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Symptoms of Illness in Pet Birds - How to Tell if Your Bird is Sick

Signs that Your Bird Needs Medical Attention

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Symptoms of Illness in Pet Birds - How to Tell if Your Bird is Sick

If you notice any dirty, clumped up feathers around your bird's face or rectum, it could be a sign that he is sick.


  • Open-Mouthed Breathing: Respiratory problems are among the most common bird illnesses, and unfortunately the most serious. If you see your bird breathing with his mouth open while at rest, there is a good chance that he is not only sick, but has been for quite a while. This is one of the most serious symptoms of illness in birds, and requires immediate veterinary attention, with probable hospitalization.

  • Dirty Feathers: Birds are, by nature, hygienic animals that bathe often and preen their feathers daily to keep them clean. If you notice feathers around your bird's face or rump that appear messy, clumped up, or stuck together, it is an indication that your pet could be sick. Food consumption and droppings should be monitored closely for a day or so, and any changes noted and relayed to your vet as soon as possible.

  • Weight Loss: Many sick birds ruffle their feathers when they don't feel well, effectively concealing any changes in body mass and loss of weight. Weight loss can be devastating to a bird's health, not only in terms of reduced strength, but inhibition of organ functions as well. Weigh your bird regularly so that you will know if your pet is having trouble maintaining his weight.

  • Tail Bobbing: As with many common signs of illness in birds, prolonged and repetitive bobbing of the tail can be indicative of a respiratory infection. Unlike people, birds lack a diaphragm to separate the chest cavity from the stomach. The muscles located at the base of the tail help birds breathe by playing a part in expanding the lungs to take in air. If a bird is having trouble breathing, the tail muscles will work harder, causing the tail to bob up and down. Tail bobbing is often not noticeable until later, more serious stages of illness, so if you see your bird behaving in this manner, report to the vet immediately.

  • Changes in Vocalizations: Much like humans, birds who don't feel well often become less talkative than usual. Pay close attention to your bird so that you can learn his normal vocalization patterns. If you stay in tune with the way your bird behaves, it's possible to pick up on clues to that way that he feels. If you notice any changes in frequency or general tone of your bird's vocalizations, he should be monitored for additional symptoms for the next few days. It is always better to be safe than sorry.

Early Diagnosis: The Key to Recovery

As far as your pet bird's health goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Birds have very delicate systems, and even a minor illness can turn into a serious threat in the blink of an eye. Early diagnosis can be vital to saving a sick bird's life. Examine your bird daily for any signs of infection, and make sure to keep a close relationship with your avian vet. Your bird depends on you to maintain his good health. Make sure that you keep tabs on his behavior so that you can keep your little friend around for a very, very long time.


All photos (c) 2005 Alyson Burgess licensed to About.com, Inc.

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