What is Aspiration Pneumonia?

When the formula or another liquid gets into the trachea and the bird does not have time to properly swallow before more is put in their mouth, the bird can inhale it into their lungs. If too much aspiration occurs, the bird can die from suffocation very quickly. When just a small amount of food is aspirated into the lungs, pneumonia can develop and can be a serious condition that requires immediate veterinary intervention.

Aspiration pneumonia is a lung infection that can develop after aspirating, or inhaling, vomit, liquid or food into the lungs. For hand fed psittacine birds, aspiration pneumonia is one of the most common respiratory problems that can occur. Young birds, generally chicks that are beginning to wean from liquid formula are more susceptible. This is especially true if the person hand feeding is inexperienced since it takes a lot of time and skill to properly feed chicks.

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Symptoms of Aspiration Pneumonia in Birds

Aspiration pneumonia in birds, especially young birds, is a serious condition that requires aggressive treatment by your veterinarian. If you notice any of these symptoms, contact your veterinarian for an appointment. Do not wait to see if your bird begins to get better, it is best to be a cautious bird owner and take them in for an assessment.

  • Increased, labored breathing
  • Respiratory distress
  • Poor feeding response
  • Depression
  • Lethargic
  • Coughing or sneezing

Causes of Aspiration Pneumonia in Birds

Aspiration pneumonia is caused by food, liquid or vomit that makes its way down the trachea into the lungs. Aspiration pneumonia can also occur when food backs up or regurgitates from the stomach into the mouth. 

Young birds, mainly those that are beginning the weaning process, will aspirate because they are not being hand fed correctly. The anatomy of a bird’s mouth is much different than a human’s mouth. A bird’s trachea is located under their tongue instead of in the back of the throat. The trachea of a bird looks like a small tubular opening and when your bird eats, the trachea is usually closed by the glottis. Feeding too fast or too much can cause problems for your bird.

Young birds should not be fed a liquid or a thin solid. Their food should be a thicker mixture so it cannot easily go down the trachea. When feeding, aim the food down the throat and not under the tongue. Do not force your bird to eat. They will give you signs that they want to eat, such as bobbing their head up and down.

Diagnosis of Aspiration Pneumonia in Birds

When you bring your bird into the veterinary clinic, you will be asked about their overall health and feeding practices. A complete medical history will need to be given to help your veterinarian determine what is causing your bird to be ill.

A complete physical examination will be conducted on your bird. Your veterinarian will listen to your bird’s lungs using a stethoscope. In many cases, aspiration pneumonia can be diagnosed from doing a physical examination and listening to the lungs.

In cases where the fluid buildup in your bird’s lungs is not able to be heard using a stethoscope, radiographs will be needed to determine the extent of the infection. A complete blood count, or CBC, will also help your veterinarian determine how advanced the illness has become.

Treatment of Aspiration Pneumonia in Birds

In cases where the aspiration pneumonia has been diagnosed in its early stages, you may be able to treat your bird at home with a prescribed antibiotic and/or antifungal medication. Be certain to follow the instructions carefully on any medications prescribed for your bird.

When the aspiration pneumonia has advanced to the stages where your bird is experiencing difficulty breathing, hospitalization will be required. During their hospitalization your bird will be given oxygen therapy, nebulization, antibiotic and antifungal medications. Your bird will be put in a warming chamber to keep their body temperature regulated. They will also be given supportive care consisting of fluid and nutrition therapy.

Do not assume that you can treat your bird at home for aspiration pneumonia without seeking veterinary assistance. This is a serious condition that can result in death if your bird does not receive aggressive treatments to clear out the infection in their lungs.

Recovery of Aspiration Pneumonia in Birds

The prognosis of any bird diagnosed with aspiration pneumonia is very guarded. Your veterinarian will be able to give you a more precise prognosis once they have fully examined your bird and started them on treatments.

Your bird may not exhibit any major symptoms of aspiration pneumonia until it is too late and treatments will not be successful. Be sure to examine your bird closely for any changes and always err on the side of caution. Have your veterinarian examine them if you are unsure as to whether or not they are truly ill. It could save their life.

Aspiration Pneumonia Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Cockatiel Species
5 Months
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Medication Used


hi.my bird got attacked by a cat at its left wing and after a visit at the vet,it was prescribed doxycycline.but while force feeding the medication it accidentally aspirated some.I tried to sucked it all by puting my mouth over its nares and mouth.It then started to breath again,but with a clicking sound and some sneezing.but the next morning it was all fine,active and singing.except the clicking sound lasted for two more days.it aspirated on the very 1st day,so there was five days of medication more which I did with utmost care.now its been ten days since that incident and my birdie is looking apparently all good except that it gets weak easily after a small flight with some heavy breathing after the effort and it seems to be trembling from time to time even without any drop in temperature...im from Mauritius and there are no avian vet here.the vet I had seen told me that if it has aspirated it all depends on the bird.if it has expelled out all of the liquid,then it will live.or else...just too bad.I love my tikwik very much and I dont want it to die.is there anything I can do to help it get over this??I havent used any medication since the antibiotics treatment alone.help please.thanks for your time and comprehension!!

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1464 Recommendations
This is really a case of wait and see, it is encouraging that it has been ten days since this occurred and Tikwik is going strong but the respiratory effort after a short flight is concerning. I also appreciate that there are no avian Veterinarians on Mauritius but I would suggest consulting with Maurivet as they have two former Chief Veterinary Officers of Mauritius working there. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM http://maurivet.com/Home.php

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Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo
90 days old
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Wheezing sound

After feeding my sulphur crested cockatoo chick , she is making a wheezing sound while breathing. And the last feeding formula was little watery....so i'am worried if she has aspirated. Veterinary doctor in my area doesnt know much about birds they're mainly for cats and dogs. Please help me out i'am worried.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1464 Recommendations

Many Veterinarians do not have regular contact with birds (I used to work with a pigeon club years ago), however I have placed a link after my post which is for the Association of Avian Veterinarian’s ‘Find a Vet’ page so if you need a Veterinarian you can find one in your area (covers countries other than USA as well). Aspiration pneumonia is always a possibility and if you suspect that Robie has aspirated some food, it would be best to get some antibiotics (amoxicillin, enrofloxacin or trimethoprim) from your local Veterinarian to prevent against infections etc… If you see no improvement, try a specialist from the link below or visit your nearest Veterinary School. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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