Common Diseases in Caged Birds

It isn’t easy to spot a sick bird — look here for a list of common diseases in caged birds and signs that your birds may be in need of medical treatment.

Caged birds are susceptible to some diseases, including viral and bacterial infections. Photo: Barry Pousman

I was delighted when I was gifted a pair of the most beautiful gouldian finches a couple of years ago. They are brightly colored, happy creatures. They wake me each morning with a cheerful song.

As long as I keep the cage clean and they have fresh water, food, vitamins, a few branches for perches, a nesting box and a cuttlebone, they seem well-adjusted enough.

Several times my gouldians have mated, producing tiny eggs in their nesting box. I carefully kept their cage area a “do not disturb” zone. I watched from a distance and waited for naked baby birds to appear, but after a few weeks and no hatching, I was forced to remove the eggs.

My next cause for alarm came when I returned from a 10-day trip. The birds appeared to have their usual happy disposition, but the male’s head was nearly white and there were feathers all over the floor! Lots of feathers. I couldn’t imagine that two birds so tiny could shed so many feathers and be healthy.

I’ve learned a lot about caged birds since then, including what to look for in determining diseases and stress.

Diseases Commonly Found in Caged Birds

One of the best indications of any pet’s health status is the behavior. Unfortunately, birds do not offer much of a sign of distress until they are very sick.

You would think a caged bird would be insulated from most diseases but that is not the case. Pet birds are susceptible to many of the same diseases their wild kin experience. Avian veterinarians report that the most common diseases in caged birds include:

  • Bacterial infections
  • Cancers
  • Infestations
  • Viruses
  • Hormonal disorders
  • Vitamin and mineral deficiencies

The good news is most caged-bird illnesses are treatable if detected in time.

One healthy behavior caged birds display is molting. Photo: SLR Jester

5 Health Risks and Symptoms to Watch For

It isn’t easy to spot a sick bird until the illness has become serious. Be aware of subtle changes such as declining energy levels, inconsistency in droppings, weak chirping or not singing.

1. Nutritional deficiencies: Proper diet and supplements are the best sources for the prevention of nutrition deficit diseases. Caged birds eating a breed-appropriate, supplemented pellet diet rather than seeds are provided a good source of recommended vitamins and minerals. Birds suffering from nutritional deficiencies such as lack of vitamin A will experience respiratory distress. Lack of calcium can cause seizures.

2. Yeast infections: White spots in the mouth and on the beak and regurgitation may be symptoms of candidiasis. A caged bird with yeast infections such as candidiasis may show a difference in droppings due to digestive slowdowns. The infections are very common in young birds and are treatable with anti-fungal medications.

3. Giardia: This is a common protozal disease that affects caged birds. Noticeable symptoms include diarrhea and dry, itching skin. Birds suffering from giardia will scratch and often pluck their own feathers to relieve the itching. Giardia may be treated with medication, but it is not easily cured.

4. Bacterial infections: Bird cages can become contaminated with bacterial pathogens. Birds are then infected from the exposure. A bird suffering from a bacterial infection may experience a runny nose, loss of appetite, wheezing and watery diarrhea. These viruses travel easily from bird to bird. Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections.

5. Viral infections: The list of viral infections that may affect caged birds is long. The most common of the group and the associated symptoms include:

  • Pacheco’s disease: regurgitation, diarrhea, tremors, imbalance, seizures, death within 48 hours of symptoms
  • Psittacine beak and feather disease: feather loss, beak deformity, diarrhea, lethargy, loss of appetite, death within two to four weeks of symptoms
  • Polyoma: weight loss, swollen abdomen, appetite loss, depression, sudden death

Viral infections are considered the most serious diseases suffered by caged birds because there are no reliable treatments. Many birds demonstrate no symptoms — just sudden death. Diagnosis of serious viral infections is confirmed through necropsy.

When Pet Birds Exhibit Healthy, Normal Behaviors

Courting: Birds are at times known to indulge in head-shaking, hopping and other motions best saved for the dance floor, but don’t be alarmed — this behavior indicates a healthy courtship ritual between birds.

Watch these gouldian finches during such a mating dance:

YouTube player

Molting: In the case of my birds’ surprise feather bed, I learned that once or twice a year a bird will typically shed its old feathers in preparation of the new “coat.” This is much like a dog or cat shedding. The replacement plumage should come back beautiful and vibrant. Cause for worry would involve more frequent molting, a bird that sheds all feathers without replacement, or if molting is accompanied by other symptoms.

Hatchlings: Hatchlings (or the lack thereof) are also normal. While the process of laying eggs is natural for birds, hatching the egg appears a bit more complex. For example, if an egg falls from the clutch, the egg will not hatch. If the nest is too full of material (evidently finches are hoarders!), the eggs will get buried and they will not hatch. If the nest is too bare, the birds can’t keep the temperature regulated and the eggs will not hatch (my problem).

Caring for Caged Birds

I would not recommend “gifting” a person any type of live animal unless you know their commitment, experience and ability to care for the pet.

Caged birds are wonderful. Like any other animal, if you choose to keep one, a pair or more, you need to do your homework. Understand their requirements for a happy, healthy life. I have learned that with little maintenance and a good environment, the caged bird really loves to sing!