Respiratory Infections in Birds

Respiratory Infections in Birds

Infections in the respiratory tract as well as the airways are quite common in birds and can have various levels of severity.


Aspergillosis is one of the most common infections, a fungal infection of the respiratory tract. Mostly the cause of the infection are fungal spores which lodge in the air sacs of the lungs but is can also infect the bronchi, trachea and voice box of the bird. If not treated, it can also spread to other organs.

There are two main types of the illness. Acute aspergillosis affects newly imported birds as well as the young. It is the more severe and doesn’t last a long time. Birds will be lacking in appetite as well as having difficulty breathing and, if left untreated, can result in death. Inflamed air sacs also lead to a condition called airsacculitis, which sees the lungs filled with white mucus.

Chronic aspergillosis occurs in older birds and builds up over a long time. Listlessness, weakness, depression and breathing problems are the common symptoms but these only occur after the infection has been present for a while. The changes that do occur can be quite severe and cannot always be reversed. There are also bone changes which occur and a mis-shaping of the upper respiratory tract as well as severe damage to the lungs. If the infection spreads to the nervous system, the bird may suffer loss of coordination, tremors and even paralysis.

The spores can contaminate water, food, nest boxes and nesting material but can also be picked up from the environment. Birds with vitamin A deficiencies, malnutrition and stress can be particularly prone to it.

The infection can be treated with anti-fungal drugs if caught early enough so the key is to get the bird to a vet as soon as possible.

Air Sac Mites

Air Sac Mites affects the entire respiratory tract from the nose all the way to the air sacs of the lungs. The infection can vary in severity and common symptoms include breathing problems as well as making whistling or clicking noises, open mouthed breathed and bobbing of the tail in an agitated way. It can lead to death in its most severe form.

A vet will administer anti-parasitic medicine once the condition has been diagnoses that can be either orally or by injection. As long as caught early, most birds can recover from the condition.

Avian Influenza

Avian influenza is the version of the influenza virus, which is found in birds and affects the lungs and airways. It can spread to humans (bird flu) so immediate vet advice is essential if you suspect you may have an outbreak.

Symptoms include a lack of appetite; swelling of the head, discharge from the eyes and diarrhoea as well as the breathing problems and depression you would expect. However not all birds show any or all of these symptoms and may simply die suddenly without any signs of illness.

The disease is spread through contact with the nasal discharges and faeces of a bird with the infection and any type of bird can contract it, from wild birds to poultry. Any bird suspected to have the illness should be quarantined from other birds and humans and a vet will diagnose with a viral infection test. Treatment depends on the type of illness.

A vaccine has been developed against influenza but its effectiveness is still in doubt. It is better to quarantine birds and avoid the illness this way as well as thoroughly disinfecting the environment to help prevent spread.

Macaw Respiratory Hypersensitivity

Macaw Respiratory Hypersensitivity is also known as Macaw Asthma and is a disease of the lungs and airways which occurs in Macaws, with the Blue and Gold being the species most prone to it. Symptoms are similar to other respiratory conditions with nasal discharge and breathing difficulty common as well as permanent lung damage.

There are various reasons that the condition occurs. One of which is a reaction to the powder down that birds produce in their feathers. Vets rule out fungal and viral infections before diagnosing the condition and usually with a white blood cell check as the count increases in birds with it.

Treatments include anti-inflammatory drugs as well as supplemental oxygen. Air filters will be needed around their home as well as good ventilation to prevent reoccurrence.

Newcastle Disease

Newcastle disease is commonly seen in poultry but can spread to pet birds. It causes problems with the lungs and airways and there is no treatment or cure for it. It is also highly infectious and can spread to healthy birds.

Symptoms include appetite loss, weight loss, nasal and eye discharge, diarrhoea, loss of coordination and head bobbing as well as spasms in addition to breathing problems. Not all birds show the symptoms of the condition and may just die suddenly.

The main cause of the disease is contact with an infected bird but is can also be spread from food, water and contaminated environment. Any bird thought to have the condition should be quarantined immediately and vet help sought.

Inhaled toxins

Whilst not a disease, inhaling toxins is something that can happen often with birds and can result in death. Birds are extremely sensitive to noxious fumes and vapours such as the smells from gasoline, ammonia, hairspray and insecticides. Another common substance is Teflon, which gives off fumes that often causes death in birds. As well as non-stick pans, it is often found in lamps, hair dryers and heaters and usually no signs occur to indicate that there is a problem. If the condition is picked up in time, oxygen can be administered as well as antibiotics and steroids.


Sometimes you lose a bird and have no idea what the cause has been. Other times you can tell there is something wrong with a bird without being sure what. The safest idea is to seek professional advice if you think your bird has a respiratory condition as many of the more common ones can be treated, if they are caught in time.



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