Recognizing Illness Signs of a Sick Pet Bird

Tips for Recognizing Signs of Illness in Body Parts of Your Pet Birds

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When you are the owner of a pet, one of the most important jobs you have is to spot the signs that your animal is ill. The majority of people are able to recognize the symptoms of illness in dogs and cats, but sickness in birds is more difficult to spot. One of the most difficult challenges that avian veterinarians face is the fact that by the time a pet bird owner brings a sick bird into the clinic, the disease has typically progressed to a point where it is difficult to treat if indeed it can be treated at all. This is one of the most frustrating aspects of the job.

The failure to recognize illness in birds is not due to the negligence of the bird owners; rather, it is due to the unfamiliarity with the subtle signs of early disease, which, when addressed promptly, result in effective treatment of the condition. Negligence on the part of the bird owners is not the reason for this failure. Anyone can see that a bird near the bottom of the cage, with its feathers, ruffled and its eyes partially closed, is in fact quite sick. The aim of this discussion is to provide a description of the early symptoms of the disease that can be found in pet birds so that you are better able to spot them.

Birds are particularly good at hiding their ailments since it is a natural aspect of their defense mechanism. When a wild bird is visibly ill, its chances of being attacked by other birds or preyed upon by other animals increase significantly. Therefore, a bird that has been sick all day and has been ruffled may perk up when someone arrives in the room, giving the appearance that it is healthy in an effort to conceal the fact that it is unwell. When birds’ ability to effectively conceal their ailments is compromised, they are typically in a critical state of illness.

There is a widespread misconception that birds are fragile creatures that can be killed by even the smallest breeze. Birds are surprisingly hardy birds that can adapt to their environments just as effectively as any other species of animal. Regrettably, the bird that “suddenly grew sick and died” had probably been unwell for some time; the disease changes unnoticed, which means that even the healthiest bird would eventually succumb to it.

The evaluation of a bird’s health should include looking for the basic indications that are outlined in the following paragraphs. The key to achieving your goals is to hone in on what constitutes “normal” behavior for your bird. Once you are aware of your regular activity, attitude, appetite, and so on, looking for deviations from the norm might help you identify early warning signs of sickness.

Aspects Relating to the Whole

Feathers: A bird that is healthy should have bright eyes, be attentive, and have feathers that are clean, neatly preened, sleek, and that are held closely to the body. Ruffling (or puffing up) their feathers for extended periods of time is a common symptom seen in sick birds. When a bird ruffles its feathers, it does so because it is cold, and the act of ruffling causes the bird’s feathers to trap a layer of warm air around it. Additionally, the bird will appear to be dozing off by closing its eyes. Birds that are huddled together at the bottom of the cage and have a very ruffled appearance are in critical condition.

A lack of preening as a result of illness, mechanical damage as a result of inadequate housing, or “emotional disturbance” might be indicated by feathers that are dirty and frayed. Symptoms of rhinitis include discoloration of the feathers located over the nostrils (nares) (nasal discharge). In most cases, vomiting is accompanied by the pasting of the head feathers. It is important that the feathers around the vent be clean. If droppings adhere to the vent, this may be an indication of an infection in the gastrointestinal system or an expansion of the abdominal cavity.

The bird should always keep its posture in an upright stance on the perch, with its weight evenly distributed on both feet, with the tips of its wings crossing over its back, and with the tail feathers keeping a straight line with the back. Sick birds will have either one or both of their wings drooped while sitting, and their tail will be pointing downward. If a bird’s tail is pointed downward, it may be suffering from a problem with its respiratory system or from gastrointestinal discomfort (infection or enlargement). There is also the possibility of tail bobbing and flicking.

On the perch, abnormalities might be identified by unsteadiness, wobbliness, or a low posture. It is possible for birds that are suffering from the severe respiratory or gastrointestinal disease to remain in a horizontal position on the perch. Instability, shifting of body weight, or favoring one leg may be signs of pain or dysfunction caused by a disease or injury. There is a possibility that kidney tumors could be the cause of paralysis or weakening in one of a budgerigar’s legs.

