Bird Illness


Abscesses are common in budgerigars and are usually encapsulated and can be opened surgically. An alternative treatment is to lance the abscess and irrigate it with a 50 per cent peroxide solution in water, three times daily for three days. Any debris in the abscess should be evacuated by massaging the area.

Alopecia (Loss of Plumage)

Loss of feathers, including self-plucking, is frequently incurable and very annoying. The causes are varied and can include deficient or unbalanced diet, boredom, external parasites, exhaustion, nervousness and hormone imbalance. Some hormone imbalances are a consequence of the birds being kept in areas artificially lit, resulting in abnormal day : night ratios. The condition can affect all bird species but caged birds of the parrot family are most commonly affected. Baldness occurs on the head and neck, and usually there is no inflammation.

A white sulphur-crested cockatoo with early feather plucking.

Feather plucking at an advanced stage. It is important that the veterinarian searches for ectoparasites. In canaries, feather pecking of a cannibalistic nature may be caused by overcrowding, unhygienic conditions and sometimes parasitism. Sometimes parents may peck the nestlings. Mature canaries a month or so old may peck one another quite seriously. In these cases isolate the birds, treat the condition causing the problem (for example, worms) and remove all evidence of blood. Newly introduced and sick birds are often the subject of attack. Where a nutritional origin is suspected, diets should be varied and supplemented with green, fresh seeding grasses and insects. Vitamins can be administered in the drinking water or in the form of yeast.

Self-inflicted feather plucking is characteristic of the parrot family. This is usually the result of boredom or dietary deficiency, viruses, rarely parasites, occasionally the preen gland, but probably most often psychotic disturbances.

These conditions are rarely seen in free-ranging native birds. It should be remembered that most members of the parrot family are unfortunately kept in particularly small cages when compared to the size of the bird. Boredom can be relieved by allowing the parrot its freedom in the yard after wing clipping, or by use of a leg chain and wire runner—though there are risks that the latter device may break the bird’s leg. Alternatively place the parrot out among other native birds in the garden, use a bigger aviary, or place some green shrubbery in the cage for the bird to chew on. In obstinate cases where the cause is diagnosed definitely as boredom or neurosis, the bird may need to be released, but always make sure that it can be self-supporting. Nervous exhaustion, another cause of self-plucking, may be caused by dogs, active children, mice, rats or other sources.

External parasites should be eliminated as a cause. Various injections can be given by the veterinarian for some conditions. The red mite common in poultry yards may trouble such caged birds as budgerigars, canaries and parrots. These mites live in crevices of the cages and fittings, which should be treated with Malathion powder or solution or with other insecticides. Birds may need to be tranquillized during and after treatment to stop the self-mutilation.

Feather loss can also occur in beak rot.

Apoplexy (Coma)

This occurs fairly commonly amongst canaries and other seed-eating perch-sitting birds. Cerebral hemorrhage, possibly due to trauma or shock, is not unusual. If the bird does not die at once, paralysis and collapse may result. Apoplexy should be differentiated from the fainting fits suffered by some older canaries. The treatment for apoplexy is to place the bird in a quiet, dark box and leave it undisturbed.
Reduce the likelihood of head-on collisions by removing obstructions that tempt birds to fly into them, such as clear glass and mirrors.


This is one of the fungal diseases that are reasonably common in parrots. including (to a lesser extent) budgerigars. Affected birds show breathlessness, but very little else. Main lesions are in the air-sacs and the trachea. Treatment is 120-300 milligrams of potassium iodide dissolved in 60 milliliters of drinking water. A very successful therapy is to nebulise Amphoteracin B and use as an inhalant.

Beak Deformities

Overgrown beaks

Budgies are frequently presented with overgrown top beaks to be trimmed. The beak can be trimmed with a pair of scissors or filed back with an emery board. It should be trimmed or filed back so that the upper mandible (the top beak) overlaps the lower mandible by 3 millimeters. There are several common causes for overgrown beaks: Overgrown beak: the top beak should only overlap by 3 millimeters.

