We all sneeze. It is a reflexive response to irritation in the nasal cavity and it’s commonly accompanied by a runny nose. Like people, most normal birds will sneeze occasionally in an attempt to clear dust and debris from their nostrils. But should you ever be concerned when your bird sneezes?
If your bird occasionally sneezes a clear fluid (less than once or twice a day) and has no other symptoms, he is probably just exercising the normal mechanism to clear his nostrils. There are many causes of sneezing and nasal discharge in birds. A few of the most common include:
- Irritation from dust or dander
- Bacterial infections
- Fungal infections
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Foreign bodies in the nose
If, however, a discharge continues, or if it looks like anything other than a clear, thin fluid, or the sneezing is persistent, or other symptoms are present, then you need to consult your veterinarian.
What To Watch For
- Lethargy – Symptoms such as excessive sleepiness, ruffled feathers, and tucking the head under the wing, warrant an immediate visit to your veterinarian.
- Loss of appetite – If there is a decrease in the amount of food the bird is eating, or if it stops eating entirely, see your veterinarian.
- Difficulty breathing – If your bird leans forward and stretches its neck to breath, breathes with an open mouth, or puffs out the cheeks or bobs the tail with each breath, your bird is having trouble breathing and needs to see a veterinarian immediately.
What Your Vet Might Do
Depending on the severity of the discharge, the sneezing episodes, or how long the problem has been going on, your veterinarian will recommend specific diagnostic tests. But first he or she will want a thorough history of the problem. Be prepared to answer these questions:
- When did the problem begin? Did sneezing and nasal discharge occur together?
- Has the appearance of the discharge changed? Has it changed in color or consistency?
- Is the discharge unilateral (one nostril) or bilateral (both nostrils)? Did it begin this way?
- Is your bird rubbing or shaking its head, or yawning excessively?
- Did the discharge begin when the household heat was turned on? Is the bird kept in a dusty room or with birds that produce a lot of feather dust (cockatiels, cockatoos, African grey parrots)?
- Is the bird on a complete, balanced diet, such as a commercial pelleted diet?
Since there are many causes of sneezing and nasal discharge, the cause must be identified for proper treatment. One or more of the following diagnostic tests may be recommended:
- Sampling of the choanal (slit in the roof of the mouth) or the nasal cavity for bacteria or cancer
- A complete blood count for evidence of infection, allergies, or inflammation
- Blood serology tests for Chlamydiosis and Aspergillosis and other infectious diseases
- X-rays or CT scans for evidence of sinus infection or destruction of bone
- Endoscopy for direct viewing the choana, ears, or air sacs to allow your veterinarian to assess the severity of the disease, collect more accurate samples, or remove foreign objects
If your bird exhibits severe symptoms, especially difficulty breathing, lethargy and loss of appetite, he will require hospitalization and extensive, long-term treatment. On the other hand, birds with mild nasal discharge and no other symptoms can be treated on an outpatient basis. Some of the following treatments may reduce the severity of the symptoms and provide relief for your pet:
- Cleaning dry secretions or removing foreign objects from the nasal cavities or sinuses by flushing with saline solution or with forceps. This process might require anesthesia.
- Antibiotics or antifungal therapy by mouth or injection and by application directly into the nostrils or sinuses. This treatment must often be continued for weeks or even months.
- Flushing the nostrils or sinuses with an antibiotic or antifungal solution may help birds with chronic or recurrent infections.
- Surgical removal of tumors. Small benign tumors can usually be removed resulting in a cure. However, most tumors that occur in the nasal cavities of birds are malignant and invasive.
Once you take the bird home, follow all directions given by your veterinarian. Be sure to give all medication as directed, for as long as directed, even after the symptoms are gone. You should also report any changes in the character of the discharge. If the discharge worsens or if improvement is not seen, report this immediately.
At Home Care
If your bird’s discharge is a clear, thin fluid and he exhibits no other symptoms, there are a few things you can do to help:
- Your bird’s environment can play a large role. Because the nostrils are located on top of its head, dust and debris can build up in the nostrils. Providing water for bathing can often prevent this. Sensitive birds should not be housed in the same airspace as birds that create a lot of feather dust (cockatoos, cockatiels, or African grey parrots). A high quality air filter, such as a HEPA filter, may also help.
- Tropical birds that are adapted to humid environments, such as Amazon parrots and macaws, often sneeze when the household heat is turned on. Humidifying your bird’s area can alleviate this.
- Most birds are extremely sensitive to cigarette and cigar smoke. Avoid exposure to these irritants.
- Birds that eat a poor diet, especially an all-seed diet, are especially prone to respiratory disease. Dietary deficiencies, especially vitamin A, cause changes in the cells that line the nasal cavity, making it easier for infectious agents to invade more readily and cause infection.