Alterations in a bird’s attitude may be an indication that there is a problem. Signs of early sickness can include a drop in activity level, a bird that is no longer lively, less talkative, or not singing at all. Changes in personality can also be an early indicator of a problem, such as an aggressive bird that you could never handle easily becoming suddenly meek, or a generally friendly bird that becomes belligerent or irritated and wants to be left alone.


If this does not happen and the beak continues to grow excessively, it will need to be clipped. The beak grows continuously and, with appropriate activity, should wear down. On the other hand, if the beak suddenly grows swiftly and abnormally, or if the quality of the beak changes, this could be an indication of sickness. For instance, fatty liver illness causes the beak to overgrow and degenerate, and black or dark areas of bleeding can be seen on the beak and toenails. This condition is most common in budgies that consume a diet consisting entirely of seeds. Don’t let this lead you to believe that an expanded beak is just the result of “not using the cuttlebone” since you would be mistaken. Always make sure to check the area surrounding the beak and mouth for any odd crustiness, scaling, or enlargements.


Despite taking all necessary precautions, foot infections can still occur. Incorrectly sized perches can result in the development of pressure sores on the soles of the feet, which can then progress to ulcerations or bumblefoot. Maintain a clean environment for the perches, offer a range of sizes, and make sure some of them are flexible rather than hard. Seek immediate medical attention from a veterinarian if you observe any of the following symptoms: shifting weight; redness; swelling; sores on the feet or legs; or lameness.

Because the only function of the leg band is identification, removing it is necessary in order to avoid any complications. We see a lot of cases where the band causes irritation to the leg, and we also see a lot of cases where the band can cause harm (such as a fracture or a dislocation) if it gets stuck on something. If it is required to wear the leg band, you should always examine the leg to ensure that the band can move freely and look for any unusual irritation.

It is important to do a thorough examination if there is unusual flaking or crustiness on the legs because this could be a sign of a nutritional or parasite issue. One very important piece of advice: extreme caution is required whenever a lotion or ointment is applied to a bird. Never put it on the feathers since it will get everywhere and ruin the feathers’ ability to retain heat. Be conservative with your application if you plan on putting it on your legs or feet.

Respiratory System

The act of breathing for a bird should require relatively little effort on its part. It may be a sign of a problem if you have labored breathing even when you’re at ease, or if you continue to breathe heavily for an extended amount of time following physical activity. Any sounds that can be heard while a bird is breathing, such as clicking, wheezing, or frequent sneezing, are indicators that the bird is sick; a healthy bird should be able to breathe without making any audible respiratory sounds.

Infections of the upper respiratory tract in birds are observed at a relatively high frequency. It’s possible that a nasal discharge will look like fluid in the nostrils or a stain on the feathers that are located above the nostrils. A person who has conjunctivitis, often known as pink eye, may also have eyelids that are puffy and red, as well as discharge around the eyes. Blinking often or partially closing one’s eyes for extended periods of time might be one of the earliest indicators of conjunctivitis. In the event that the illness progresses into sinusitis, an individual may have puffiness around the eyes. Because pus in birds is not liquid but rather develops “cheesy,” early diagnosis of respiratory disease in birds is vital because of this characteristic. Because of this, it is extremely challenging to remove pus from the sinuses and air sacs when it has built up.

If you come across a bird that is having trouble breathing (dyspneic), has its mouth open, and is gasping for air, you should exercise extreme caution if you choose to handle it at all. There are some birds with dyspnea that do not have an infection in their respiratory system. There is a potential that there is a mass in the abdomen that takes up space and prevents the air sacs from fully expanding, which results in a significant reduction in the amount of air that can pass through the lungs. Another symptom of a compromised respiratory system is a bobbling of the tail. This symptom can be caused by either a primary respiratory ailment or abdominal enlargement. A laborious breathing pattern is another symptom of heart disease in birds.

Cyanosis, characterized by a bluish discoloration of the skin, legs, and beak, can be brought on by extreme difficulty breathing and lead to its growth. Do not, however, be deceived by the typically bluish color of the legs of some birds, especially budgies.

The persistent and high-pitched squeaking that is occasionally heard in budgies may be the result of goiter and the pressure that the enlarged thyroid gland exerts on the trachea and the syrinx (voice box) (windpipe). Iodine treatment is quite successful in treating the illness.

