What are Cestodes?

Generally, cockatoos, African Grey parrots and finches are most commonly affected by cestodes. Your bird will be unthrifty and may have diarrhea. The cestodes will affect your bird’s gastrointestinal tract as well as the normal functions of other organs.

As a responsible bird owner, you will want to have your bird de-wormed at least once a year. In some instances, your bird may need to be de-wormed twice a year, especially if they are allowed to be outdoors. Have your veterinarian run regular fecal examinations when you bring your bird in for their annual or semi-annual appointment. This way any intestinal parasites can be found and eradicated quickly before they become problematic for your bird.

Although cestodes, or tapeworms, are uncommon in domestic birds, they can still occur and will require veterinary attention to eliminate them. Cestodes are parasitic flatworms that live in the digestive tract of many different animals. Cestodes reside in intermediate hosts such as insects and arachnids that are then eaten, infecting the animal that eats the intermediate host.

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Symptoms of Cestodes in Birds

While intestinal parasites are not normally fatal unless the infestation is severe, it is still important to eradicate them quickly. Most of the time there are no obvious symptoms of cestodes and that can make it difficult for you to know if your bird needs to visit your veterinarian. If you suspect that your bird is suffering from cestodes contact your veterinarian for an appointment. Symptoms to watch for include:

  • Weight loss
  • Unthrifty
  • Diarrhea, sometimes bloody
  • White tapeworm segments in the feces
  • Death, if the infestation is severe

Not all birds will exhibit symptoms when they are infected with cestodes. It is important to have your bird checked by your veterinarian to ensure that your bird’s overall health is not affected by any parasitic infestation.

Causes of Cestodes in Birds

Cestodes are contracted from other birds or animals that are infected. Your bird can also become infected by eating an intermittent host that is infected with cestodes. These intermittent hosts can include insects, slugs, earthworms and spiders. 

Generally, a domesticated bird will not be exposed to these intermittent hosts unless they are fed them or they are allowed outside in a flight cage where insects and other intermittent hosts are able to get into the cage. Domesticated birds that are exposed to wild birds can also contract cestodes.

Diagnosis of Cestodes in Birds

Since the physical symptoms are limited and can be contributed to other illnesses, a fecal examination is the only way for your veterinarian to definitively diagnose cestodes in your bird.

Your veterinarian will still conduct a thorough physical examination as well as take a full medical history of your bird. This will help them to determine that cestodes are the only thing that is ailing your bird.

Your bird’s diet will also be discussed and your veterinarian will try to determine where your bird came into contact with the cestodes so that a re-infestation does not occur.

Treatment of Cestodes in Birds

Once the fecal examination verifies the presence of cestodes, your veterinarian will prescribe a medication that will kill the cestodes. Depending on the degree of the cestode infestation, the prescribed medication will be given orally or injectable.

To completely eradicate intestinal parasites, more than one dose will be required. Your veterinarian will set up a medication schedule for you and fecal examinations will need to be done periodically to ensure that the cestodes have been completely killed off.  

The most common medications used for a cestode infestation are praziguantel and epsiprantel. Your veterinarian will also direct you to remove all fecal matter from your bird’s cage daily. It is best if you can remove the fecal matter as soon as your bird defecates, but in most cases this is just not possible. Also, prevent your bird from ingesting intermediate hosts that could be carrying cestodes.

Recovery of Cestodes in Birds

Treatment is essential when your bird has a cestode infestation. Without treatment, the cestodes will continue to multiply and cause severe health issues for your bird, including organ failure. Quickly diagnosing and treating cestodes will ensure that your bird makes a full recovery with no lasting effects. 

To prevent an infestation of intestinal parasites, have your bird de-wormed regularly when you do your veterinary checks. Have a routine fecal examination done every six months to ensure that your bird has not picked up a parasite. 

If your bird uses an outdoor flight cage, have them checked more often for intestinal parasites because they are more prone to eating intermittent hosts that carry parasites.