5 Common Health Issues in Birds

From parasites and Psittacosis to feather-picking and egg-binding, here are some of the most common health issues bird owners should know about.

Jul 1, 2023By Lauren Rey
common health issues in birds

Next to dogs and cats, birds are quickly rising to the top of the most popular pet lists. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, over 7,500,000 pet birds can be found in homes across the US. While bird ownership has become increasingly common, not everyone is aware of all the health conditions that can afflict our feathered friends. Here’s a look at just a few of the most common bird health issues.

5. Psittacosis

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One of the most common diseases found in birds is a bacterial infection called Psittacosis, also known as Avian Chlamydiosis or Parrot Fever. Birds that are kept in close quarters with many other birds, such as in a pet store setting, are the most susceptible.

Psittacosis is a bacterial infection that can not only spread among birds but also from birds to humans. Psittacosis has been found in 465 species of birds around the world, but among pet birds, it’s most commonly seen in parrots, cockatiels, and budgies (also known as parakeets).

Symptoms of Psittacosis include fever, respiratory issues, discharge from the eyes and nose, weakness, reduced appetite and vocalization, and weight loss. Any birds showing signs of Psittacosis should see their veterinarian right away. While the mortality rate for Psittacosis can be as high as 50%, the earlier a case is caught, the better the prognosis. Treatment usually involves antibiotics but may also include other therapeutics as well.

4. Parasites

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Similar to other pets like dogs and cats, birds can, unfortunately, be susceptible to parasites. There are many different types of parasites that can affect birds. Some of the most common include internal parasites such as intestinal worms and tracheal mites, and external parasites such as ticks, fleas, and mites.

Signs of internal parasites in birds include depression, reduced appetite, weight loss, gastrointestinal symptoms, and itching. Signs of external parasites can include itching, feather loss, and skin lesions. If you suspect your bird has any type of parasite, see your vet right away!

Treatment for the parasite will depend on what type it is and will usually include some form of oral or topical antiparasitic medication. Other treatments may also be prescribed to address any other issues caused by the parasites.

While you can’t always stop your bird from catching parasites, there are steps you can take to help prevent parasitic infections. These include keeping your bird's cage and play areas clean and disinfected and keeping up with routine veterinary checks and parasite screenings.

3. Nutritional Disorders

budgie eating
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Birds have delicate nutritional needs and can be picky eaters leading to some birds developing nutritional disorders. Many of these issues stem from birds that are fed an all-seed diet, whether intentionally or by way of a finicky bird. Too much of certain nutrients and not enough of others can lead to deficiencies. Some birds can also develop issues from the dyes and preservatives found in low-quality, commercial seed mixtures.

These deficiencies can lead to everything from thyroid disease and heart problems to musculoskeletal issues. To avoid nutritional deficiencies in your bird, always feed a high-quality, species-appropriate diet as recommended by your veterinarian. Also, talk to your vet about supplements. It’s also important to take note of how much and what exactly your bird is eating. Although they may be given a perfectly balanced diet, some birds will only pick out the seeds leaving gaps in their nutrition.

2. Feather-Picking

feather plucked african grey
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Routine preening and plucking of feathers is a natural bird behavior, but some birds can over-pluck, leading to issues. Over-plucking can be caused by a variety of factors, including skin problems and allergies, but a large majority of birds that over-pluck do so because of stress.

There are many factors that can cause stress in birds. Changes to their environment, disturbances to their sleep schedule, a lack of activity, or introducing a new bird or other pet into the home can all be stressful. While some things simply cannot be avoided, to help prevent stress in your bird, try to keep their environment and schedule as familiar as possible. Make sure they have plenty of sunshine, fresh air, and activity. Toys can also help beat boredom.

If your bird has already begun over-plucking its feathers, consult your veterinarian as soon as possible. It’s important to rule out any underlying causes, treat any wounds your bird may have self-inflicted, and get ahead of any further damage. Once a bird starts over-plucking, it’s likely it will continue without intervention which can cause all sorts of wounds and skin infections.

1. Egg-Binding

green parrot
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While most healthy, adult, female birds will lay eggs, occasionally, one will get stuck. This is known as egg-binding, and it can be fatal without treatment. Egg-binding can occur in all species of birds but is most commonly seen in smaller birds like finches, cockatiels, canaries, lovebirds, and budgies (parakeets).

Egg-binding can occur for a variety of reasons, including nutritional deficiencies and anatomical abnormalities, but can also sometimes occur with no identifiable cause. Signs of your bird being egg-bound include a distended abdomen, wide stance, straining, inability to perch (laying on the cage floor), trouble breathing, depression, and lack of appetite. If your bird shows signs of egg binding, seek veterinary care immediately!

There are a few ways that veterinarians may treat an egg-bound bird, depending on the severity of the case. Some birds can be given supportive care to help pass the egg on their own, while others may need to have it removed manually or surgically. Your veterinarian will recommend the best course of action based on your bird’s condition. While there are no guarantees, the sooner you get your egg-bound bird to the vet, the better her outcome may be!

Lauren Rey
By Lauren Rey

A lover of all animals, Lauren’s background is in the veterinary world, but she is now a content writer on travel, wildlife, and all things pets! She’s based in Florida, but when not writing, she’s usually plotting out a new road trip route with her partner-in-crime. Pickles is a mixed-breed rescue dog that loves hiking, road trips, and Starbucks just as much as her mom does!