What are Cataracts?

There are many causes of cataracts in birds, the most common being age. Some cataracts are genetic and it is impossible to prevent the development of these cataracts. Other causes can include eye infection, trauma and diabetes. 

Many times, cataracts cannot be treated or prevented. In some instances, cataract removal surgery is successful, but can be risky depending on your bird’s overall health. Medications can be helpful in reducing inflammation and pain if your bird is experiencing any discomfort. Your veterinarian may decide to refer you to an ophthalmologist for treatment or a second opinion regarding your bird’s cataracts.

Cataracts occur when the density or opacity of the eye lens increases and vision begins to diminish. There is usually a white or grey film that covers the pupil. Cataracts in birds have not been extensively studied but it has been noted that many species of psittacine birds will develop cataracts as they age. These types of birds include macaws, Amazon parrots and cockatiels. Canaries are also prone to developing congenital cataracts.

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Symptoms of Cataracts in Birds

You should be doing weekly physical checks of your bird to ensure that they are in good general health; this includes checking their eyes for any changes. If you notice any differences in your bird’s eyes you need to contact your veterinarian for an appointment. Symptoms of cataracts include:

  • Bumping into objects signaling reduced vision
  • Cloudiness of the eye
  • Reluctance to jump onto their perch
  • Rubbing the eye or scratching the eye
  • Eye discomfort or pain

Causes of Cataracts in Birds

Cataracts will eventually affect both eyes, especially when they are age related. Many times older birds will develop cataracts as a part of the aging process. Nutritional deficiencies can cause your bird to develop cataracts. They can also develop diabetes which can cause cataracts when left unchecked. Other causes of cataracts in birds can include trauma, infections and inflammation problems. Canaries are very prone to developing cataracts. It has been determined that cataracts can be genetic in canaries.

Diagnosis of Cataracts in Birds

Your veterinarian will begin your appointment by asking you for your bird’s complete medical history and about the symptoms that you have seen. A full medical examination will be completed to ensure that the possible cataracts are the only health concern. This physical examination may also include routine blood tests. 

An ocular examination, or eye exam, will be performed to determine the severity of the cataract. Your veterinarian may not feel comfortable enough performing an in-depth ocular examination. In these instances, they will refer you to an ophthalmologist for diagnosis and treatment. Your bird’s vision will also be assessed to determine how much impairment they are experiencing from the cataract.

Treatment of Cataracts in Birds

In some instances, there is no available medical treatment available that cures or prevents cataracts from forming. Your veterinarian or ophthalmologist will discuss any available treatment options with you regarding your bird’s cataracts.

Surgical removal is an option in some cases, especially in large psittacine birds. Your bird will be thoroughly evaluated prior to any decisions regarding surgery to determine their overall general health as well as how much their quality of life is suffering from the cataracts. Surgery should only be performed when there is a possibility that vision can be restored within the eye. 

Your veterinarian may prescribe NSAIDs for your bird if they are experiencing pain from their cataracts. The NSAIDs will be in either ocular drops such as flurbiprofen, or systemic such as celecoxib or meloxicam to reduce pain and inflammation within the eye. 

There are some veterinarians who will recommend holistic treatments as well to potentially dissolve the cataract. Be sure to speak with your veterinarian before beginning any holistic treatments for cataracts in your bird.

Recovery of Cataracts in Birds

Surgical removal of cataracts in birds can be risky since your bird will have to be anesthetized during the procedure. Post surgical care will be important to ensure that the surgery is successful.

For cataracts that cannot be surgically removed, it will be necessary to closely monitor the cataracts. You will need to watch for progressive vision impairment and adjust your bird’s environment accordingly to keep them from becoming disoriented or harming themselves. This will include not changing their environment or moving their feeding and watering stations.

Be sure to administer any medications prescribed as directed and do not stop giving medications unless directed by your veterinarian. If you have any questions regarding side effects of any prescribed medications for your bird, contact your veterinarian immediately.