Digestive Tract

Consumption of Food: A bird’s extremely high metabolic rate places it in grave danger if it is not getting enough food, as its condition has the potential to deteriorate very quickly. It is essential to check on a daily basis to see whether or not your bird is eating, and if so, to determine the quantity. It’s possible that a bird is just plucking at the food in the cup rather than actually eating it. You need to figure out whether the seeds are being hulled or whether they are simply being scooped out of the dish and placed on the bottom of the cage. There are instances in which a bird will shell the seed but will not consume it. Check the bottom of the cage and the seed cup for hulled seed, and make sure there is not an excessive amount of hulled seed in either location.

If there is a hulled seed on the bottom of the cage, it is necessary to identify whether or not the bird has been regurgitating or vomiting the seed instead of swallowing it. The act of regurgitation is considered to be a typical component of courtship behavior. It is possible to observe regurgitated seeds on or near the mirror or toys when the couple is courting. As a form of flirtation, the bird might even start regurgitating food for you to look at. On the other hand, seeds that have been vomited can be observed clumped together and stuck to various parts of the cage, most frequently to the bars. The head feathers of a bird that is vomiting are often pasted together with vomitus, and this substance can often be mixed with seed. This is more proof that the bird is vomiting.

There are many differing opinions regarding grit. Because it is not constantly necessary for the replenishment of the gizzard, it should only be used sparingly when it is used at all. For the purposes of this discussion, however, unwell birds, particularly those with gastrointestinal disturbances, have a tendency to consume an excessive amount of grit. This could result in an obstruction or impaction. It is very common for people to believe that a sick bird is still eating when, in reality, it is merely taking in grit. Therefore, abnormally high consumption of grit can be an indication of a problem.

Checking a bird’s droppings on a regular basis is the most accurate way to determine whether or not it is eating enough and whether or not its digestive system is functioning appropriately. In the following paragraph, we will go into further detail about this topic.

Consumption of Water Although it may appear that birds do not consume a significant lot of water, they do require a sufficient supply of fresh, clean water that must be changed out every day. Birds that suddenly start drinking an abnormally large amount of water may be exhibiting symptoms of a metabolic illness (like diabetes), kidney disease, or a problem with their digestive tract. You need to get a sense for how much water you should drink each day. It is not necessary to precisely calculate the amount that was consumed because, for example, some of it will be lost owing to evaporation. On the other hand, you might discover that the water cup is only half as full as it usually is and that the droppings have taken on a more liquid consistency than usual.

Examining the Feces as an Indicator of the Bird’s Condition Feces is a great indicator of the health of a bird. Alterations in the consistency of the droppings or an increase in their quantity could be early warning indications of an abnormality. In the beginning, it is essential to have a sense of what is typical for your birds. Examine the crate paperwork on a daily basis. The number of feces that are passed each day should remain relatively stable; a decrease in this amount implies a decreased food intake (or the passage of food material), and it should alert you to the possibility of a disease condition. For instance, a budgie in good health should produce more than 30–40 droppings on a daily basis. Additionally, the appearance of the droppings should be fairly comparable to one another. The bird’s droppings will look vary based on the kind of foods it eats, but if the bird has not made any extraordinary changes to its diet and the droppings are drastically different, there may be a problem brewing.

We strongly suggest that the bottoms of the cages be lined with paper so that the droppings may be easily noticed on a daily basis, and that the papers in the cage can be disposed of on a daily basis. Even though wood shavings or corn cobs are practical, it is difficult to tell the kind of droppings and the total amount of them when they are used. Additionally, if these are used in cages, they are not changed as frequently, which raises the potential that the bottom of the cage will have an increased number of bacterial colonies. If you choose to use wood shavings or cob as bedding for your guinea pigs, you will need to make extra efforts to inspect the droppings every day and clean the cage on a regular basis.