Mite infestation of the beak and surrounding tissues. Mite infestation of the beak The burrows of the mite (Cnemidocoptes sp.) are visible with the naked eye. There are many topical treatments for the mite, such as paraffin and Dettol. Ivermectin orally or on the skin gives the best result. Sometimes long treatments are necessary to eradicate the mites. Regular trimming of the beak is necessary so that the bird can eat.

Infection Various infections of the air passages and the cere at the base of the beak result in inflammation which stimulates beak growth. There is usually either staining of the tiny feathers above the nostrils or a history of sneezing and respiratory infection.

Trauma Crash landings or flying into windows, mirrors or other obstacles within the cage can cause beak damage.

Beak Rot/Beak Split Syndrome

Beak rot/beak split syndrome of parrots and cockatoos is usually accompanied by a plumage disorder. The splitting, leads to underlying infection and impaction of food particles and eventual exposure of the hone of the mandible.

Infection of the bone, osteomyelitis. debility and inability to eat are the end results. The disease in Australian cockatoos and other parrots is manifested by progressive deformity of the beak and/or progressive feather pathology.

The commonly affected birds are the sulphur-crested cockatoo, galah, Major Mitchell cockatoo, little corella, quarion (or cockateil), especially the red mutation, the African peach-face parrot, the Australian pale-headed eastern rosella, the Australian smutty rosella and the Indian ring neck, and the blue masked lovebird mutant. There are many similarities between this disease and that commonly called French moult in budgerigars. Usually the sufferer shows diagnostic signs of the disease by or at the time of its first moult. Both beak and feathers become affected as the disease progresses but either may be deformed in early cases. The disease is thought to be caused by a virus, and may take three forms: Mortality of unhatched chicks.

Gastroenteritis, causing vomiting, diarrhea, and death. Feather loss syndrome: Note stretch lines in primary feathers.

Combined beak and feather disease syndrome In this syndrome the disease is characterized by progressive changes in the beak. In the sulphur-crested cockatoo it shows as a dark, almost shiny beak, which becomes overgrown, develops a line across it, breaks off short, may regrow several times, but eventually becomes underrun with the typical rot at the core of the beak.

The first feathers to be affected are the down feathers located over the tops of the legs. which fail to puff out. Patches of infected feathers extend backwards and across over the rump; at the same time stretch lines are evident on some of the primary or flight feathers and/or tail feathers, as well as on some of the comb feathers. Feathers that shed or fall out are progressively replaced by malformed feathers which often remain encased (in part, or totally) in their sheath. They often have bloodstains in the centre of the quill and often a deformed pointed quill. Most sufferers lose their tail and primary flight feathers before they lose their body feathers. Very few birds recover from the disease, the great majority of birds progressing to a bald stage—with some dying because they are unable to eat due to the beak deformity. Seek veterinary advice—but the condition is usually fatal.


This is a common sign of sick birds and can be due to aspergillosis (a fungal infection), canary pox, asthma, infectious bronchitis, emphysema or a thyroid condition.


This is an inflammatory condition of the lungs, usually caused by a virus. The bird looks puffed up and listless, shivers and occasionally sneezes. An early symptom is a slight watery discharge from the nose. Droppings are often white and watery. Keep the bird in a constant temperature of 30°C. Administer oral antibiotics prescribed by the vet.


Bumblefoot is caused by a localized abscess of the ball (or soft pad) of the foot, which produces lameness. The main causes are dirty cages, rough perches, toe-nail trauma through overgrowth, and toe biting by other birds. Cut nails regularly and prevent other birds biting by installing

Canary Pox

Canary pox is a viral disease. In acute cases in canaries it causes gasping, followed by death. In sub-acute cases pox lesions (warts) develop on various parts of the unfeathered body, such as the comb, legs, feet and eyes. Inflammation Birds — of the eyelids, swelling of the margins of the eyes and closure of the eyes is common. Pussy sores develop at the corners of the mouth. Scratching and rubbing the eyes and beak on the perch or bars of the cage produce typical damage.

