Finding The Right Veterinarian

3 Health Conditions That Could Land Your Feathered Friend In The Avian Vet Emergency Clinic

If you have minimal experience in raising pet birds, you may be unaware of the diseases and medical conditions they are susceptible to. Three serious medical conditions you should be aware of include psittacosis, psittacine beak and feather disease, and fatty liver disease. All of these conditions may affect any species of parrot or companion bird, and if left untreated, may be life threatening. Here's what you need to know:

1. Psittacosis

Also referred to as "parrot fever," this is a bacterial disease that most commonly affects parrots, pigeons, and chickens. The bacteria is known as chlamydia psittaci. Psittacosis may also be transmitted to humans through an infected bird. When humans are affected, symptoms are similar to that of influenza or pneumonia.

Diagnosis of psittacosis typically involves pathology testing from an avian veterinarian. Symptoms to be alerted to include:

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Inability to perch or staying at the bottom of the cage

  • Loss of appetite

  • Diarrhea

  • Swollen eyes, with possible discharge

  • Lethargy

  • Weight loss

Because any of those symptoms may be indicative of a variety of illness or diseases, you should seek a conclusive diagnosis from a veterinarian. If you suspect your pet bird may have contracted psittacosis, seek emergency veterinary treatment at once. The disease may be transmitted though contaminated droppings or from the feather dust of an infected bird, which is why a sick bird should be isolated from others. The disease is typically treated with a course of antibiotics.

2. Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD)

This is a viral disease that mainly affects hookbills (parrots). It may be fatal in hatchlings and young birds. Cockatoos and macaws are especially prone to this serious disease. It is often transmitted among birds through fecal matter or direct contact.

The main symptom of PBFD to be alerted to is a heavy loss of feathers. This feather loss is not typical of a normal molt, which all bird species experience a few times a year.

While molting (the shedding of old feathers which are replaced with new and healthy ones) is a natural occurrence, feather loss due to PBFD is irreversible. This means a permanent loss of feathers will in a bird affected by psittacine beak and feather disease. Abnormal feather growth is another sign of the disease.

In addition to feather loss and abnormalities, PBFD may cause damage to a bird's vital organs. The beak is also commonly affected, and birds with PBFD will often experience abnormal beak growth or beaks that chip, split, or peel away. Many affected birds have difficulty eating when this occurs. If you suspect your bird has this disease, a veterinarian may make a diagnosis through blood tests and cultures. Any infected bird needs to be quarantined to prevent other birds from contracting the disease.

3. Fatty Liver Disease

Also known as fatty liver syndrome, this may occur in a companion bird that becomes obese. It may be due to a diet that is high in fat or a seed-only diet. Heredity may also play a role. Basically, this condition causes fatty deposits in the liver. The liver may become enlarged, causing breathing difficulties for the bird. The stored fat in the liver may eventually lead to toxicosis in the bloodstream or seizures. Birds affected by fatty liver disease may exhibit the following symptoms in the early stages:

  • Distended abdomen

  • Poor feather growth and discoloration of feathers

  • Skin irritations, dryness, or itch

Your avian vet can diagnose fatty liver through blood tests. Treatment may involve a modification of diet, as well as vitamin and mineral supplements.

If your pet bird exhibits symptoms that are indicative of the above medical conditions, treat this as an avian emergency. Seek medical care quickly at a veterinary clinic like Gwynedd Veterinary Hospital, as a bird's health may rapidly deteriorate if intervention is not sought.