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Digestive Problems In Birds

Birds can suffer from a range of digestive problems that may be a symptom of another condition or a condition in their own right.  Here are some basics about some of the more common ones to keep a watch for.

Avian Gastric Yeast

Gastric yeast lives in the digestive tracts of birds and those with a weakened immune system are the most commonly affected.  Symptoms include chronic weight loss, regurgitation of food coupled with excessive eating and then a decrease in how much they are eating.  Droppings can contain seed that hasn’t been digested.

This condition can vary in severity with death toll ranging from 10% to 80% of infected birds, depending on both the species of bird infected and the strain of yeast.  In those that do recover, relapses can occur and they can also have the organism in their droppings, so quarantine is essential.

Treatment for the illness usually included medication from your vet as well as measures to boost the immune system of the bird.  General quarantine produces and clean up should be used as the disease can transmit from one bird to another.


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Candidiasis (Thrush)

Thrush is caused by a yeast called Candida albicans and is the same infection that causes thrush in the mouths of babies.  It is common and is normally present in small amounts in the digestive tract but can cause illness under certain conditions.  Young birds, unweaned birds and those on antibiotics are most at risk of getting the condition due to a deficiency in the immune system.  Similarly, adult birds suffering from malnutrition and other illnesses can develop thrush for the same reason.  When involving antibiotics this happens because the drugs affect the beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract that normally fight off the candida.

As well as the stomach and intestines, in the birds the crop is the most commonly affected area.  Thrush can also affect the skin, occasionally the central nervous system, and other organs.  Severity of the infection depends on the age and state of immune system of the bird.

Regurgitation of food and lack of appetite are two main signs of thrush in the crop as well as the crop swelling up and becoming filled with mucus.  Adult birds can have a mild version of the illness without any symptoms but white spots in the mouth are a sign the yeast is present.

To minimise the effects of the condition, cleaning and disinfecting of the cage, nest box and any food and water dishes is very important.  In chicks, the crop needs to be emptied more regularly and refilled with smaller amounts of food to allow normal function to resume.  Sometimes a vet will prescribe medications to help clear the problem.

Proventricular Dilatation Disease

This is a disease that is often known as Macaw Wasting Disease but it affects a range of different birds as well as macaws such as cockatoos, conures, Eclectus parrots and a range of African and Asian species. 

The illness affects the nerves of the digestive tract, which means that the stomach stretches and normal muscle contractions don’t take place.  Symptoms include chronic weight loss usually after a period of increase appetite, dropping containing undigested food and regurgitation.  Outbreaks that spread are uncommon but the condition is usually fatal.

The disease can be spread through exposure to the droppings of an infected bird so quarantine measures are important to avoid this.  Disinfecting their living area is also very important.  Antiviral drugs have been tried but with little effect, though new anti-inflammatory drugs are showing signs of being a possible benefit.  Unfortunately, euthanizing the bird is often the only course of action.

Gastrointestinal parasites

Parasites of the intestinal system are one of the more common problems faced by birds and their owners.  There are a number of these that affect different birds and have different symptoms and treatments.

Giardiasis occurs when a protozoa gets into the intestines and is most common in cockatiels, lovebirds and budgies though some larger parrots have been affected.  Transmission occurs from contact with infected material or from an adult bird that is a carrier.  It causes diarrhoea, nutrient deficiencies and malnutrition.  In cockatiels, another side effect that has been noted is feather plucking and itching that leads the bird to scream and dig at the skin with its beak.  Baby birds that become infected will be thin with less feathers than normal, cry excessively for food and may die before reaching fledgling stage.  Medication is usually administered by mouth.

Trichomoniasis is also known as frounce or canker and is another protozoa infection.  It is mostly seen in budgies and creates whitish-yellow lesions on the mouth and throat, crop and oesophagus.  Excessive salivation and regurgitation of food are symptoms and it is caught by direct contact with an infected bird or by eating contaminated food or water.  Treatment is administered by mouth.

Roundworms can be caught from wild birds whose droppings fall into the enclosure.  Symptoms include loss of condition, weakness, loss of weight and death, usually due to obstructed intestines.  Routine deworming is a good idea to prevent and outbreak but if one does occur, a vet will prescribe medication.

Tapeworms are less common now in pet birds but are fond in cockatoos, African Greys and in finches.  They transfer between birds when an intermediate host create bites the bird having picked it up from the droppings or discharges from another infected bird.  These can be insects such as earthworms and slugs, spiders and other bugs.  There are few symptoms that are visible but sometimes the tapeworms can be seen moving in the droppings of an infected bird.  Like roundworm, a vet will provide medication to kill the tapeworms, often by mouth or via an injection.  Once it has been treated, it is rare for the condition to reoccur unless the bird continues to be exposed to the same intermediate host as caused the infection in the first place.

Any birds that tend to forage on the ground for food should be regularly wormed to help avoid these and similar problems, usually on a three month schedule.


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