In the canker form. yellowish plaque-lesions appear in the mouth. There is no treatment, although local lesions may be treated with antibiotic/cortisone creams. Warts usually disappear in 6-8 weeks if the bird survives.

Candidiasis (Moniliasis or ‘I-Blush’)

Birds affected by candidiasis—a fungal disease—are sick, show unsatisfactory growth, rough feathering, listlessness and could eventually die. On post mortem examination, the crop has a thin layer of whitish mucous loosely attached. Treatment involves vitamin B complex drops and a fungicide called nystatin.

Central Nervous System Disorders

Signs of nervous disease include circling and rolling, incoordination, loss of balance, convulsions, fits and paralysis of the wings and legs. Paralysis is common in budgerigars and is caused by a wide range of conditions, some of them affecting the central nervous system. Other causes include in the female a ruptured oviduct and consequent damage when the bird strains to lay an egg. In some cases budgerigars may be affected with a ‘creeping paralysis’, so-called because one leg becomes paralyzed and then the other.
This appears to be a genetically inherited defect of the central nervous system. In some cases tumor formation, particularly on the kidney, may be responsible. Curled toe paralysis may respond to a single injection of 25 milligrams of riboflavin. Concussion can be a cause of nervous symptoms.

Concussion can be due to disturbances at night resulting in a sudden fright, or other factors causing birds to fly suddenly from their perches and collide with the walls of their cages. Concussion is not infrequent when a bird flies into a clear glass window which it did not see.

Cere Abnormalities

Changes in the color of the cere—apart from the normal sex reaction—occur in budgerigars, with progressive thickening and darkening of the cere. It may occur in both sexes and must be differentiated from infestation with cnemidocoptes. In cock birds, debility and cancerous growths of the testicles may produce the condition; in hens, cancer of the ovaries may produce a similar condition. Attention should be given to management and diet, but apart from this treatment is not satisfactory.

Brownish, cheesy material may appear on the cere; it may be removed but it usually returns, because the bird usually has a respiratory infection.

Claw Overgrowth

Overgrown claws are due to lack of sufficient wear of the claws. It is common in the parrot family, especially in caged budgerigars. The claws become overgrown, curled and twisted and may become caught in the bars of the cage, leading to fractures. Treatment is to trim the nail with cutters, but avoid injuring blood vessels. Provide natural perches of varying diameters.


This condition (also known as slipped toe, or stiff claw) appears most often in the parrot family although it is also seen in other birds. Young budgerigars are most commonly affected. There is a curling of the digits in a clenched poscut back to the normal shape. One or both feet may be affected. The disease may be due to a vitamin B complex deficiency, which can be rectified by providing yeast. The condition has also been reported in birds suffering from threadworm (capillariasis) infection of the intestine.


This is an internal parasite which attacks the lining of the intestine. Birds have the typical sick look about them, with fluffed-up feathers, and they often rest on the bottom of the cage. Bloodstained droppings and diarrhea may be closely followed by death in severe cases where conditions are damp, dirty and overcrowded. Treatment is ten drops of 16 per cent solution of sulphadimidine in 30 milliliters of drinking water. Amprolium in the drinking water is also very effective.


Constipation occurs in all birds from time to time, more particularly the parrot family, and follows faulty diet. The usual signs are straining, scanty and hard droppings, and general lethargy and sickness. Prevent by providing supplementary vitamin B-complex and fresh green feed. When necessary administer oil (liquid paraffin), at the rate of two drops three times daily for a large parrot. Be careful not to overadminister, or it may lead to feather clogging and feather picking.


