Cockatiel illnesses

A healthy bird does not get sick very often, but when it does, there is a genuine and real emergency. Even the most ordinary flu demands immediate medical attention.

There aren’t too many specialized medical professionals in the field of exotic birds, but it is most important to immediately contact medical professionals and then provide accurate and thorough information about the bird and changes of behavior. Also, it is helpful to provide a stool sample for the doctor.

As an important note, a potential buyer must understand that health care for the birds is not cheap. It can involve lots of money and time. If you are unsure about your financial status, it could be better to rethink the purchase. You should never deny health care to animal based on your financial status!

Keep money ready for future health care expenses or consider buying health insurance for the bird. Health insurance can be a lot cheaper in the long run. One more time, one should never, never even consider twice about buying health care for the bird. The animal is a living, breathing creature just like you. Imagine yourself being left unattended while still needing emergency care. And last but not least, a simple operation for the bird can cost twice the purchasing price of the bird!

“Is my cockatiel sick?”

How do I know when my bird is sick? For starters, there is a reason to get worried and pay close attention when:

– The bird is apathetic and just sits still with fluffed feathers.
– The bird’s eyes might seem dim, and it may open and close it’s beak repeatedly.
– It may not eat and sometimes not even drink.
– The bird won’t pay attention to the things that it normally would find amusing.
– It seems drowsy and sleepy.
– Fluids may discharge from the bird’s eyes or nostrils.
– Feces can reveal much. Bloody or liquid feces are alarming.
– A sick bird sleeps standing on both legs and won’t put his head under the wings during sleeping like it usually would.

All of these symptoms do not come simultaneously, and a sick bird can fake its state to appear healthier than it actually is.

 

This bird suffers from crop infection. It is exhausted and not feeling well. Notice that it is sleeping with two feet and the head is not turned back.

 

Cockatiel first aid

– The most basic first aid is elevated temperature. One option is an infrared lamp which must be placed 30 centimeters from the cage in such a manner that the bird can avoid the light if it wants to. If the cage is a huge one, it could be better to transfer the bird to a smaller one.

– If no such lamp exists, raise the room temperature. Not excessively hot but in a way that you notice a significant change in the heat.

– It’s essential that there’s no draft in the room! Do not keep the bird near windows or doors. The draft usually worsens the condition of an already sick bird.

– If you suspect poisoning, give the bird Medicinal Carbon Tablets for Treatment of Acetaminophen Intoxication. You can get these cheap tablets from almost any pharmacy. The carbon tablet cannot harm the bird, but it can save his life! Remember to contact medical professionals!

Taking a cockatiel to see a vet

When taking your cockatiel to a vet, use a traveling cage that the bird knows. Having a familiar traveling cage is good since the bird can be more relaxed during the check and it’s easier to monitor what’s the true health state, sometimes even without touching the bird. If the bird suffers from a broken limb or other severe trauma, use a box that is as small as possible so that the cockatiel won’t move too much while traveling. If it hassles, it may make the breakage even worse. Don’t put toys in the traveling cage: it’s important that the vet can easily take the bird from the cage if it needs to be studied physically.

If you notice that your cockatiel is ill, start collecting stool samples and take them with you to the vet, just in case. Sometimes the vet can tell much more from the bird’s excrement. Make a list of things that the vet might want to know, especially if you are panicking or feeling anxious about seeing a doctor. This is how you remember to tell the correct things more easily. You can mention your cockatiel’s diet, cage placement, lightning and possible behavioral changes. Of course, if it is obvious what is wrong, all you have to do is to tell it to the vet and take the bird there in time.

Here’s a cockatiel baby, at the veterinarian’s X-ray room. This baby broke her leg but was so young that the bone ossified well. The bird is placed to a little traveling contained, with a towel on the floor making it softer and easier for the bird to stay still. Too much fumbling might have damaged the leg more.

Medication

sairas neitokakadu

The bird can receive medicine either from pipette, syringe, injection, spoon, on the fresh foods – or sometimes a hose must be put to the pharynx and let the medicine drop through that. A medicine can be some liquid, powder, oil, cream or crushable tablets.

