How to Tell if Your Bird is Sick

By Don J. Harris, DVM

Birds in the wild instinctively hide illness in an attempt to avoid predators that prey on sick or injured birds. Pet birds are also just as effective in hiding illness as their wild counterparts, and it is up to bird owners to recognize subtle behavioral and physical signs that may indicate their birds are sick.

Behavioral signs may include:

  • Sleeping later in the morning than usual
  • Sleeping more during the day
  • Irritability
  • Unusually compliant or passive
  • Sitting on the bottom of the cage
  • Picking at food and/or not eating at usual times
  • Eating less overall
  • Vocalizing less
  • A change in the voice or hoarseness
  • Different breathing pattern
  • Making unusual sounds when breathing

Physical signs may include:

  • Coughing or sneezing
  • Discharge from nostrils (nares)
  • Matted eyes
  • Eyes are dull and closing excessively
  • Matted feathers on the face and head
  • Diarrhea
  • Black stools
  • A change in the white part of the droppings to another color such as red, yellow or green
  • Weight loss-can you feel or see the breastbone?
  • Unusual swellings, especially around the eyes
  • Irregular discoloration of the feathers
  • Feathers are “fluffed up”
  • Random or generalized loss of feathers
  • Scaling or crusting of skin
  • Increased temperature of feet or beak

Any of the signs listed above, or any other unusual signs, may indicate your bird is sick. You should take immediate action by making an appointment with your avian veterinarian. Waiting even one day to resolve the problem can jeopardize the long-term outcome of your bird’s health.