Convulsions can be caused by viruses, bacteria and cancerous growths—their effects on the nervous system can result in depression, tail flicking, inability to fly, ataxia, paralysis, chorea, and convulsions. In addition, heart diseases, heart failure and poisoning cause convulsions.

The bird should be kept in a subdued light. Wide-spectrum antibiotics should be given, together with prednisolone (0.2 milligrams) twice daily for three days.


The eating of feces. A normal requirement among some birds.

Cramps (Curled-Toe Paralysis)

This condition responds to B-group vitamins. Add yeast to diet, or for quick results take the bird to a vet for an injection.

Crop Impaction (Crop Bluding)

Crop impaction is seen most frequently in the parrot family, and particularly among debilitated birds. It is common in young cock budgerigars. Distension of the crop is caused by dough-like, fermented contents.

Failure to de-husk seed is a common cause. Parent birds usually de-husk seed for their young and when the young start to feed themselves they may not always do it. The condition is seen as a swelling of the crop, with severe vomiting. In bad cases the crop will need to be opened surgically for removal of the debris. Pigeons producing crop milk, however, cannot be operated on because of the vascularity of the crop at this time.
Sometimes, while the bird is under general anesthetic, the crop may be massaged and the impaction relieved. Particular attention should be paid to a bird that has already suffered crop impaction, as it tends to recur if the bird’s general condition remains poor. All that can be done to prevent crop impaction is to keep birds in good health, feed them properly and make sure adequate grit is available.

Crop Necrosis

Crop necrosis is a digestive disease characterized by regurgitation of mucoid fluid, diarrhea and general malaise. The majority of cases die within a few days but sometimes death is quite sudden and unexpected. Treatment is with broad-spectrum antibiotics.

Cystic Conditions

Feather cysts are quite common in canaries and can be single or multiple. The cysts, which involve feather follicles, occur mainly on the wings, back, breast and tail, and develop mainly during the bird’s first or second moults. The cysts usually contain yellow, granular, cheese-like material. They should not be confused with cancerous conditions or skin abscesses. Their treatment is complete surgical excision under general anesthetic, rather than mere lancing

Deficiency Diseases in Birds

Because so little is known of the precise dietary requirements of many caged birds, it is likely that many disease conditions are due to deficiencies. For example, such conditions as French moult and other plumage disorders, gout, kidney disease, nervous conditions, poor hatchability, reduced fertility, failure to thrive and obesity are all influenced by diet.
Mixed vitamin supplements and increased fruit, green stuff and water intake have a beneficial effect in many conditions in canaries and budgerigars. In many illnesses the supply of live termites (white ants) can provide essential nutrients.


Normal droppings in the bird are black with a white centre. Diarrhea is usually evidenced by profuse, greenish droppings. The birds are very’ thirsty, there may be straining and eversion of the cloaca, and a craving for grit. Diarrhea can be caused by: faulty feeding; several organisms such as E. Coli, Salmonella, psittacosis and chlamydiosis; coccidiosis; access to poisonous garden plants such as violets, jonquils and gladioli. Sometimes stale wilted green stuff, or any other dirty food may induce intestinal inflammation and result in diarrhea. The bird quickly goes into shock, becomes depressed, loses its appetite, and stands about in a typical sick bird attitude with ruffled feathers. Samples of the droppings should be examined by a veterinarian and suitable medication prescribed as quickly as possible. Supportive therapy includes providing warmth, electrolytes in the water and intestinal antibiotics.

Suggested treatment is 1 gram Terramycin soluble powder per liter of drinking water for five days. Nectar-eating birds can be fed on 175 grams honey, 175 grams Complain and 175 grams of bread per liter of water. The bird should be force fed initially and treatment continued for five days. Isolate the bird and keep it warm and quiet.

A second treatment regime is a teaspoon of Spectramycin soluble powder (55 grams oxytetracycline per kilogram) per 250 milliliters of water, plus 2-3 drops Lomotil syrup twice daily. Initially injections are needed. With any of these treatments it is important to supply grit.

