What is Candida?

Candida or candidiasis (also called thrush) is an infection with the yeast Candida albicans. A common fungus in the environment, it can infect a bird’s digestive tract and can often cause a crop infection or ingluvitis. The fungus can be passed to a young bird during feeding, as well as through a contaminated environment, contaminated water, or through hand-feeding formula.

In small numbers candida is normal in the digestive tract of a bird. Should the numbers of the yeast increase or if the bird’s digestive tract has been damaged, candida can lead to problems in the digestive tract, other organs, the beak and respiratory system. The condition can also infect the bird’s skin, feathers, eyes and reproductive tract. Birds who have other diseases that compromise their immune system are more likely to develop a secondary candida infection.

Candida, while in small numbers is normal in the digestive tract of birds, an increase in numbers can cause issues in the digestive tract among other areas.

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Symptoms of Candida in Birds

If your bird is experiencing candida you may observe the following symptoms:

  • Lethargy
  • Fluffed feathers
  • Little or no appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Trouble swallowing when infection is in the oral cavity
  • Vomiting
  • Regurgitation
  • A distended crop that is filled with mucus
  • On occasion a crop that is impacted with dry food, mucus or other material

Symptoms in adult birds are usually relatively mild, while younger birds will often have more severe issues, particularly if their immune system is compromised. 

Types

Should candida be in a more advanced stage, it can have a systemic impact on your bird. In such cases, it will go outside of your bird’s gastrointestinal tract and into the rest of his body. Candida in these cases would be seen in the blood, certain organs and bone marrow of your bird. Fortunately, this is rare.

Causes of Candida in Birds

Candida occurs more often in young birds, in particular, cockatiels. The condition is more likely to occur in birds who have a suppressed immune system. Other factors that will lead to an increased risk of candida include:

  • Long term use of antibiotics
  • Use of steroids
  • Poor sanitation
  • A deficiency of Vitamin A
  • Improper nutrition, for example only being fed seeds or a diet high in sugar or carbohydrates (fungus grows very well in a sugary environment).
  • Other infections (for example poxvirus or Trichomonas)
  • Other health concerns like trauma or smoke inhalation
  • Being under stress (for example as a result of moving to a new environment)

Diagnosis of Candida in Birds

Your veterinarian will get details on your bird’s history, as well as ask you for information on the symptoms you have noticed, when they first appeared and any changes you have observed. A physical examination will be conducted and since the symptoms of candida can be similar to that of other conditions, your veterinarian will seek to conduct certain diagnostic tests to determine what is causing his condition. This will include a culture of the area that is impacted perhaps through a swab or an endoscope, which will help to get samples from within his digestive tract. The culture will then be viewed under a microscope. Specific fungal culturing is recommended in order to confirm the type of yeast present, as Brewer’s yeast and candida look similar when viewed under a microscope. 

Since it is normal for candida to be in your bird’s digestive tract, confirming its presence will not confirm a diagnosis of candida. If your veterinarian finds a large number of the organisms, he will consider this along with the symptoms your bird is experiencing, the findings of his physical exam, history, living conditions and whether he has any other health concerns.

Treatment of Candida in Birds

Your veterinarian will recommend antifungal medications (nystatin, flucytosine, ketoconazole, fluconazole, itraconazole) to treat candida in your bird. Other efforts will include working with you to eliminate any factors that may make your bird more susceptible to the condition; for example, improving his diet, ensuring that he has proper sanitation and treating any other diseases that he is experiencing. Ointments that have amphotericin B may be recommended for oral and skin infections.

Recovery of Candida in Birds

As candida will typically be an issue when something else is impacting the health of your bird, there are things that you can do to help him remain healthy and avoid developing candida. For example, you will want to provide him with a clean environment and a nutritional diet, and minimize or get rid of any causes of stress. If your bird is taking antibiotics over an extended period of time, your veterinarian may recommend that you give him antifungal medication as well.