Salmonella In Birds (Symptoms, Transmission & Treatment)

Salmonella is a gram-negative, aerobic, rod-shaped zoonotic bacteria that can infect humans, birds, reptiles, and other animals. This genus contains about 2000 species divided into five subgenera. Two of the five subgenera, subgenus I and subgenus III, are found in birds.

Salmonella species that most commonly infect birds are found in Subgenus I. Subgenus III contains the species Salmonella arizonae and arizona hinshawii, which have been reported in birds on occasion, particularly those in contact with or near reptiles.

Salmonella can infect most vertebrates; however, host susceptibility and the development of carrier states differ greatly between species. Free-roaming birds can be subclinical carriers and serve as a bacterial reservoirs.

In addition to free-roaming birds, flies, rats, and other vermin may act as Salmonella vectors. The prevalence of various Salmonella species appears to vary with geographic location and food type consumed. Imported birds and animals may introduce new Salmonella species into the area, resulting in new and devastating outbreaks.


This organism is primarily transmitted from one host to another via the air. The bacteria is shed by infected birds in nasal and/or ocular secretions, feces, and feather dust. Outside of the host body, the organism remains stable and dries as a dusty substance. This dust or aerosol pollutes the air, which is then inhaled by another potential host.

The new host’s susceptibility and the amount of contamination determine whether or not it becomes infected with the disease. Other modes of transmission include infected hens feeding contaminated crop contents to their young, as well as contaminated feed and drinking water.

Vertical transmission (the transfer of bacteria to an egg) is possible; chicks hatch and spread salmonella through direct contact. If bacteria levels become too high, the embryo may die.

Overcrowding, stale air environments, nest boxes, and brooders all increase the disease’s chances of spreading. Pet stores, bird shows, and quarantine facilities are also high-risk locations.


Salmonella symptoms include lethargy, anorexia, and diarrhea. Arthritis (particularly in pigeons) may be present in chronic cases. Excessive thirst, conjunctivitis, and indications of liver, spleen, kidney, or heart damage can occur with high-dose infections.

Some avian species exhibit distinct clinical symptoms. Lory (Loriidae) outbreaks are associated with acute disease and high flock mortality. African Grey Parrots are also susceptible, but they develop more chronic diseases with symptoms such as beak/nasal mucus discharge, arthritis, excessive thirst, and dermatitis.


The greatest approach to avoid Salmonella outbreaks is to practice good hygiene. Controlling flies, rats, and other vermin is also critical in avoiding Salmonella epidemics. Salmonella strains found in companion birds are typically not considered dangerous to healthy humans. They may, however, endanger newborns, the elderly, or anyone suffering from immunological disorders. Humans having Salmonella may infect their pets. Human-to-animal interactions have been seen, particularly with African Greys, Amazons, Cockatoos, and Macaws.


Treatment of salmonella infections is more effective if the exact species is initially identified. The right antibiotic may be delivered after the specific species of salmonella has been determined. Many regularly used medicines are effective against the most common Salmonella strains, however, strains from free-roaming birds have varying degrees of resistance.


  • Kanamycin: Dosage: .01 mgl to one gram of body weight intramuscularly twice daily.
  • Gentamycin: Dosage: .01 mg to one gram of body weight intramuscularly once daily or 25 mg. to 120 ml of drinking water orally.
  • Trimethoprim/Sulfamethoxazole Suspension: Dosage .002 ml to one gram of body weight orally twice daily.
  • Sodium Sulfachiorpridazine Powder: Dosage ¼ tsp to 120 ml drinking water.


  • Pepto Bismol: Coats the intestinal tract. Helps to form a firmer stool. Dosage 2-3 drops in the mouth, 3 times daily.
  • Kaopectate: Daolin and pectin coat the intestinal tract and form a firmer stool. Dosage 3 drops in the mouth 3 times daily.

*Before beginning therapy, please verify with the manufacturer of the particular antibiotic for more information. Before treating anyone, visit your local avian veterinarian for further information.


Isolation and identification of the Salmonella species are required for a definitive diagnosis. Most Salmonella strains are motile, or capable of moving on their own, and develop on standard medium. These tests, however, yield a low degree of identification. There are other PCR and sequencing tests available, and the findings of these assays provided more detailed information about the kind of Salmonella strain implicated.


Cloacal swabs are used to gather samples from suspected birds. A second swab should be used to capture any mucus discharge from the eyes and nasal region. Swabs must be sterile and carried in the proper medium. Environmental swabs may also be supplied to aid in environmental evaluation.


Prior to delivery, samples should be kept at 4 degrees Celsius. Samples must be sent in a transport medium overnight.

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