Egg Binding

Egg binding is common in caged birds, particularly in canaries and pigeons. It leads to excessive straining and a prolapse may occur. In canaries it occurs at the start of the breeding season and if not corrected may be quickly fatal.

It often occurs in cold weather and in unhealthy or immature birds, who will be found fluffed up in the corner of the cage. Treatment is to place the bird in a warm cage at 26-32°C (80-90°F). This alone may relieve the spasm of the oviduct. Lubricate the egg and vent area with some warm paraffin oil. If this fails, pierce the egg with a needle, remove the contents and then the shell. An owner with confidence can perform this procedure.

Eye Disorders

Irritation, inflammation and slight closing of the eye can be caused by the pox virus. Cataracts, which are often seen, may be due to inbreeding. Conjunctivitis caused by chlamydiosis is commonly seen in parakeets—symptoms are excessive drinking and partial closing of the eyes with mucous discharges. It is successfully treated with antibiotic eyedrops.
A fracture in a bird is a serious problem, and not one for home remedies. Fractures of the major bones in large birds can be satisfactorily repaired by inserting a pin surgically. Smaller bones, and the legs of smaller birds, can be splinted while the bird is under a general anesthetic with quite satisfactory results, using splints made of 12 millimeter strips of adhesive tape and fine plastic tubing. It is important that the bird be encouraged to perch, with the limb extending behind and resting on top of the perch. Fractures of the toes are not uncommon but they invariably heal well when splinted by adhesive tape to the adjacent toe.

Fractured wings are very common. The typical sign is a drooped wing. To facilitate healing, the wing should be lifted back to its normal position. In large birds pinning can be done surgically and is one of the better remedies. In birds weighing less than 50 grams surgery is generally unwarranted, and the fracture can often be treated by manipulation of the conscious or sedated sufferer and the wing strapped in its normal position against the body which serves as a splint. Adhesive tape 12 millimeters wide is used to encircle both wings just behind the wing butt and connected to another strip holding the primary flight feathers together and to the tail base by a strip along the back of the bird. Free leg movement is essential.

It takes time for the bird to learn to balance without the use of its wings. Splinting remains for twenty-one days. All primary and secondary flight feathers on the affected wing are cut off to remove any drag on the wingtip. In some cases wings may have to be amputated, but birds in captivity cope very well.


Gangrene is sometimes reported among canaries. The feet become cold, black in color, and slough off. The cause is unknown—but it may be due to bacteria ergot. The should be treated with local applications of tincture of chloramphenicol daily. Cleanse and disinfect the cage and destroy and replace the perches. The condition can be confused with canary pox or simple inflammatory conditions.


Gout is usually a sequel to a kidney complaint. A bird with gout may be restless and may lift and lower the feet alternately. Joint lesions take the form of nodules on the feet and legs (budgerigars), and sometimes on the wing joints. The only treatment that can be suggested is manipulation of the joint while the bird is under general anesthesia, the provision of narrow diameter perches and control of any kidney disease.

Gout is a complex problem. Nutritional deficiencies of riboflavin, vitamin E and manganese may all play a part.

A detailed examination of all factors such as husbandry, nutrition and evidence of disease needs to be made before specific treatment can be carried out. A change in diet to a mixed vitamin supplement, reduced seed intake, and an increased fruit, green and water intake are general recommendations in budgerigars and canaries where gout is occurring. The condition is usually progressive.

Heart Disease

Heart disease is common in parrots. The signs are fainting fits, leading to collapse, followed (in older birds) by recovery. Older birds tend to recover because they have better compensatory ability than younger birds. The fainting fits increase in frequency and eventually result in heart failure, usually due to pericarditis.

