By Margaret A. Wissman, DVM
Posted: October 29, 2012, 12:45 p.m. PST
By Gina Cioli/BowTie Inc./Courtesy Jennifer Ketchersid
Aspergillosis can develop in birds with weakened immune systems.
This is a condition developing from a group of fungi, Aspergillus sp. It develops as a respiratory disease, usually in pet birds with a weakened immune system. African parrots (i.e., African grey parrots, Poicephalus parrots, lovebirds, etc) are especially prone to contracting the disease from exposure to excessive numbers of fungal spores. The aspergillosis fungus is commonly found in soil, dust, molded grains, eucalyptus bark and wet cage litter. This disease can develop in pet birds after long-term treatment with immunosuppressive medications, after extended illness, traumatic injury, long-term antibiotic therapy or smoke inhalation.
A pet bird may inhale the spores when a surface growing the fungus is disturbed. A dusty room and inadequate ventilation can make a pet bird more prone to aspergillosis. “Signs of aspergillosis may include a change in voice, reluctance to talk, respiratory click, and difficulty breathing, depending on where the lesion is,” said Margaret Wissman, DVM, in the July 2001 issue of BIRD TALK. “A bird may show exercise intolerance, increased respiratory rate, weight loss, muscle wasting, decreased appetite, diarrhea, increased urination, depression or lethargy,” she said.
If a pet bird shows any of these symptoms, immediately consult an avian veterinarian to determine the cause. Birds with aspergillosis usually have an increased white blood cell count. Serology (blood tests) can demonstrate elevated titers against the organism or by elevated antibody titers. Endoscopy can be used to diagnose this disease as can protein electrophoresis of the blood, and radiographs can identify changes in the air sacs and lungs in advanced cases. Often, several different tests are necessary to correctly diagnose aspergillosis.
Follow the recommendations for treatment by your avian vet. Itraconazole is a drug commonly used to treat birds with aspergillosis, Wissman said in the July 2001 article, but it should be used with caution in African grey parrots. Other antifungal treatments are available. In addition to oral medication, adjunct therapy is usually necessary. Surgery or endoscopy may be used to remove lesions and nebulizing the bird with antifungal medication is helpful for respiratory cases.
Disclaimer: BirdChannel.com’s Health Index is intended for educational purposes only. It is not meant to replace the expertise and experience of a professional veterinarian. Do not use the information presented here to make decisions about your bird’s health if you suspect your pet is sick. If your pet is showing signs of illness or you notice changes in your bird’s behavior, take your pet to the nearest veterinarian or an emergency pet clinic as soon as possible.