By Margaret A. Wissman, DVM
Posted: November 7, 2012, 12:15 p.m. PST
Birds demonstrating breathing difficulties characterized by open-mouth breathing, obvious abdominal excursions, respiratory noise and tail bobbing with each breath are all signs that your bird is suffering from a problem involving the respiratory system. A bird with respiratory problems may also show signs of ocular involvement, nasal discharge, sinus damage or subcutaneous emphysema (air under the skin).
Bacterial (including Chlamydophila and Mycoplasma), protozoal, fungal and viral infections can all cause respiratory problems. Airborne toxins, smoke and some aerosol items can also result in respiratory difficulty. Over-heated non-stick cookware (PTFE) releases toxic fumes that can be life-threatening. Foreign bodies, such as an inhaled seed hull, can also cause respiratory problems. Allergies, while poorly understood, can cause breathing problems and also an elevation in the amount of red blood cells in the bloodstream. This is most likely to occur in New World parrots developing respiratory problems related to the excessive amount of powder down, dust and dander found on Old World species (cockatoos, cockatiels and African Grey parrots).
If your bird is showing signs of acute, serious respiratory distress, such as open mouth breathing, a respiratory squeak or tail bobbing, you should transport it to an avian veterinarian or veterinary emergency clinic immediately. If your bird is in an environment that is dusty, smoky or has a strong odor, you should remove it from that location immediately, preferably out into the fresh air.
By Gina Cioli/BowTie Inc./Courtesy Polly Porter
The bird dander produced by cockatoos can sometimes effect another bird species.
Your avian vet will perform the necessary diagnostic tests to diagnose the cause of the respiratory problem. Once diagnosed, appropriate medical therapy will be instituted. The bird may need to be hospitalized for oxygen or nebulization therapy. In some cases, surgery may be necessary to remove a foreign body, such as a seed hull or a fungal granuloma. In cases of upper-airway obstruction, an air sac breathing tube may need to be surgically inserted. Fluid therapy, oxygen, heat, vitamins and nutritional support may be necessary. Once discharged from the hospital, you must follow your avian veterinarian’s instructions for treatment and make sure to keep any follow-up appointments. You may need to make changes in your bird’s environment, such as using hypo-allergenic cage substrate, running a HEPA filtration system in the bird room and perhaps separating New World from Old World psittacines into separate air spaces. Most birds will make a complete recovery from respiratory infections.
Disclaimer: BirdChannel.com’s Bird 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.