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What is Ataxia?

Ataxia in birds can cause problems to the nervous system and the musculoskeletal system. Within the nervous system, damage is often done to the spinal cord, brain or inner ear. This damage will result in the brain’s inability to perceive the physical position of the bird’s body, head and limbs. It can also cause the brain to be unable to coordinate movement. When the musculoskeletal system becomes damaged, your bird will be uncoordinated since the muscles themselves are not able to properly respond to the signals that the brain is sending.

When a bird is suffering from ataxia, they have the inability to coordinate their voluntary muscles. They will appear clumsy and will stand with their legs splayed apart for balance or they may use their beak as a hook on the side of their cage to stay balanced. Birds that are severely ataxic will not be able to sit on their perch without falling off, they may also not be able to walk without stumbling or falling over.

Symptoms of Ataxia in Birds

It can be alarming to see your bird suffering from a lack of coordination or stumbling around. This is a serious condition that needs to be immediately addressed by your veterinarian. If you notice your bird acting strangely or exhibiting any of these symptoms, call your veterinarian for an appointment.

  • Standing with legs splayed wide for balance
  • Using their beak to hang onto the cage or other objects to remain standing
  • Uncoordinated movements of their head, wings or legs
  • Lethargy or excessive sleepiness
  • Falling from their perch
  • Difficulty breathing including stretching their neck and leaning forward to breathe, open mouth breathing, puffing out their cheeks with each breath or bobbing their tail with each breath
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Causes of Ataxia in Birds

There are several nervous system and musculoskeletal system disorders that can cause ataxia. Generally, ataxia is one of the first symptoms of nerve or spinal cord damage. Damage to peripheral nerves or the spinal cord will have symptoms that are localized to the affected appendages and will have a normal level of mental activity.

Musculoskeletal damage may also cause your bird to seem uncoordinated. This is because the muscles are not able to respond appropriately to the signals that are coming from your bird’s brain. Many times this happens because there are nutrient deficiencies such as vitamin E, calcium or selenium.

Birds that are chronically ill from diseases may also appear ataxic. There is always an underlying cause when ataxia is present that must be addressed by your veterinarian.

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Diagnosis of Ataxia in Birds

Your veterinarian will begin the appointment by asking you questions about your bird’s medical history and their environment. You will need to let your veterinarian know when you noticed the symptoms and if they are constant or intermittent. 

A thorough physical examination will be done by your veterinarian. They will also recommend that specific diagnostic tests be completed to determine the severity of the ataxia and the underlying cause. Tests that may be recommended include:

  • Heavy metal toxicity
  • Complete blood count or CBC
  • Serum biochemistry panel
  • Choanal samples for Psittacosis

Radiographs may be ordered by your veterinarian. This will allow them to look for any metabolic diseases or any damage that may have occurred to your bird’s spinal cord. Ultrasounds can also be used, but most veterinarians will recommend x-rays before ultrasounds.

Endoscopy may be ordered to look at the middle and inner ears for infections or any abnormalities. The abdominal cavity will also be scoped to look for any evidence of a metabolic disease.

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Treatment of Ataxia in Birds

Once the diagnosis has been made, your veterinarian will probably recommend hospitalization for your bird during their treatments. This is done to provide supportive care for your bird while they are ill.

While hospitalized, your bird will receive intravenous fluids and injectable medications. In some instances, depending on the severity of their illness, your bird may also need subcutaneous fluids to keep them from becoming dehydrated. Subcutaneous fluids are injected under the skin, not into a vein.

Your bird will be given antibiotics and/or antifungal medications depending on the type of underlying illness that has been identified. Medications that are chelating agents may be given if your veterinarian found heavy metal toxicity in your bird.

Nutritional support will be provided including giving extra vitamins and minerals to promote healing and a healthy immune system. Your bird will also be kept within a warming chamber to keep their body temperature regulated and keep them more comfortable.

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Recovery of Ataxia in Birds

When your bird is diagnosed as ataxic, that is generally one of the first symptoms of a serious illness. Take precautions with your bird if you notice they are exhibiting signs of ataxia until you can get them in to see your veterinarian. You should keep your bird calm and in a quiet environment, remove perches and swings, put food and water close to your bird in shallow dishes.

Depending on the diagnosis of the underlying cause, your bird’s prognosis will vary. Once your veterinarian has diagnosed the illness and begun treatments, they will be able to give you a more accurate prognosis for your bird.

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Ataxia Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Dove

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One Year

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Unknown severity

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4 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Balance

My dove eats and drinks fine but head tilts completely back where back of head touches her back. It has bad balance that if put on the ground it will tumble in circles.

Aug. 1, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Sara O. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Hello, So sorry to hear about your dove. This could be a neurological issue or a toxicity issue. It would be best for your dove to see an avian vet as there are tests that can be done to help figure out what is causing this.

Aug. 1, 2020

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Conure

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Seven Months

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Unknown severity

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1 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Limping Weak

My conure smash her leg on sliding door she seem fine after the 3rd day but today she started acting different with limping and weak when climbing i need advise on what to do or is she dying?

July 29, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Sara O. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Hello, Your bird may have broken a leg during the accident. It would be best to find an avian vet to look at your bird. They can get your bird on medication to help him feel better. Birds are very sensitive and may die from just the stress of the trip to the vet's office. I hope your bird starts to feel better soon.

