Some bird species are more sensitive to the dust and danger from other birds. Courtesy Michelle Testa, Georgia
Not only can bird dust cause respiratory problems in people, it can also have a similar effect on other birds in the household. Birds with the avian version of allergic alveolitis are not having a reaction to their own powder, but to the proteins in the feather dust from another bird in the house. Any bird can develop this disease, but New World species, particularly macaws, seem to be the most sensitive, especially if they are sharing airspace with cockatiels, cockatoos or African greys.
No one knows for certain why New World species are more susceptible to this condition, but Larry Nemetz, DVM, a birds-only veterinarian in Southern California, theorizes that the Old World species like cockatiels, cockatoos and African greys have proteins that New World species are not used to. Furthermore, macaws in particular may be more sensitive due to their large nostrils. “Being that they have big nostrils, they inhale more powder and get more allergen exposure,” he asserted.
Just as with people, birds with allergic alveolitis may start out wheezing and coughing. If the condition is diagnosed and addressed early on, the bird’s breathing will probably return to normal, but even then, it may very well need to be moved to a new home — free of other birds, said Washington state avian veterinarian Cathy Johnson-Delaney, DVM.
If the problem is allowed to go on, the bird’s entire respiratory tract can shut down, and the bird can die. There are also cardiac problems associated with this in some cases. “As the bird loses his ability to exchange air, his blood pressure goes up and he goes into secondary heart failure because of the increased pressure he’s experiencing from trying to breathe,” Johnson-Delaney explained. The condition is so serious that she advises against macaws living in the same airspace with cockatoos, cockatiels and African greys.