Conjunctivitis in Birds

Veterinary reviewed by: Michele K.

Conjunctivitis in Birds - Signs, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost

Veterinary reviewed by: Michele K.

Conjunctivitis in Birds - Signs, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost

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 infections, can further compromise the health of your bird. Recognizing the signs 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 sign of another health problem.

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Symptoms of Conjunctivitis in Birds

Due to the many causes of conjunctivitis, relaying all the signs you see to your veterinarian can help point to the reason your bird’s eyes are infected, as some signs 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
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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
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Diagnosis of Conjunctivitis in Birds

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

Swab samples may be 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.

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Treatment of Conjunctivitis in Birds

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

The main treatment often consists of saline flushes, accompanied by topical antibiotics. These topical antibiotics can relieve signs, but the infection can recur. Oral antibiotics can be given to help treat respiratory symptoms. Treatment is generally given for 14 days, after which time, samples may 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 medication. 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.

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Worried about the cost of Conjunctivitis treatment?

Pet Insurance covers the cost of many common pet health conditions. Prepare for the unexpected by getting a quote from top pet insurance providers.

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 signs 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 can be symptomatic of a serious medical condition. To avoid high vet care expenses, secure pet health insurance today. The sooner you insure your pet, the more protection you’ll have from unexpected vet costs.

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Conjunctivitis Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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Duck

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Three Years

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12 found helpful

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12 found helpful

Has Symptoms

Area Around Eyese Pulled Back And Pink

Reviewing Wag's Conjunctivitis in Birds article. Just adopted 2 ducks and noticed after bringing them home that area around their eyes are pulled back and pink. Is it conjunctivitis and can it be spread to other ducks and chickens?

Oct. 18, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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12 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. From your pictures, the eyes of your birds appear quite normal. If you think that they are having problems, or the eyes have changed or become more inflamed, It would be best to have your pet seen by a veterinarian, as they can examine them and see what might be going on, and get any treatment needed.

Nov. 4, 2020

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Cockatiel

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Sixteen Years

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2 found helpful

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2 found helpful

Has Symptoms

Swollen Closed Eye And Plugged Nasel Hole

Cleaned eye with dripping water on it but unsure how to clean her nasel hole. Can I use my dogs eye drops to help her eye.

Sept. 28, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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2 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. I don't believe that the drops will hurt, but they may not help much. Different bacteria can affect dogs and birds, and there may be something going on with the eye and nose that needs specific treatment. Having her seen by a veterinarian would be a good idea. I hope that all goes well for her!

Oct. 4, 2020

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