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December 12, 2017
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community living

Common illnesses of birds

By Joseph A. D’Abbraccio, D.V.M.

Pet birds just like other pets can become ill and some species are more prone to some diseases than others. If you already have a pet bird or are exploring making a bird part of your family, it is important to be familiar with their diseases.


Budgerigars or budgies are known for developing a number of solid external tumors as well as internal tumors or cancers. The most common cancer that affects the kidneys or reproductive organs causes a one-sided lameness. Often this lameness is mistaken for a leg injury. Another common condition that is seen is a mange infection called knemidokopic mange. These mites affect crusting over the cere (area around the nostrils over the beak), face and feet.

Chlamydophilosis is a common cause of respiratory disease in budgies. This is a severe respiratory disease that can be transmitted to people, and it mimics the flu. If you develop such a disease that does not follow the normal processes of the flu, it is best to discuss the possibility of a disease spread by your bird.

Another common disease seen in budgies is called a xanthoma, a fat tumor, which is often found on the wings and the abdomen. Given that budgies have a diet high in fat from seeds there is a direct link between diet and the development of these tumors.


Cockatiels are another very common, easily manageable pet bird. They are quite social, affectionate, and do have the ability to mimic. Cockatiels are highly subject to diseases secondary to their diet. Inappropriate diet is one of the most common causes of respiratory disease, liver disease, immune health, and skin/feather health.


Macaws are one of the larger birds kept as a pet. They are highly intelligent, multicolored, and require a lot of time and energy to be cared for. Macaws were the first species to develop proventricular dilatation syndrome, which causes chronic progressive weight loss and ultimately death. Proventricular dilatation syndrome was initially reported in the 1970s. It has been reported in more than 50 species of birds. This disease prevents food from moving properly through the proventriculus, a component of the digestive tract of birds. The patients continue to lose weight, regurgitate, and have overall poor health. Some medications and diet modifications can be prescribed.

African Gray Parrots

African Grays are also great companions. They are highly intelligent and have the ability to talk. They are often considered a high-strung bird and commonly develop self-mutilating behaviors such as feather picking. They also develop dangerously low blood-calcium levels that can predispose them to seizure activity. Cancer is also seen with some frequency with this species.

If you are interested in learning more about birds or are considering adopting a bird, visit the Catskill Exotic Bird Club meeting the second Thursday of the month starting at 7:30 p.m. at 20 Crystal St. in Monticello, NY. This week I will be given a presentation about various bird diseases. For more information call Richie at 845/794-7966.

[Joseph A. D’Abbraccio, D.V.M. of Catskill Veterinary Services, PLLC can be contacted at Visit or]