What are Candidiasis?

Candidiasis can spread from a contaminated environment, contaminated water or formula used for hand feeding. An imbalance of normal bacteria in the digestive tract can lead to an overgrowth of candida albicans. Too much sugar or carbohydrates in your bird’s diet can also lead to candidiasis. 

Candidiasis can be either primary or secondary. It has been known to affect the respiratory tract, digestive tract, central nervous system, the skin and other organs.

Candidiasis in birds occurs when candida albicans, a common environmental fungus, infects the digestive tract. Candida albicans is polymorphic yeast that can quickly grow and cause problems for your bird. It is normal for your bird to have a small amount of candida albicans within their digestive tract.

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Symptoms of Candidiasis in Birds

Candidiasis in birds can quickly become a serious condition if medical attention is not sought. If you notice any of these symptoms contact your veterinarian for an appointment. Early detection of a candidiasis infection will make treating it much easier.

  • Anorexia
  • Regurgitation
  • Delayed crop emptying
  • Swollen or mucus filled crop
  • White plaque in the mouth
  • Beak abnormalities
  • Feathers fluffed

Causes of Candidiasis in Birds

In the majority of candidiasis cases in birds, the cause is from candida albicans, an environmental fungus that invades the digestive tract. This fungus is classified as yeast is very common in the environment. 

Most birds will have a small amount of candida in their digestive tracts but will not show an illness until certain conditions are present. Young birds that are on long term antibiotics may develop candidiasis. Adult birds that are on long term antibiotics or are suffering from an illness or malnutrition may develop secondary candidiasis. While antibiotics are excellent for treating infections and other illnesses, they do change the normal flora within the digestive tract and allow for an overgrowth of candida to occur. 

Poor hygiene or a contaminated environment can cause your bird to develop candidiasis. It is essential that you do not leave fresh fruits and vegetables in your bird’s cage for long periods of time, since spoiled food harbors candida. Clean your bird’s cage daily and give fresh water several times a day. Be sure to thorough wash your bird’s water dish and any equipment used to hand feed. Also, remember to wash your hands before and after handling your bird.

Diagnosis of Candidiasis in Birds

Your veterinarian will begin by taking a full medical history of your bird and asking you about their environment. A thorough physical examination will give your veterinarian an idea of what is ailing your bird and a tentative diagnosis can be made based on the symptoms that have presented. 

Your veterinarian will rule out a bacterial infection by performing a CBC or complete blood count. Samples will be taken and cultured to look for contaminants that are causing your bird problems. 

Sequence assays and polymerase chain reaction or PCR will be used to identify the presence of candida and also to isolate which strain of candida is present and affecting your bird’s health.

Treatment of Candidiasis in Birds

Once your veterinarian has diagnosed candidiasis, your bird will begin a treatment plan to clear the infection. When medicating your bird, be sure to follow dosing instructions carefully and finish all medications prescribed unless otherwise directed by your veterinarian.

Anti-fungal medications will be prescribed. The most commonly prescribed anti-fungal drug for candidiasis is Nystatin. This is a liquid medication that is administered by mouth for five days or longer, depending on the severity of the infection. Nystatin can be mixed directly into the formula if your bird is still being hand fed formula. Nystatin should never be used as a preventative or indiscriminately as candida can become resistant to Nystatin.

Another anti-fungal medication that is newer but is proving to be effective in treating candidiasis is Diflucan. Some veterinarians will prescribe Diflucan with Nystatin, especially in cockatiels where it is very difficult to effectively treat candidiasis. This combination of Diflucan and Nystatin has cleared up candidiasis within five days.

Ketoconazole, or Nizoral, is used when the candida has become resistant to Nystatin. Ketoconazole is an expensive medication that is almost insoluble in water and can be toxic if given improperly. The use of Ketoconazole for a physically stressed or severely ill bird can be fatal. Only use this medication under veterinary supervision.

Recovery of Candidiasis in Birds

Candidiasis is treatable when caught early enough. Veterinary care is necessary for your bird to receive the proper treatments and to fully recover from candidiasis. Unnecessary antibiotic therapy can increase your bird’s risk of developing candidiasis. Do not overmedicate your bird. Speak to your veterinarian about current treatments and preventative care for candidiasis. 

Maintaining a healthy environment for your bird is important to keep your bird healthy and stress free. An unhealthy environment will foster an overgrowth of candida, more importantly candida albicans, the yeast most often associated with candidiasis. 

Be sure to remove any old food from your bird’s cage. When giving fresh fruits and vegetables do not leave uneaten portions in the cage, fresh fruits and vegetables will quickly grow excess candida. Clean your bird’s water dish daily and give fresh water several times a day. Practice good hygiene when hand feeding young birds.