Applying the medicine to a bird’s mouth is a reasonably reliable way to medicate a cockatiel, but doing this can cause stress to the patient. Also, a cockatiel may refuse to ingestion, and to shake the medicine out of the mouth, if your holding position is poor. Feeding the medicine directly to the mouth, however, is a better way than to put the drug into the water, as estimating the right portion becomes much harder. The drug can also taste bad, in which case the bird completely refuses to drink, aggravating the situation further. Medicated water must be replaced more often than usual so that the liquid will not spoil. If it is necessary to give the medicine from water, you can try to improve the taste with honey or juice.

If there’s a reason to suspect a poisoning, use a carbon tablet as first aid. Tablet can be crushed to water and given straight to the beak with the syringe. If your cockatiel still feels like eating, you can give the pill to it and see if the tiel starts to eat it by itself.

Antibiotics

Antibiotics are used to destroy bacteria. Unfortunately, they also destroy bacteria that are useful to the birds. For this reason, you should give a lactic acid preparation made for animals after the antibiotics. Consult your vet about this. You can either mix the antibiotics in water or give them straight to the bird’s beak with a pipette or syringe. A sick bird won’t necessarily drink enough water to get the right dosage, so the surge is a better alternative. The bad side of giving the medication straight to the bird’s mouth is that you have to capture it and it may be very stressful especially to a more timid bird.

Zoonosis

Zoonosis is a disease that can transfer from an animal to human and vice versa. This may happen through food, plants, insects, water or straight from the sick animal. In birds, one disease like this is psittacosis or bird chlamydia.

“Why did my cockatiel die? How can I find out?”

Sometimes the bird passes away abruptly without any apparent reason. Sometimes it has strange symptoms even a doctor doesn’t know. If your bird dies, it’s recommended to send it to autopsy in these cases. These autopsies are done by Evira (formerly known as EELA). An autopsy report is made, and it may tell you what was wrong with your bird. This is important because the death may have been caused by a severe, infectious disease that can infect other birds or even a zoonosis.

Evira takes both chick and adult birds. The specimen must be as fresh as possible, however, so if you can’t send it the same day the bird died, wrap it carefully in paper and put it in a small cardboard box. You must put the box in the fridge because the cold keeps it from going bad. The freezer isn’t a right place because the excessive cold destroys tissues. The body should be sent the next day at the latest. The best way to send it is through Matkahuolto. You can ask more information about this from your hometown’s bus station. You must also write a report about anything that may be involved in the bird’s death (age, possible gender, species in Finnish, scientific name, diet in the last days, the bird’s behavior, etc.) and put it inside the box. Also, include the owner’s name and contact information. This kind of autopsies are made at least in Helsinki and Oulu, so the package is marked for example like this: Evira, matkahuolto Helsinki, animal specimen cold storage.

You can inquire about the results the next day from sending the package, but the written autopsy report may take weeks or even months to arrive.

More or less typical illnesses for cockatiels

Flu

The bird flu is like human flu but may be more severe. The bird is tired and apathetic, may stop eating and won’t get excited about anything. There may be fluid discharge from its nose, and the bird may also feel very warm.

The flu gets better like in humans, but the bird needs warmth. If it gets cold from a draft, the flu will get worse.

cockatiel wound

Wounds

Losing even a small amount of blood can be very serious for a tiny cockatiel. The skin of a cockatiel is quite fragile and inflexible, and it won’t take much stretching. If your cockatiel has just a small scratch, you don’t have to do anything. But if it is still bleeding, you can try to wipe it with a wet towel and clean it up. If the wound has already become a scab, you don’t have to clean it anymore. Softening the scar tissue might cause the wound to open again.

On the right: This cockatiel female Veera had a fright attack at her cage and wounded herself. Photo: Niina Kuronen

Excessive beak growth

Exessive beak growth

A typical reason for excessive beak growth can be found from the cockatiel’s diet. Often it is about the lack of vitamin A but sometimes also too fatty diet can cause liver problems that can show signs for example as beak growth. Sometimes if the cockatiel gets a hit to the head area, the growth cells of the beak can get harmed, causing the beak to grow abnormally. Also, a fungus or a bacteria can cause beak growth.

Depending on the reason, excessive beak growth can be taken care of – but sometimes you can only ease it with regular filing or trimming. If it’s about a diet the change of the diet should take affect positively in a couple of months, but for example, a fracture can leave permanent damage.

