Keeping a Healthy Parrot

If you know your parrot well then you will soon notice the typical signs of poor health such as watery or discolored droppings, ruffled plumage, and lack of appetite. Some of the most common ailments are described briefly below, but don’t attempt diagnosis yourself – at the first sign of poor health you should take your parrot to a vet. Knowing a good vet who is familiar with treating birds is a very important part of keeping a healthy parrot.

Some of the main threats to parrot health that you need to be aware of as a parrot owner are:

  • Avian Chlamydia (Chlamydia psittaci)
  • Avian Polyomavirus
  • Avian Salmonella
  • Avian Tuberculosis (Mycobacterium avium)
  • Escherichia coli
  • Gout
  • Pacheco’s Disease (PVD)
  • Papilloma
  • Proventricular Dilation Disease (PDD)
  • Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD)
Parrot Health

Avian Chlamydia (Chlamydia psittaci)
This condition is also known as Psittacosis, Parrot Fever or chlamydiosis. Signs of this illness differ between young and older birds. Young birds may have symptoms that include a drop in body temperature, weight loss, conjunctivitis, and unusual droppings ranging from yellow to gray diarrhea. Older birds exhibit a greener diarreah, tremors and lethargy, along with other signs such as weight loss and conjunctivitis. The disease is treatable by the antibiotic tetracycline. This bacterial infection is also transmittable to humans, who suffer pneumonia-like symptoms and risk death if it remains untreated.

Avian Polyomavirus
This virus commonly known as Budgerigar Fledgling Disease is a real risk to pet parrots as it spreads quite easily, particularly amongst the young. You will see weigh loss, swollen abdomens, regurgitated food, poor plumage, tremors and other symptoms in birds suffering this condition. On the other hand some die without exhibiting symptoms. The disease can’t be treated, although a vaccine is available. Once your pet has a fully developed immune system it is unlikely to contract Avian Polyomavirus.

Avian Salmonella
This bacteria can be transmitted via the air, and has lethargy, anorexia, and diarrhea as the most common symptoms. However, symptoms vary from species to species, for example, the African Grey produces excessive mucus, flaky skin and even arthritis. The best way to avoid your pet coming down with this nasty bacteria is to maintain the high standards of hygiene that are critical to parrot health.

Avian Tuberculosis (Mycobacterium avium)
If your parrot shows signs of weight loss without signs of appetite loss then you should have a vet examine them. These symptoms along with diarrhea, and respiratory problems are signs of Avian Tuberculosis. Unfortunately the condition is not treatable, thus prevention is key. The best prevention is to avoid large zoo-like collections of birds as it is under these conditions that it is most likely to spread.

Escherichia coli
The bacterial infection E. coli is best prevented by keeping feces out of drinking water. The best prevention to have your parrot’s water dish above the droppings area at all times to ensure that it doe not become polluted. E.coli is also naturally present in human saliva so you should not transfer your saliva via kisses or second hand food. The infection is treatable if recognized in good time, and your vet will prescribe Vetisulid.

You may come across this kidney illness in baby parrots. Signs to look out for are dehydration and food regurgitation. The causes of gout are not known, but a balanced diet rich in calcium is suggested by some as a means of prevention.

Pacheco’s Disease (PVD)
This is a particularly nasty disease that is usually fatal so owners should watch out for symptoms that include body tremors across the neck, wings and legs, ruffled plumage, conjunctivitis, diarrhea, tiredness and sinusitis. Once the disease hits it is a quick killer.

It is very difficult to save the first bird to contract PVD since it is usually too late to initiate effective treatment after the diagnosis, however, if you have more than one bird your vet will advise on cleaning, segregation and monitoring procedures that should prevent further deaths.

This is a wart like growth that is located in the parrot’s vent, the area that all combined waste comes from, or in its mouth or throat. Laser treatment can be used to remove the growth, and this should be undertaken in cases where the growth blocks bowel movements or breathing.

Proventricular Dilation Disease (PDD)
One of the most common parrot health threats PDD sees your pet lose weight, regurgitate food, excrete food that is not fully digested, have tremors and seizures, and exhibit signs of lethargy and depression. It is commonly known as Macaw Wasting Disease, but is in fact no restricted to Macaws. Unfortunately this disease is very difficult to diagnose in a living bird and is untreatable, furthermore the causes of the virus are uncertain. With such scant information, the only preventative measures are quarantine of new birds and implementation of good hygiene practices.

Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD)
As the name suggests this disease is common to psittacine species, and species that ae particularly susceptible include: African greys, cockatoos, eclectus parots, lovebrids, macaws and ringneck parakeets. Some of the most recognizable symptoms are: feather loss, growth of unusual feathers, abnormal beak growth and weight loss. As there is currently no known treatment it is important to maximize prevention by separating infected birds to avoid transmission via contact.

Other Illnesses
Below is a close-up o pathogenic influenza A virus subtype H5N1 virus, which is an emerging avian influenza virus. However, this article has not dealt with so called bird flu in great detail as the risk of contracting avian flu is not very high for captive birds. However, if your pet interacts with wild birds, or was caught in the wild then you should certainly research this illness further.

parrot health and avian flu

The important health issue of wing clipping is dealt with in a separate article.

Despite this frightening list of possible afflictions if you follow good parrot care steps, particularly around hygiene, you should find that parrot health is a manageable issue. It is just as likely that your parrot will outlive you, and you will need to prepare for their ongoing care. Finally, if you observe any signs of ill health in your parrot take them to the vet at the earliest opportunity.

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