In canaries aged seven years and older fainting fits and heart failure are common. The cause is usually a fibrinous pericarditis or gout. Signs are sudden fluttering about the cage followed by partial collapse with the wings held away from the body and weakness of the legs. Death may ensue, or the bird may recover after a few hours. Keep the bird quiet and warm, lower the perches and remove obstacles on which the bird may injure itself. Treatment is glucose at the rate of 30 grams per liter of drinking water and Nikethamide by injection 0.25 milliliters. A minute amount of strychnine may be given in drinking water. No alcohol should be given.


Heatstroke can occur in any caged bird. If the cage is placed in direct sunlight without shelter, the bird becomes distressed. suffers prostration and eventually death from heart failure and shock. The bird suffering from heatstroke should be removed to a cool, shaded area or placed in a refrigerator for a minute to get rapid, dry cooling. Take care not to overdo this—some may recommend three minutes but one minute is safer. Afterwards place the bird in a cool, dark room. Taking the bird to the vet will only cause increased stress, so it is advisable to leave the bird quiet.


Hernia is sometimes seen in caged birds but most often in budgerigars. It is a fluctuating swelling beneath the skin of the abdomen. The only method of repair is by anesthesia and surgery. It may be confused with a tumor. The condition is most likely due to injury.
Injuries in Birds

Following injury to a captive bird or on capturing an injured bird, handle it as little as possible. Place the bird in a soft cardboard box and keep it dark (excepting larger parrots, which do not go into shock so easily). While maintaining a warm environment for the bird,
Race it as rapidly as possible to the vet’s surgery. External injuries of tail feathers Broken or damaged primary and secondary tail and flight feathers are removed by traction.

Re-growth time varies from eight weeks to four months depending on the species. Self-mutilation of feather wounds can be limited by fitting-an Elizabethan collar or by releasing the bird into a very large aviary. Sometimes reduction of light intensity and improved husbandry eliminates the problem. An injured feather is best to be removed and the area cauterized with ferric chloride solution to stem the bleeding.

Puncture wounds and lacerations to the skin from the environment or other birds are common. Large wounds can be sutured and/or an Elizabethan collar used to prevent pecking at the wound.

Bumblefoot is a major problem of the foot. Excess toe-nail growth and consequent snagging or toe biting by other birds are frequent. Often a nail strip occurs, but regrowth of the nail over the undamaged stump is rapid. If osteomyelitis (inflammation of the bone) sets in, antibiotics are required.

Soft Ttissue Injuries

Leg rings Most budgerigars and canaries bred for exhibition are fitted with closed aluminum rings on their legs, but the incidence of problems associated with these is low. If the ring is too tight the leg may be fractured and/or the blood supply to the foot restricted. The ring often becomes restrictive if there is swelling of the leg because of canary pox or. cnemidocoptes mite infestation. Removal of the ring should be undertaken with extreme care and only while the bird is anesthetized, as it is very easy to fracture a leg. As the ring is usually made of soft aluminum, it may be cut off with a pair of fine scissors, ideally by inserting one blade under the ring and cutting. If access by this technique is impossible, then a fine pair of tin snips is applied above and below the ring which is cut in two positions. The traumatized tissues of the leg are treated with local preparations and the bird is placed on antibiotics.


Emphysema is an accumulation of air under the skin. It can be caused by a penetrating wound that punctures the skin and creates a ‘bellows’ effect in the A leg ring which has restricted circulation has caused serious injury to this bird surrounding muscle tissue; air is ‘pumped’ in through the wound. Another cause is the rupture of an air sac which results in a massive accumulation of air in the head and neck region. Veterinarian treatment is required.

Crop Fistula

Commonly encountered in large parrots and resulting from internal trauma or ulceration. In racing pigeons, injuries result from external trauma from trees, power lines and birds of prey. The opening usually comes from the crop to the outside skin. Treatment is surgical.
Internal Trauma

Internal trauma results from eating a foreign body or from the migration of a sharp object (such as a needle or a piece of wire) through any part of the upper intestinal tract. Sometimes X-rays will reveal the foreign body. Part of it may be visible externally. Surgery can be done under anesthetic to remove the problem.