Always react fast if the beak is overgrowing. If it’s a fungal or bacterial infection, it may take weeks to get the test results. If it’s about aspergillosis and the fungus get’s to the cockatiel’s lungs, it will be a life-threatening situation.

In this picture, the cockatiel has Rhodotorula rubra fungal infection. This is a type of yeast that can be found commonly from moistening places like bathrooms – but also from the bird’s cloaca. It still is quite rare that the yeast causes an infection in the beak. In this case, the Rhodotorula rubra damaged the growth cells so badly that the beak must be filed regularly and will still be deformed. Luckily, the bird is otherwise healthy and eats well!

Stress and depression

stressaava neitokakadu

The symptoms and consequences of stress and depression are about the same. That’s why I’ll tell about them in the same chapter.

Birds get stressed very easily. The stress may be caused by changes in the environment, like a new owner or home. Also the presence of other pets, like a cat that is allowed freely to stare at the bird next to the cage all day, are likely to cause stress. Other common causes of stress are also renovation and the death of the bird’s partner. Depression can also be caused by the loss of parter or a beloved owner, or by a lack of activity and freedom.

A stressed bird often begins to pull off its feathers. How do you know that it’s not only the other birds teasing it? The bird won’t reach its head. So if feathers are missing elsewhere, but the feathers on the bird’s head are fine, it’s possible it’s pulling its feathers off itself. This habit is really hard to stop, especially in the case of bigger birds.

In one example case, there was a sauna renovation in the apartment, and there was a lot of loud noises. During one weekend one of the cockatiels dropped all of it’s flying feathers, therefore losing its ability to fly. The stress and not being able to fly caused the bird to get very depressed, and that led to general infection. The bird became very apathetic, and it wouldn’t eat or drink. It just slept inside a small wooden box and wouldn’t get excited about shiny things like it used to. It’s condition got worse very quickly, and finally, it wouldn’t move or react. In the evening it was given an emergency appointment to a vet because of the acute situation. Without this, the bird might have died. It was given antibiotics, and the cure had to be started immediately. Because the bird wouldn’t drink, the medicine had to be given with a pipette. The bird got better in a week, but it took several months for it to get back to the same shape it was before getting sick.

Blood Feather

Blood feathers aren’t an illness, but only growing feathers that have broken and the vein inside is bleeding. Bleeding can be surprisingly strong, and it might not peter out by itself. If you notice a blood feather, you must pluck it away, to the growth direction. Pulling the feather out isn’t that painful but remember that if the bird gets scared, it might give you a dramatic scream. Still, the feather must be pulled off so that your cockatiel won’t die to the loss of blood.

Ask someone to hold the bird gently but firmly. Then take a grip with your fingers from the root of the feather that is bleeding. See what is the direction where the feather would be naturally growing and prepare yourself to pull the feather in that direction. Then, while the other person is holding the bird, do one quick and snappy pull. And that’s about it

Eye problems

cockatiel's eye infection

Especially lutinos seem to have a lot of problems with their eyes. When there is no protective pigmentation in the eye, they are much more sensitive to light. This is why lutinos must always have a place where they can hide from bright lights.

Other mutations may also have eye problems, from which the most common is the eye infection. The eye may get infected if the bird scratches it’s eye somewhere, for example. There are many causes. Eye infections are treated with eyedrops you can buy from pharmacies with a recipe. In more severe cases the bird may also need antibiotics.

A rarer disease that I have personal experience on with one of my own birds is glaucoma. In this disease, the pressure inside the eye slowly damages the visual nerve. The condition leads to pains and blindness. There is no cure; the pains can only be alleviated.

The lutino male in the picture has glaucoma. The bloated eye is also infected. The disease is already so widespread that the structure of the eye is badly damaged and the eye is blind.

Poisoning

Many things may cause poisoning in birds. Fumes from Teflon pans, paints and cigarette smoke are poisonous to birds, for example.

In one example case, the family had their kitchen renovated. The source of the poisoning is unknown. Both of the cockatiels in the family died. The first one died before the other one had any symptoms. The symptoms were seizures with trembling and vomiting. The second bird lived for some days, having seizures and wouldn’t eat properly. It was very apathetic. Just before the last seizure that caused the death of the bird, it scrunched it’s beak like it was trying to get it’s lower beak on top of the top beak.

