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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.

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
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Aspiration Pneumonia Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

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Pineapple conure

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33 days

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Not Eating And Weak Looking

Past three days my chick has been quite non-responsive and has not been taking feeds as

Sept. 27, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. . It would be best to have your pet seen by a veterinarian, as they can examine them, see what might be going on, and get any treatment that they might need.

Oct. 13, 2020

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Green cheekconure

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Eight Years

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Unknown severity

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4 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Lethargy

How long after aspirating will a bird pass away? Is it days or hours?

Sept. 19, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Gina U. DVM

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4 Recommendations

Hours.

Sept. 21, 2020

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Jenday conure

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8 weeks

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Gurgling When Breathing

I believe my bird aspirated some of its formula

Aug. 2, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. I'm sorry your bird is having problems. If she aspirated formula, she could get pneumonia, and it would be best to have her seen by a veterinarian. They will be able to listen to her lungs, assess your health, and get treatment if needed. I hope that she is okay.

Aug. 2, 2020

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Cip

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Canary bird

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1 Year

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Moderate severity

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1 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Cough, Respiratory Dist

Yesterday while I was giving my canary antibiotic, she started coughing and since then, she shows respiratory distress and continues to cought. What can I do? Can she develop aspiration pneumonia even if she aspirated antibiotic?

Sept. 15, 2018

Cip's Owner

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hale

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Sun Conure

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2 Months

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Fair severity

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0 found helpful

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Fair severity

Has Symptoms

Choke

hey this morning, i fed my baby bird with the syringe and normally i would push the syringe down its throat but today i tried to give abit in the mouth and she eats it normally. After i came and look there were food that i fed her coming out of her nose once i have seen yet, does that means that she is also in aspiration pneumonia?

Aug. 8, 2018

hale's Owner

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0 Recommendations

The presence of food coming from the nares is concerning, but it doesn’t always mean that food was aspirated (but it is likely); without examining Hale I cannot say whether there is a cause or concern. You should remove the food from around the nares and feed as normal, monitor for the time being but if any respiratory symptoms develop visit your Avian Veterinarian. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Aug. 8, 2018

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Peach

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european starling

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4 Days

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Possible Aspiration

I have a 4 day old starling (I found him as a cracked egg and incubated him until he hatched on day 13). On the second day of feeding, he struggled to swallow one of his meals and I'm afraid he aspirated (he did a weird head bob). He has done it with almost every meal now and flails his head making me think that he aspirated. I'm being careful of his windpipe under his tongue, but he chirps when being fed so the windpipe opens and I'm always afraid he's going to breathe the food in. How long after aspirating do they normally show symptoms of pneumonia? Maybe I'm just being paranoid, but i feel like it's justified. He has no other symptoms; he eats well and has good poops and everything so far.

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Oreo

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cockatiel

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2 Weeks

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Fair severity

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0 found helpful

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Fair severity

Has Symptoms

Seems Aspirated

Hi! I am handfeeding 2 weeks old cockatiel right now. It was my first time to encounter while i am feeding them, one of the tiel suddenly squirted the formula through its nostrils the moment i pushed the formula in its mouth. Should I get worried about it? Seems like nothing happened with the bird, still happy, craving for food, lively. Can i add antibiotic to the next feeding schedule to prevent pneumonia?

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Sophie

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Maroon Belly Conure

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12 Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild severity

Has Symptoms

I recently took my conure to an avian vet. They drew blood and the bird seemed fine, even struggled to get out of the towel. While showing me how to give antibiotics the vet administered it too quickly and it bubbled out of the nose. Shortly after it appeared my bird had a stroke, head turned down to one side could hardly walk,fluffed up feathers and squinting eyes. She was dying and had to be put down. Vet claimed it was from stress from the blood draw. I know my bird aspirated. I know this because I have fed baby birds.Rather than argue I took my dead bird home to bury my Sophie and paid the bill. Yes they expected payment.I know this was their fault. Should I notify anyone. I hate to see another bird owner go thru this!

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jack

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sparrow

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1 Week

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Rattle,

hi, i do wildlife rescue and went to collect a house sparrow nestling. he is eating really well but since I've had him ive heard a really faint rattle when he is breathing. not entirely sure what it is...any advice?

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Bird

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Pigeon

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16 Weeks

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Critical severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Critical severity

Has Symptoms

Coughing

I found a 16 day old baby pigeon.he refused to eat so i squeez watery chia and oatmeal 8cc.first day he was ok but seconda day while i am feeding him he starts coughing.i live hin a few seconds and then feed him again.he was ok after 3 hours and try to fly.then i feed him 3cc more after this feeding he seemed tired and silent.after 3 hours he died.i am very sorry and i blame myself because it could be my mistake

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