Common Illnesses in Canaries

Common Illnesses in Canaries

Canaries are cheerful and active little birds so the first sign that a bird is unwell is a change in that behaviour. If you see a canary fluffed up into a little tennis ball with a tail at odd times of the day this can be a sign that something is wrong. Other times, there is nothing visual to see and the birds simply pass away. However, observation of your canaries can give you the edge in realising something may be wrong and dealing with it.

Canary Pox

Pox virus is a terrible illness that affects a range of different birds and is called for the species in question. It can be transmitted by mosquitoes and also by wild birds and comes in two forms. The dry form is the most common with visual symptoms including crusty sores around the eyes and beak, on the legs and also the feet. The wet form is even more graphic with lesions on the tongue, larynx and pharynx. Other symptoms include rapid loss of weight, trouble breathing, listlessness and fluffed up feathers.

At this stage, there isn’t a cure for this illness and has an 80% fatality rate. Once you have seen a vet, keep your bird warm with easy access to food and water and in a quiet, low stress area for them to have the best chance of recovering. Antibiotics are given to help combat any secondary infections but don’t affect the actual pox virus. Some sources also recommend giving the bird a probiotic to help boost their system and give them the best chance of fighting off the illness.


Canker is a disease caused by the Trichomonad Protozoa and can cause death in canaries as well as other species of aviary birds. Symptoms to watch for include skin lesions, vomiting, loss of weight even though eating normally and frothing at the beak. It can be brought in by a new bird or sometimes by overcrowding in a cage or poor hygiene.

There are treatments that can be obtained from your vets to treat the illness but the best method is to try and prevent it. Disinfecting food bowls and water dishes on a regular basis with a proper avian disinfectant is a good measure as well as cleaning cages regularly. Quarantine any new birds away from existing birds when they first come to you to give a chance for any signs of ill health to show.


Mites account for around 90% of illnesses in canaries and the four most commonly found types are air sac mites, scaly leg and face mites, feather mites and red mites.

Air sac mites are blood sucking bugs that live in a bird’s throat, lungs and nostrils as well as the air sacs. They breed so prolifically that they can infest the entire bird and this can result in death. Early symptoms can be that a bird stops singing, sits with its feathers puffed up or the feathers loose lustre. Severe symptoms include breathing difficulties, open mouthed breathing and clicking sounds when listing to the chest. It can lead to death but can be treated at an early stage with treatments that are available from most pet supply places. However if this does not show very rapid signs of working or the bird’s condition worsens, it is best to seek a vet.

Scaly leg and face mites work by burrowing under the skin and scales on a bird’s face or legs as well as around the eyes and beak. They can be hard to get rid of so quick treatment is the best bet. If a dry scaly build up around the eyes and beak shows, then treatment needs to be urgent. Sprays are available but these may not kill the eggs of the creature that is laid under the skin however, these are very good at cleaning the cages or aviary to make sure the mites don’t spread. To treat the bird something like SCATT is advisable, which also treats air sac mites, and is for use on the bird and can be sourced online.

Feather mites live on the feathers of the bird and can burrow in and even kill the feather from the shaft. Bald spots are one symptom of the condition when outside the normal moulting period and feather plucking could potentially mean mites as well. Mite sprays will kill the bugs but it is also important to get the spray into the crevices around the aviary or cage to make sure none are hiding there. It is also advised to keep treating the area every three months even if there is no sign of mites to prevent them coming back.

Red mites are those tiny little bugs that suck the blood from canaries in the middle of the night then hide away in the crevices of the cage during the day. A few of them are not too big of a risk but they can multiply rapidly and leave a bird anaemic and sickly. One way to check if your bird is suffering with them is to put a white cloth on the floor of the cage overnight and check around mid-morning. If there are tiny red spots on the cloth, these are mites that are full of the bird’s blood. Again, a mite spray should kill the bugs but don’t kill the eggs so a treatment such as SCATT will work to stop the bugs producing eggs and therefore stop the infestation.


Sometimes illnesses cannot be avoid and sometimes your best efforts to help cure a sick bird are unsuccessful but by recognising the potential illness, it is easier to judge what may need to be done to treat it. Some illnesses such as mites can often be treated at home with sprays that can be obtained either online or from pet suppliers while others are best left to a professional to ensure the best course of treatment is available to get your canary up and singing again in no time.



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