Gunshot Wounds

Gunshot wounds are common in racing pigeons particularly and produce a variety of lesions. Removal of pellets is difficult and often unnecessary unless they are affecting the bird’s bones.


Collapse of the walls of the oviduct, and subsequent emergence of the tissue through the vent, may occur after egg-laying in immature or geriatric females. If the prolapse is attended to quickly, lubrication or gentle restoration using a blunt instrument is all that will be needed. Prolapse of a longer duration is more difficult to reduce, but patience and gentle pressure with thorough lubrication will restore the organ to its normal position. A purse-string suture around the vent for the next seven to ten days will prevent a recurrence. Laying birds should be checked daily. Antibiotic therapy is necessary.

Leg Disorders

Swollen knees in lorikeets and budgerigars may be due to infectious arthritis or gout. Infectious arthritis can be treated with a mixture of 1: 1 sulphadimidine and chloramphenicol palmitate suspension. Give two drops by mouth every four hours for seven to fourteen days. Nodules on the legs and feet may be the result of gout. If the swelling is due to canary pox, the disease can be identified by the typical pox lesions (warts) on the skin of the body and on the feet and legs, and the usual cycle of the warts (they will disappear in about six weeks).

Light Birds

Going ‘light’ is a symptom, not a disease and is common to many diseases. The bird sits listlessly with its feathers fluffed. and it loses weight as it picks disinterestedly at its food. It flies sluggishly and with increasing difficulty as breast and pectoral muscles waste away almost to nothing. Birds affected by this condition should be taken to a veterinary surgeon.

Loss of Voice

Invariably there is some underlying problem with the bird. Observe it carefully to detect clinical signs of illness.


Moulting varies in timing, but usually occurs towards the end of summer. Canaries moult more fully than budgerigars. Parrots moult more slowly than canaries and start earlier.
Canaries may lose their song, and there is reduced activity during the moult. Vitamins, fresh greens, fruit and canary seed—so-called moulting foods—should be supplied during the moult. When moulting is incomplete and the remaining feathers are dull, the bird may be treated by ultraviolet irradiation. The lamp should be positioned 1 metre from the cage for half a minute on the first day, one minute on the second day, and thereafter lengthening the time each day by half a minute until by the thirtieth day the bird is receiving a dose for fifteen minutes. Moulting will be erratic when the bird’s diet is unsatisfactory. Some birds benefit from small pieces of raw meat, some benefit from soft corn meal mush seasoned with salt and pepper. Other diets that promote healthy moulting include slices of wholemeal bread soaked in warm milk and honey, sweet apple, fresh corn on the cob and a boiled egg occasionally French moult ‘runner’.

French Moult

French moult is a condition of young budgerigars and some other parakeets. It is a condition of faulty plumage occurring in the nest or during the fledging stage, and is thought to be a deficiency disease induced by continuous breeding. It is associated with a deficiency of protein secreted by the female. Nestlings have excessive feather growth but are subnormal in size. Continuous moulting affecting the wing or tail feathers can give rise to the so-called ‘runners’ or ‘crawlers’. The condition should be differentiated from parasitic disease or self-plucking. To prevent the birth of young that will continue the disorder, breeding adults should be rested from breeding for months. Control apart from this is dietary. Some success has resulted from using high levels of vitamin E (80 i.u. per kilogram of foodstuff). Molasses, seaweed and B-group vitamins mixed in the drinking water are also helpful. The best response is to antibiotic therapy during incubation and rearing.

Soft Moult

Soft moult is the continual moulting of a few feathers. This condition occurs in budgerigars and canaries where they are kept in cages under artificial light, such as the living room of an ordinary household. It is commonest in canaries under such conditions. The affected birds have a disheveled appearance as they continually shed their feathers and produce new growth. The birds become debilitated and may die. Treatment includes varying the diet, providing constant temperature, and exposure to normal hours of daylight. It can take up to six months for the condition to be cured.

