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How to Tell If Your Bird Is Sick

By: Dr. Don Harris

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"A sick bird is a dead bird," or so the saying goes. The truth is, however, a sick bird usually only dies if no one notices he's sick. Veterinary care for birds has reached a point where many illnesses can be treated effectively – if they are discovered in time.

It's pretty common knowledge that birds mask illness in an instinctive attempt to avoid predators. In reality though, birds are rarely capable of acting perfectly normal in the face of illness. With most sicknesses, subtle signs are usually displayed. The key to early detection of illness – and successful treatment – in pet birds is to learn to recognize some subtle signs.

Behavioral Signs

Two categories of symptoms suggest the presence of a problem – behavioral signs and physical signs. Behavioral signs consist of changes in the birds' routines, such as:

  • Sleeping later in the morning
  • Sleeping more during the day
  • Irritability
  • Unusual complacence
  • Eating more selectively and picking at food
  • Eating less
  • Vocalizing less
  • A change in the character of the voice or hoarseness
  • Coughing or sneezing
  • Different breathing pattern
  • Making unusual sounds when breathing

    Physical Signs

    Physical signs are those characterized by the appearance of abnormal physical features including:

  • Runny nose
  • Matted eyes
  • Matted feathers on the face and head
  • Diarrhea
  • Black stools
  • Weight loss
  • Any swelling, perhaps under the eyes or on the legs
  • Irregular discoloration of the feathers
  • Fluffed appearance to feathering
  • Loss of feathers, in concentrated areas or in general
  • Scaling or crusting of skin
  • Increased temperature of feet or beak
  • A change in the white part of the droppings to another color, such as red, yellow, or green

    Nothing takes the place of appropriate laboratory tests in determining the significance of these signs. Immediate action is indicated when any of the above – or any other unusual symptom – is observed. Remember: If a bird is sick, every day that goes by is a lost opportunity to resolve the problem, and an increased chance that the condition will reach a point of no return.

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