In the wild, parrots are prey animals. They need to be vigilant to avoid predators and remain safe. A common trait among prey animals is to hide any ailment they have so as not to be seen as a weak and inviting target. Their lives depend on maintaining the appearance of good health.
This behavior makes it difficult to detect health problems that your pet parrot may be experiencing. You need to be aware of the signals that may indicate that your bird is ill, so you can address them before it’s too late. This requires observation of your pet bird so you can notice the signs of illness as early as possible.
What Are The Indications That My Parrot Is Sick?
The first sign that may be evident to the parrot owner is a change in some characteristic of their bird. According to the Pet Education website, here are some specific changes that may alert you to an illness in your parrot.
General appearance or stance:
- Losing balance
- Picking at feathers
- Hanging on side of the cage with its beak
- Walking in circles
- Not preening
Weight loss is a common sign that your bird is sick. You should monitor your bird’s health weekly using avian scales such as the bird scale pictured in the above image. If you notice any drastic drops in your the weight of your bird then you should take them to the vet and double check the bird food and diet. These scales are also useful for preventing your bird from becoming overweight.
Behavior and attitude
- Changes in vocalizations
- Drooping wings
- Change in personality
- Color and consistency changes
- Decrease in dropping
- Blood in droppings
- Squinting and half-closed eyes
- Overgrown or flaky beak
- Head twitching
- Loss of symmetry indicating swelling
Legs and feet
- Abnormal nail growth
- Swollen feet or joints
- Crusting or discoloration
- Tail-bobbing while breathing
- Open beak breathing
- Change in parrot sounds
- Exercise intolerance
Eating and drinking
- Increase or decrease
- Swelling in crop area
- Straining to defecate or pass eggs
- Inability to pick up food
Daily monitoring of your bird, including changing a layer of paper from the cage bottom, will enable you to notice if any of these changes are occurring. Unfortunately, many of the ailments that your pet bird may encounter will present themselves with the same set of indications. This often makes it difficult to determine what problem the parrot is experiencing. Here is a video that shows some things to watch:
When these symptoms appear and you cannot easily determine the cause, it is wise to consider a trip to the avian vet for your parrot.
What Are The Common Parrot Diseases And Ailments?
Margaret A. Wissman, DVM, reports that these ailments are the most common in captive birds.
Psittacosis (Parrot fever)
Caused by a bacteria living in the host’s cells. Specific indications include:
- Lack of appetite
- Difficulty breathing
- Watery, green droppings
- Discharge from eyes and nose
Failure to catch these symptoms early enough can lead to sudden death in your pet parrot. If your bird exhibits these symptoms, get it to a vet quickly. This disease can be transmitted to humans and will present itself as being very flu-like.
Antibiotic treatment under the proper care of your avian vet can result in successful treatment of your parrot.
Specific signs that your bird might be infected:
- Swollen abdomen
- Loss of appetite
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Weight loss
As its name implies this disease is a virus that can be spread by infected birds or latent carriers. Budgies are considered to be one of the most prevalent carriers, so take extra care if they are your bird of choice.
This is a very deadly virus that often affects younger birds. Some studies have indicated that adult birds may develop an immunity.
Vaccination against polyomavirus is recommended and should be done when the birds are still in the breeder’s nursery. There is no known treatment for an infected bird. PetMD indicates that strict hygiene and limiting the contact between potentially infected birds is the best preventative action to guard against this disease.
Specific symptoms include:
- Green droppings
This deadly, viral disease is caused by a form of the herpes virus. It is spread through infected feces and nasal discharge. General stress such as that encountered when moving, breeding, or brooding over the loss of a mate can active the virus which had been dormant in your parrot.
The anti-viral drug Acyclovir can be effective if treatment is started early, but it can cause kidney damage. It is a highly contagious and deadly disease. Quarantine is the best preventative measure.
A protozoal disease with these symptoms:
- Dry itching skin
- Weight loss
- Bulky stool
This parasitic disease can be passed from infected birds through cysts released into the bird’s feces. It can be treated with antibiotics and usually requires several courses as it often recurs.
Prevention is best accomplished by keeping the aviary clean and dry and avoiding overcrowding.
Specific signs include:
- Discharge in the choana or nares
- Plaques or white, ropy mucus in the oropharynx
The only way to determine if indeed there is a bacterial infection is a blood test. Treatment is with antibiotics and if caught in time prognosis is fairly good.
A major culprit in causing this type of bacterial infection is a poor water delivery system. The introduction of food and bird poop into drinking water can lead to bacterial growth. When this water is consumed the bacteria can contaminate your bird, making it ill.
You can take steps to minimize the risk of this ailment by disinfecting water bowls or lines regularly.
Any of the common signs of illness listed in the above section may be the result of malnutrition but especially common is darkened feathers.
If you have your bird on a good diet of nutritionally balanced pellets and fresh foods this should not be a problem. However, they may be lacking certain vitamins in which case you may want to consider checking out our bird supplements guide so that you can overcome these deficiencies. A sign of such deficiencies can be feather stress bars. You should also ensure the bird is getting enough full spectrum sun light, especially if they are indoors for most of the day. If this is the case, they may require artificial bird lighting, as seen in our guide here.
One needs to be cautious when changing diet, as in some cases birds will not accept the new food and will literally starve themselves. It is recommended that you visit your vet and have your bird examined before a major change in diet. Once the bird’s nutritional needs are met the negative symptoms should resolve themselves over time.
When In Doubt, See The Vet!
If your parrot is exhibiting any signs that indicate it is having a health problem, your best course of action is to see your avian vet. As stated previously, your bird will attempt to conceal its ailment, often until it is too late to be treated successfully. Early detection is the best chance you have to get your bird the treatment it needs.