Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease – P.B.F.D. Part 5


Weird diseases you don't know ...
Weird diseases you don't know [part 1]

This is the concluding installment of a five-part series on some of the dangerous illnesses that affect our feathered companions. Last but not least, “P.B.F.D.” stands for “Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease.” This lethal virus, like the preceding three, is fraught with ambiguity and misunderstanding. Cockatiels, Lovebirds, Eclectus, African Greys, Amazons, Pionus, Macaws, Rosellas, Budgies, Ringnecks – almost ALL hookbills!! It was once called as “Cockatoo Syndrome” owing to its predominance in Moluccans and Umbrellas. Other names for it include “Feather-Loss Syndrome,” “Beak Necrosis,” and “White Cockatoo Disease.” Although I often refer to P.P.D. as “Birdie Aids” because of the wasting it produces, P.B.F.D. is ALSO like “Birdie Aids” in that it causes severe immune system depression. This decrease of immunity renders diseased birds very vulnerable to even small illnesses, creating further difficulties. Secondary infections include tuberculosis, lymphoma, and a variety of bacterial diseases. All of them are curable, except for the P.B.F.D., which is not, thus the bird need supportive therapy and care.

P.B.F.D. is caused by a highly contagious circodna virus that may survive in the environment for lengthy periods of time. Wiping down walls and floors (as well as cages and accessories) with a bleach solution can eradicate the virus. Carpets cannot be disinfected, hence they should not be used in nurseries or retail bird shops. This virus, like the others (and the bacterium that causes Psittacosis), may survive for lengthy periods of time in carpet. Hepa filters may also assist to keep the infection from spreading via the air.

The virus is spread by excrement, feather dust, crop fluid, and the egg. The time it takes for an infection to cause symptoms varies greatly depending on the bird’s species, age, and general health. Obviously, newborns and individuals in poor health become ill much faster. Infected birds may exhibit no symptoms yet remain carriers for months. Normally, unusual feathers will be your first indicator.

***Remember that dietary deficiencies and Polyomavirus may also induce feather abnormalities, so see your avian veterinarian at the first indication of trouble.


Young birds tend to have all feathers impacted at once, however adult birds may exhibit indications over the course of many molts. Aside from feather complaints, beaks and toes might break and develop quickly. Birds’ ability to feed may be hampered by issues within the roof of their mouth.

The loss of powder (in Cockatoos) and “dinginess” of feathers are the first signs, but you’ll also notice preservation of feather sheaths and clubbed feathers. These birds often resemble pluckers. Following that, you’ll see loss of color in the nails and beak, expansion of the upper mandible, and faster development of the beak and nails. Touching produces discomfort in birds, causing them to become irritated and gloomy. Pale patches emerge in the feathers, and the beak margins begin to decay. Finally, the bird has several bald patches, bits of beak and toes fall off readily, and the bird becomes completely offfish or neurotic in behavior.

P.B.F.D. has no known cure. Depending on general vitality and immunological power, a bird may perish soon or survive for years. Even before symptoms appear, tests may establish this condition. Dr. Branson Ritchie of the University of Georgia has developed two blood tests: one that detects antibodies to the P.B.F.D. virus and the other that identifies birds with the virus in their blood. Infected feathers (containing follicles) may be biopsied to confirm the diagnosis. Additional testing is required to detect secondary infections so that they may be appropriately treated.

Although P.B.F.D. is incurable, strengthening the immune system and treating secondary infections may help the bird to live a longer and healthier life. Because feather loss may cause cooling, sick birds must be kept warm. Many individuals believe that sadness is widespread in P.B.F.D.-infected birds because the feather and beak issues alter their look and damage body image. Give your ill bird plenty of positive reinforcement and affection! Tell him he’s stunning!

Researchers in both America and Europe (particularly Germany) are working hard on P.B.F.D. and other bird viruses. A vaccination for P.B.F.D. is currently being tested. Many birds may survive for years if detected early and given good nutrition, medicine, medical care, and special attention.

Practice meticulous husbandry by providing your birds with a good food, safe toys, advice, and affection. See your avian vet at least once a year (more often if concerns occur) and get them tested! Help research organizations that are battling these illnesses. Perhaps one day, all of our parrot friends will live in a disease-free environment!

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