Muscle wasting

Muscle wasting is a sign of serious illness in the bird, and particularly of cancerous growths


Cage birds as they age become susceptible to a wide range of benign and malignant tumors. The incidence of cancers is very high in budgerigars. Treatment is seldom possible, apart from surgical removal of subcutaneous neoplasms.

Neoplasms may also occur in the kidneys or in the pituitary gland, and cause a quarter of all deaths. Cancerous growths lead to a variety of symptoms but externally all produce wasting and death.

Nephritis (Kidney Disease)

Birds are commonly affected with nephritis due to the production of uric acid crystals which get caught in the tubules of the kidney. Sometimes there is associated gout. Symptoms are depression, thirst and watery diarrhea which may be whitish with urates.
Swelling of the limbs can occur in canaries. The condition is commonly caused by a virus. Treatment is to use antibiotics such as Amoxil or Clavulox and check on the dietary protein. The surrounding temperature should be maintained at 24-26°C. If the canary becomes emaciated, increase the ratio of canary seed to millet seed from 1 : 2 to 3 : 1. If its weight does not increase, consult your veterinary surgeon for antibiotic :herapy.


Obesity is a serious problem, as it affects the liver, heart, lungs and kidneys, resulting in respiratory disturbance, lethargy, sometimes abdominal rupture, reproductive disorders and collapse if the bird is excited. Flight may be impossible and walking may be an effort. It occurs in birds between fifteen months and six years of age. Control is by strict dieting on a high-protein seed ration, giving only one level teaspoonful two or three times a day for about ten days.

Oil Removal from Marine Birds

An oiled bird should be sprinkled with dry cornflour, which should be dusted off once it has absorbed oil. Repeat the dusting with fresh cornflour until the bird’s plumage is normal. Allow the marine bird a test swim in a small tub before releasing to the wild. Birds should not be degreased with a detergent-type product as this also removes natural plumage oils which keep the bird buoyant while swimming.

Ornithosis (Psittacosis or Parrot’s Disease or Parrot Fever)

This condition affects birds of the parrot family, budgerigars, canaries and other species of wild birds and pigeons. It is a danger to human beings, as it may produce respiratory symptoms that vary from mild to severe, sometimes total bronchopneumonia. The disease is readily transferred from birds to humans by inhalation, and kissing pet birds is for this reason extremely dangerous.

Symptoms in birds vary a lot and are not specific. Labored breathing is the commonest symptom. Birds go off their food, show sleepiness, roughing of the feathers, greenish diarrhea, breathlessness, discharge from the nose and eyes, loss of weight, drooping of the wings, general apathy and attacks of shivering. Treatment includes antibiotic therapy, but serious thought should be given to destroying the bird because of the danger to human health.


Budgerigars, parrots and cockatoos may suffer from osteomalacia, a gradual softening of the bones. The condition is dietetic in origin, being caused by a deficiency or imbalance of calcium and phosphorus and a deficiency of vitamin D. The bones become weak and may fracture. The easiest treatment is to feed with a commercial brand of bird seed. Seek professional advice regarding adequate and balanced calcium and phosphorus in the diet.
This condition is becoming more apparent among native birds fed by the public on bread and honey. If this diet accounts for a large proportion of a bird’s total diet it will eventually suffer from osteomalacia. Bread is very poor in calcium and very high in phosphorus

Parasites (External)

Birds are commonly affected by lice and mites which attack their legs and feathers. Several insecticides are available for painting the undersides of the perches. These insecticides are very poisonous and should be used strictly according to the instructions on the label. Painted on the undersides of the perches, the fumes rise and penetrate the birds’ feathers, killing any lice.

Other effective methods of controlling vermin are to spray or paint perches and cages with kerosene or an insecticide such as Malathion. Birds should be removed from the cages or aviaries during this procedure and not returned to the cages for two or three days. The cages should be rinsed with water after the insecticide has had time to work.