are diagnostic labs capable of dealing with little volumes of blood and other materials obtained from birds. Avian medicine is still in its early stages, but it has gone a long way.

Do not expect over-the-counter medications or “remedies” to save your bird’s life in an emergency. This is wishful thinking. They may be harmful to your bird’s health and a waste of effort. Don’t put off learning this until it’s too late.

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