What are Conjunctivitis?

An eye infection can affect any kind of bird, including house finches, cockatiels, parakeets, cockatoos, mynahs, songbirds, wild birds, and many others. The broad range of possible causes can make a diagnosis difficult. While a piece of feed lodged near the conjunctiva can cause the irritation and discharge often seen, more serious causes, such as a viral or bacterial infection, can further compromise the health of your bird. Recognizing the symptoms and getting medical help promptly can save not only your bird’s eyesight, but also his life.

Birds can contract a bacterial infection in the conjunctiva, or the membrane that surrounds the eyes. This tissue will become swollen and irritated, and the infection can spread to other parts of the eye and upper respiratory system.  Conjunctivitis is most often a symptom of another health problem.

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Symptoms of Conjunctivitis in Birds

Due to the many causes of conjunctivitis, relaying all the symptoms you see to your veterinarian can help point to the reason your bird’s eyes are infected, as some symptoms are indicative of certain conditions. Most signs are related to the eyes, sinuses, and upper respiratory tract, and can include: 

  • Swollen, red and irritated eyes
  • Crusty eyes
  • Watery eyes
  • Cloudy or glassy eyes
  • Upper respiratory infection
  • Sinusitis 
  • Eye or nostril discharge
  • Facial swelling 
  • Tearing 
  • Sneezing
  • Swollen sinuses
  • Inflammation in the eyelids
  • Sensitivity to light 
  • Weakness in eyelid
  • Deposits on cornea
  • Blindness
  • Starvation 
  • Listlessness 
  • Sit fluffed up 
  • Reduced jaw tone
  • Crusty nodules on legs or face

Types

Conjunctivitis is separated into three clinical groups.

  • The first group is comprised of cases where local factors have caused the infection, such as foreign bodies
  • The second group contains cases where conjunctivitis results from periorbital or orbital disease, and is often related to sinusitis
  • The third group contains those cases that are caused by septicemia, or blood poisoning; this usually results from an infectious organism, such as a parasite or bacteria

Conjunctivitis can be classified further into categories that name a type of bird infected, the infecting agent, or a characteristic symptom that results. These include:

  • Unilateral conjunctivitis – When only one eye or side of the face is affected
  • Cockatiel conjunctivitis – Conjunctivitis that affects cockatiels and may have a genetic component
  • Parasitic conjunctivitis – Infection caused by nematode and trematode parasites
  • Keratoconjunctivitis – A disease in parrots caused by chlamydiosis, a vitamin A deficiency, or from cage trauma

Causes of Conjunctivitis in Birds

There are various causes that can result in an irritated, red and inflamed eye, and an infection that can spread and eventually cause blindness. They include:

  • Bacteria, such as Staphylococcus spp., Corynebacterium spp., Escherichia coli, Chlamydia psittaci, Clostridium botulinum, or Mycoplasma spp.
  • Viruses, such as poxvirus, Newcastle virus, paramyxovirus, herpesvirus, adenovirus, pneumovirus
  • Fungus, such as Aspergillus spp. or Candida albicans
  • Parasites, such as nematodes, trematodes, or spirurids
  • Foreign bodies, such as seed husks, millet seeds, or feathers
  • Trauma or ulceration
  • Environmental toxin exposure, such as from cigarette smoke, chemicals, ammonia in feces, and other airborne toxins
  • Periorbital or orbital disease
  • Poor hygienic conditions 
  • Vitamin A deficiency

Diagnosis of Conjunctivitis in Birds

After hearing a thorough history of your bird, and all symptoms presented, your veterinarian will conduct a careful examination of your bird’s eye and respiratory system to determine the cause of the conjunctivitis. 

Swab samples are collected and tested from various locations, including the trachea, cloaca, choanae, sinuses, or eyes. Various staining can often isolate infectious agents. Blood samples are collected and tested. A PCR test can detect organisms. A Schirmer tear test can be performed to assess tear performance. 

Direct or indirect ophthalmoscopy can be performed to detect any injuries, often accompanied by staining techniques. Electroretinography is used to analyze the functionality of the retina and detect orbital diseases. Various imaging techniques can also be used to evaluate the structures in the eyes and head, which can help lead to a diagnosis. These can include X-rays, ultrasounds, CT scans, and MRIs.

Treatment of Conjunctivitis in Birds

Treatment of conjunctivitis will aim to treat the infection while addressing the underlying cause. 

The main treatment consists of saline flushes, accompanied by topical antibiotics, such as antibiotic ophthalmic ointments, or a spray containing tylosin, lincomycin, or spectinomycin. These topical antibiotics can relieve symptoms, but the infection can recur. Tylosin tartrate can also be added to drinking water. Oral antibiotics can be given to help treat respiratory symptoms. Treatment is generally given for 14 days, after which time, samples will be taken again and tested to assess your bird’s recovery. 

The underlying cause will also need to be treated. Parasites can be removed manually, and antiparasitic drugs may be prescribed. Chlamydia psittaci can be treated with topical oxytetracycline. Lesions on the face or legs from the pox virus can be treated with topical iodine. Keratoconjunctivitis can benefit from topical medications that can include anti-inflammatories, as well as corneal bandaging to ensure a sterile healing environment. Any wounds will be treated appropriately.

Recovery of Conjunctivitis in Birds

Recovery of conjunctivitis is dependent on the severity and cause of the infection. While some birds recover after treatment, others can succumb to blindness and starvation. Euthanization can sometimes be recommended. Your bird may be given topical or oral medications to be administered up to 2 weeks, after which, he will be tested again. If your bird recovers, the infection may reoccur, so report any symptoms immediately to your veterinarian.

While a condition of this sort is impossible to predict, practicing good hygiene and sanitation can drastically reduce your bird’s chances of contracting infectious agents that can lead to an infection.

Conjunctivitis Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Nil
Magpie
3 Weeks
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Clouded eyes. Minimal response on approach

I have rescued a baby Magpie from the roadside. It is only a few weeks old but appears to have cateracts on both eyes. It is accepting both food and water but has little to no vision. Can I treat it with chloramphenicol to see if this helps?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1501 Recommendations
Cataracts (or clouding of the eyes) may be caused by a few different causes including vitamin E deficiency, infections, nuclear sclerosis (usually in older birds) among other causes; I would recommend you supplement the diet (either food or water) with vitamin E drops which you can pick up from a local pet shop. Also find below the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds guidelines on feeding magpies. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/bird-and-wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/m/magpie/feeding.aspx

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Genji
Budgerigar Budgerigars
2 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Hi my budgies right eye is swollen and has discharge coming out of it. Sometimes he would rub his eye on the perch because it is itchy.Is this actually conjunctivitis? If so what medicine should I use?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1501 Recommendations
Eye swelling may be caused by a few different conditions including infection (primary or secondary especially with the discharge), tumours, other irritation, malnourishment among other causes; I cannot say for sure what the cause is, but vitamin A supplementation and antibiotics may help. If the cause is due to tumours or nutrition then other management options should be discussed with your Veterinarian. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM www.msdvetmanual.com/exotic-and-laboratory-animals/pet-birds/overview-of-pet-birds

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