If you suspect that your bird has been poisoned, give it a carbon tablet immediately! It cannot harm your bird, but if it really is poisoned, it may save your bird’s life.

Cockatiel bone fractures

Broken bones are most often caused by the cockatiel hitting somewhere. This can happen especially during the so-called night frights when the bird gets scared of something during the night time and starts to fly all over the place in darkness, stumbling a lot.

Sometimes the cockatiel can get its toe stuck to a toy or such, causing a small fracture. If the ankle gets broken and it happens to be the leg that has the band you must act quick. If, the leg gets swollen the band must be cut off since otherwise it may block the blood circulation and cause gangrene.

If the leg is broken, it will be tender, and the cockatiel can’t use it. A vet or an experienced hobbyist might be able to put it in a splint, but if it’s done wrong, the fracture might heal in the wrong direction. The first aid for a broken limb is to prevent it from moving.

In the photo above another parrot has bitten this cockatiel’s toe. The toe tip is broken and may drop the whole nail off. You can’t do much a thing for a broken toe – just let it heal in peace.

French molt

French molt is a virus-based disease, that is found especially amongst budgies and sometimes cockatiels. It causes a derangement in the development of the feathers in young birds (about four weeks old with budgies), and causes the bird to lose it’s flying and tail feathers, sometimes so severely that the bird loses its ability to fly.

The disease cannot be treated, but it’s spreading can be prevented for example with good hygiene.

Birds suffering from French molt shouldn’t be used in breeding. Some regain their feathers and ability to fly, but the disease may show signs of itself even later.

Psittacosis

Also: Ornithosis, Chlamydiosis, Chlamydophilosis

Ornithosis, also known as psittacosis, bird chlamydia, parrot disease and parrot fever is a difficult disease that is hard to diagnose.

Psittacosis is serious because it is a zoonosis so that it can transmit to humans. It is very dangerous to older people and those who have circulatory illnesses. It cannot spread between humans.

Psittacosis is quite rare in Finland, and in those rare cases, it is usually found in imported birds. The bird may be a carrier, however, even though there are no symptoms or even if the bird never gets sick. Especially cockatiels are known to carry the disease and spread it without getting sick themselves. Ornithosis may hide so deep within the bird that only some big turmoils (like stress or sickness) may cause it to spread. It is, however, possible to examine a healthy bird if ornithosis is suspected.

Chlamydia bacteria strains may be very diverse, so the virulence of the disease varies.

The symptoms of ornithosis are diverse, and they may appear together or individually. They may seem like the regular flu. The symptoms are, for example, apathy, breathing difficulties, slimy discharge, conjunctive infection in the lower eyelid and sometimes bloody diarrhea. If medication is started early, the bird can be cured.

There was one crimson rosella brought from Sweden that suffered from the illness at least five months before dying. The suspicions rose the first day in its new home because the bird was sleeping in a very strange position, with its beak pointed to the ceiling. After this there was diarrhea. The symptoms varied a lot, and there was for example diarrhea, breathing difficulties and apathy. Sometimes the bird even seemed to be healthy. Nobody could give a definite diagnosis, but there were times when even epilepsy was suspected because the bird sometimes dropped down from its perch and seemed to be in its own world for a while. It also ate normally, even just an hour before it died. Because there were so many different symptoms but no certainty of the illness, the bird was sent to the autopsy on 29th October 2003. It took three months for the report to arrive because the case was so difficult (the report was dated 15.01.2004) and it was really long. It stated that the reason for the bird’s death was indeed “a general infection caused by bird chlamydia.” It had caused significant changes in the bird’s heart, kidneys, spleen and even brains. Apparently, these changes were the final reason for the bird’s death.

PBFD – Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease

This disease is caused by a virus and may cause death, especially in younger birds. It may begin with something that seems to be a severe molt, but when the new feather starts to appear they are weak and deformed, and they often break and fall off. The bird’s beak may grow deformed. A bird with this disease looks quite horrifying after some time. A bird suffering from PBFD gets cold very quickly and becomes weaker and weaker. PBFD is usually found in larger cockatoos.

The virus is infectious and it’s found in Finland. The best way to prevent infection is not to have contact with strange birds. There is no cure.

Thank’s for the help in doing translations: Kalle-Erik Vähäkylä & Pauliina Härkönen