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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

Tiger
Budgie
1 Year
Moderate condition
-1 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Eye Bulging
Eye Inflamation
Eye Itching

I’m 13 I own 1 budgie his name is tiger his eye is swollen and it looks like there might be a father stuck I have moved most as I can with warm water it has been 4 days and he is normal he is chirping and very playful he is around 1 yr old he can sort of see out of his eye he is normal other then the eye and he keeps on scratching it we are unable to take him to the vet bc it’s way to dear we applied some human paw paw cream around his eye not so long ago and he isn’t eating at all what do I do

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3000 Recommendations
The problem with eye infections in budgies is that it may be just an eye infection or it may be part of an upper respiratory tract infection; I cannot suggest any prescription medication since I haven’t examined Tiger but you should ensure that Tiger is being fed an appropriate diet and isn’t deficient in vitamin E. If there is no improvement you should visit a Veterinarian regardless of cost. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Easy for YOU to say "regardless of cost".

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Beaux
Budgie
20 Weeks
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Quivering
Can't move upper eyelid on one side
Sneezing

I got my Beaux about a week ago. I noticed he had some ruffled feathers near one of his eyes. Yesterday I saw those feathers poking his eye and seemingly clotted together by some sort of mucus secretion. I gently removed the obstruction. He's eating and drinking fine. But he's been making a sound that I think is sneezing since I bought him. Earlier I noticed that he doesn't seem to be able to move his upper eyelid on that side and he's begun to quiver. I'm very worried about my baby. Do I need to call a vet?

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1415 Recommendations
Thank you for your email. I do think it would be a good idea to have Beaux seen by your veterinarian. He may have an upper airway infection, and may need medications. Birds are so susceptible to any respiratory problems, it is always best to act quickly to get those resolved. I hope that he recovers well!

My parakeet has a lower swollen eye and has crusty eyes is there something i can do from home?

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Merlin
Cockatiel Species
4 Years
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Swollen eye

My cockatiel has a swollen left eye, there is no discharge or anything else that indicates illness. Even his poop is perfectly normal, the only thing of concern is the slightly swollen red eye. Do you have any advice as to what this could be?

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1415 Recommendations
Thank you for your question - I am not an expert in bird medicine, unfortunately. They do, however, get irritations, infections, and allergies that affect the eyelids. It would be best to have him seen by your veterinarian and get appropriate treatment.

Merlin has had irritations before, unfortunately I can't get an appointment until next month. I live on an island and well there is only one avian vet here (The other one left last year) and he has gone away on holiday. I'm quite puzzled because literally nothing else is wrong, he is even active and behaving normally, eating his food (and more), drinking water, sleeping on one foot. I'll have to keep an eye on him and book an appointment for next month.

Hi merlin.
Me too faces the same problem.

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Violet
Budgerigar Budgerigars
2 Years
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

teary eye
Fatigue
Irritated eye
swollen eyelid

My parakeet has a swollen and irritated left eyelid. The eye itself is quite glossy. She sleeps a lot and tries to hide that there is an issue. I want to take her to the vet but my family refuses to because we apparently can't afford a veterinary bill. I was wondering if there was any eye medicine that I could buy from a pet store or online or if there is anything like saline solution that could help? Thank you so much.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3000 Recommendations
The problem with birds is that a swollen eye may be indicative of not only an eye infection but also an upper respiratory tract infection; without examining Violet I cannot responsibly give any specific advice or prescribe any prescription medications but you should ensure that she is fed a balanced diet appropriate for her species which will fulfil her dietary needs. If there is an infection, it would be best to have it cultured to ensure appropriate treatment; however cysts, tumours and other issues may also be a cause. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Billy
Philippine palawan racquet tail
1 Year
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

weeping

I'm certain the our parrot has conjunctivitis as there are no vets in our city we live in the Philippines that have bird knowledge just cats and dogs is there anything we can do to help, we have kept his cage covered that seems to help but the problem still exists...

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1415 Recommendations
Thank you for your email. Unfortunately, without examining Billy, I can't comment on his conjunctivitis or what might be happening with his eyes. While you don't have any bird specialists near you, a small animal veterinarian may be able to look at Billy, diagnose what might be happening, and prescribe an appropriate treatment. I hope that everything goes well for him.

I’m 13 and I have 1 budgie his eye doesn’t look that bad it’s swallow and he is crying he is acting normal he is a happy chirpy bird the only difference is he isn’t eating what do I do we are unable to take him to the vet bc it’s way to dear we have rubbed a small amount of paw paw cream around his eye he blinks like normal and he want leave it alone he keeps on scratching it

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Bossy Boots
Green cheek conuure
10 years
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Hi- my green cheek conure has a rogue feather growing from hit top eyelid. It is a tiny bit red just where the feather emerges but nowhere else. The eye looks in good health generally and Bossy Boots has a good diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. We have had plenty of rain lately and my pair are housed in an outside aviary. I can’t see anything in the eye. He is 10 years old and this is the first time he has had any problem. Any suggestions greatly appreciated.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3000 Recommendations
If there is a rogue feather causing some redness to the eye, it would be worth visiting your Veterinarian for an examination and possibly removing that offending feather before it becomes more troublesome. Otherwise, keep a close eye on it and see how it goes over the next few weeks. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Lime
Senegal Parrot
3 Months
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

eye swelling, red

Last night i found his right eye swelling, left eye with no problem. This morning i found his lest eye have the same problem.
Please see the two photos in dropbox and advise.
Thank you very much!
https://www.dropbox.com/s/zt7mjthvv0hbhd3/1.jpg?dl=0
https://www.dropbox.com/s/62ty75p3zw9yxjt/2.jpg?dl=0

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3000 Recommendations
Whilst you have sent the link to two DropBox pictures and I can see the swelling, I cannot professionally diagnose a condition without performing an in person physical examination; however, the cause may be due to vitamin A deficiency, conjunctivitis, other infections (no signs of discharge from eyes or nares) among other causes. Still, I would recommend visiting your Veterinarian so that they can examine him before offering treatment. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Eppendorf
African lovebird
1 Month
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Conjunctivitis, Gasping

My african lovebird is having conjunctivitis on both eyes. He is sneezing and gasping. I gave him oral doxycycline+tylosin and already stop the neomycin+polymixin+dexamethasone drops. His eye condition is getting worse. He didnt lose weight,not dehydrated because i gave him dextrose solution. He has a good appetite also but produces brown droppings and clear urates. I hope you can help me with this. Thank you!

Please reply to me with email:
[email protected]

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3000 Recommendations
It does sound like Eppendorf has an upper respiratory tract infection, without examining it is difficult to say what a good course of action will be especially since previous treatments have been ineffective; the source of the infection may be bacterial, fungal or viral so a thorough examination preferably by an avian Veterinarian would be best. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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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
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3000 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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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
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3000 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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Gabanna
Green-Cheeked Conure
2 Years
Fair condition
1 found helpful
Fair condition

Has Symptoms

Sneezing

i have had an itchy eye for the whole day but just thought it was irritation. i would itch my eye and then hold my bird but now that i am examining my eye i am 99% sure its pink eye... does this mean my bird has pink eye? should i take her to a vet?

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1415 Recommendations
Thank you for your email. If Gabanna isn't showing any signs of eye irritation, or keeping her eyes closed, or trying to scratch at her eyes, you should not need to have her seen by a veterinarian. I hope that everything goes well for her.

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