July 30, 2020

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Pigeon

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Five Years

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Unknown severity

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1 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Tarry Stool

Unable to stand up on leg

July 28, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. Your bird may have a trauma, or injury, or infection causing this problem. Since I cannot see your pigeon, it would be best to have him/her seen by a veterinarian, as they can examine your bird and see what the cause may be. I hope that all goes well!

July 28, 2020

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Russian canary

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Five Months

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Head Tilt

Very lethargic and tilts his head down and sleeps alot

July 28, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. If he is lethargic and does not seem healthy, it would be best to have him seen by a veterinarian. He is quite young, and he may need medical help. I hope that he is okay.

July 28, 2020

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Cockatiel

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Around 1 month a half

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

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Unknown severity

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Sleeping A Lot, Black Stool, Falling On Side, Not Eating

Yesterday she was doing just fine but when I woke up she wasn’t moving at all in her cage. I took her out and she was just sleeping. Since she is very young I’ve been feeding her with a syringe. She wasn’t swallowing her food at first. Then I started to notice her stool was black. She started to struggle to walk and would fall onto her side. Please help me I don’t have an avian vet near by and I don’t know what to do.

July 20, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. Unfortunately, when birds show signs of illness they are usually quite sick. Without being able to see her, I can't guess as to what might be going on, and it would be best to have her seen by a veterinarian. If you don't have an avian veterinarian near you, some veterinary technicians are very knowledgeable about birds, and may be able to help you. I hope that she is okay.

July 20, 2020

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Coco

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Yellow-Naped Amazon

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17 Years

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Serious severity

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0 found helpful

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Off Balance
Cannot Walk
Change Of Behavior
Off Balance Falls Off Perches
Does Not Drink Water Often

My bird Coco has been falling off his perch, he cannot walk and I have to force him to drink water with a dropper he usually got mad but now he is not fighting as much and is very quiet. We took him to the vet the other day and they gave him a vaccine and fluids under the skin. They didn't tell me if he had anything except maybe an infection. He is not eating as much as usual. I hope that it is not Ataxia but he is showing most of the symptoms. I have been trying to get him active with a sort of home therapy. I try to massage his feet and try to hold him up as he tries to perch on my arm.

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Perri

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Budgriegar

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8 Months

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Uncoordinated Movements Of Wings

Hi My perri is a 8 months old male Exhibition budgie which I purchased from a budgies breeder about a month ago...from the 1st day I got him he shows uncoordination of his wings and unstabalises oftenly on a perch many times a day, my vet only prescribed multivitamins and minerals therapy which couldn't help me...please suggest a better treatment if anyone has such an experience...

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Kipper

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cockatiel

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7 Months

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Critical severity

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1 found helpful

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Critical severity

Has Symptoms

Not Eating
Unable To Stand Or Walk

So I'm not exactly asking for advice. I just wanted to share my experience. Last September we adopted a cockatiel and named her Kipper. She was so beautiful and so different from our other birds. I love when you can tell they have a personality. Anyway, she was doing just fine and she seemed happy but one day, a month later, we noticed her sitting on top of her cage not moving. We didn't think much of it immediately since she loved to sit up there and observe the room. But then my little sister said she was acting strange and stumbling. So I got up and brought her to the couch where she stumbled around and tripped over her feet then stopped trying to walk at all. Her wings were spread like they were trying to balance her. Her toes were curled and she was very weak. That's when we knew something was very wrong. We quickly took her to the vet. On the way there she didn't move at all. She sat on the bottom of the cage in the exact position we put her in, even through the bumpy ride. We got to the vet and they took her back. We waited for what seemed like hours. They had incubated her and gave her food. The vet said she responded just a bit, so we were hopeful. Then we got home (they were keeping her overnight). We got a call only a few hours later. She had passed away. After reading this article I notice that these symptoms are almost exactly the same as what we experienced with Kipper. We never found out what exactly happened to her because we didn't have the money for extensive testing. Her condition declined extremely quickly. But I know she's in heaven, and she's not in pain anymore.

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Nugget

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cockatiel

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6 Months

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Serious severity

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0 found helpful

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Falling Over

I pulled Nugget from her nest at 10 days old and hand fed her because she was covered in mites along with her sibling. I was able to clean off her siblings however she was in bad shape so I "saved" her. She had and still has a hard time standing. She cannot fly and shows clear signs of Ataxia. My son and I have worked with her endlessly to teach her to stand, walk and perch which she can do but not for long periods of time. She is back with her flock and in a open cage so others can come sit with her which they do. What is the best way to help her learn how to fly. She appears to want to try her new flight feathers are growing back since I clipped her first flight feathers. Will she ever be able to fly?

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TWEED

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Budgie

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4 Years

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Mild severity

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0 found helpful

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

Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Sleeps A Lot
Falling Over
Over Eating
Trouble Balaning
Does More Climbing With Beak And Feet
Not Sure If Water Is Being Drank

I believe my bird has Ataxia, he can not keep his balance? He falls off his perch when he flies he ends up falling to the ground, he has been climbing the cage holding on for what looks like dear life. He find him eating a lot and he ends up sleeping in the food dish. I can not afford to take him to the vet. I have a heat light on the cage to keep him warm and threw the day he is still chirping with his mate matilda. I have changed around their cage but he keeps wanting to be at the top.of the cage. I turned ome of the food dishes into a bed but now he will not go near it. Is there something I can do to help him other then what I have been? I clean the cage everyday and gove them new food and water and fresh water every day in their bird bath. Please is anyone can give me advice that would be awesome and much appreciated