A regular poop has three primary components: a solidified portion of feces, an off-white portion of urate, and a liquid portion of pee. Normal droppings also contain a fraction of liquid urine. Because seed does not add any color to the droppings, the fecal component is typically green in birds who consume seed. This is because the green bile hue predominates. If, on the other hand, the bird consumed items other than seed, the color of the component of its stool that included waste would shift. For instance, a bird that consumes pellets would have droppings that are a shade of brown, whereas a bird that is fed strawberries will have droppings that are a shade of red. The type of bird and the food it eats will determine the consistency of the droppings that it produces. The droppings of a bird that consumes a diet rich in fruit, vegetables, and other succulent things will be more fluid. Pelleted diets, in addition to creating brownish droppings, may also lead to increased water intake and, as a result, more watery droppings with a less formed fecal part and higher urine. Pelleted diets may also cause an increase in the amount of urine produced.

The abrupt appearance of a different consistency or hue in the droppings may be an indication of sickness. It is important to determine how much of the chunk is feces. If the bird is not feeding, there may be a little amount of bile or stool in the droppings, or the droppings may be composed primarily of pee with only a trace of bile. It is considered to be “urinating” normally for a bird when it passes only liquid urine and urate crystals without any feces at the same time. Nevertheless, this is something that happens every once in a while, and there is a problem if it becomes the norm. It is important to keep in mind that although through a decrease in the number of feces or the amount of fecal component implies a decreased food intake, it may also signal that there is interference with the natural passage of fecal matter, such as vomiting.

It is important to conduct a thorough investigation into the cause of watery droppings in order to establish if they are the result of gastrointestinal distress or an increase in urine production (polyuria). The presence of a feces component that is semi-formed alongside an exceedingly watery urine portion or an excessive urate portion may point to a problem with the kidneys or a metabolic condition such as diabetes.

The presence of a fecal part of the droppings that has a viscosity more similar to liquid is indicative of an infection in the intestinal system. Due to the presence of an excessive amount of mucus, there is often a bluish-gray coating on the fecal section of birds who are suffering from an intestinal issue. When a bird has pancreatic illness, it will have unique droppings known as “popcorn” droppings. These droppings are voluminous and range in color from off-white to gray. The presence of undigested seed or grit in the droppings is abnormal and may be an indication of a problem with the gizzard.

The cloaca or the oviduct are the most likely locations for blood to be found in the fecal part of droppings. It’s possible that the cause is severe inflammation in the cloaca, or even ulcerations or tumors. Blood may also be visible in the oviducts of female birds that are having trouble passing their eggs. There is a possibility that the presence of blood in the droppings of Amazon parrots and macaws is caused by cloacal papillomas, which are tumors with a viral cause. Other symptoms of this ailment include difficulty defecating and the presence of granulation tissue around the vent and in the cloaca. Granulation tissue has the appearance of a strawberry and can be found in the cloaca.

The hue of the urate component, often known as the urine crystals, should be off-white. It’s possible that hepatitis can be diagnosed based on whether the urates are neon green or yellow. There is a possibility that psittacosis is the cause of the neon green urates. The presence of blood in the urine or urates (which should not be confused with blood in the fecal portion) is suggestive of a problem with the kidneys or toxicity, most specifically heavy metal poisoning such as lead.

Unusual Accumulations or Enlargements

Because abscesses, feather cysts, and tumors are all conditions that can affect birds, it is important that any strange swellings be thoroughly examined. The presence of fat deposits on the chest and/or belly, regardless of where they appear, should be regarded as abnormal. The existence of a tumor or an egg may also be indicated by the development of additional abdominal enlargements. The majority of the time, these growths are not discovered until they have reached a considerable size. Noticing an abnormal movement of the feathers is one method for early detection that can be utilized. Always keep a close eye on your bird because the quicker these issues are handled, the higher the chance of a successful outcome.


The preceding talk offers some fundamental pointers that might assist you in gaining a better understanding of some of the symptoms of sickness in pet birds. Do not delay in contacting your veterinarian for assistance if you notice any of these indicators in your bird or if you have any worries regarding the health of your bird. A sick bird that is treated swiftly and appropriately has a far better chance of recovering.

It is extremely suggested that all birds have a full physical examination once a year that includes blood testing and fecal analyses. In order to make an accurate determination on the health of newly acquired birds, a checkup should take place as soon as possible after the transaction. Detection at an early stage is essential.

In conclusion, you should have a feel for what is typical for your bird and recognize that any variations from the norm could be signs of illness. The more you work with and interact with your bird, the better you will understand the bird, and the better you will be able to identify possible issues.

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