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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.

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
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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 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.

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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 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.

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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.

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Conjunctivitis Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Cockatiel

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6 months

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Unknown severity

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1 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Redness

I took my cockatiel to the vet when I noticed that he wasn't opening his left eye for the whole day. They immediately prescribed him with doxycycline powder to put in his drinking water twice a day and gentamicin sulfate eye drops 2-3 times a day for a week. It has been 5 days now since starting him on the medication but now his eyelid is red and kind of swollen when it wasn't before. He is generally active and is eating well but I would just like to know if this is normal and how long would it take for them to heal?

Aug. 22, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Sara O. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Hello, Many times issues with eyes take 7 to 10 days to fully heal. Some may take even longer. If you are not seeing any improvement, it may be best to take your bird back to the vet for a recheck. I hope your bird starts to feel better soon.

Aug. 22, 2020

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Cockatiel

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Six Months

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Redness

I took my cockatiel to the vet when I noticed his left eye was closed or squinting for the whole day. They prescribed him with the medications listed above but after 5 days of treatment, his eyelid is now red and slightly swollen. He is active and eats well but he definitely is irritated with his eye. I would just like to know if this is normal and how long does it generally take for them to heal?

Aug. 22, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Sara O. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Hello, Many times issues with eyes take 7 to 10 days to fully heal. Some may take even longer. If you are not seeing any improvement, it may be best to take your bird back to the vet for a recheck. I hope your bird starts to feel better soon.

Aug. 22, 2020

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Cockatiel

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Three month

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Redness

My bird licked the eye Medicine

Aug. 4, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. Most ocular medications are not toxic if ingested, and she should be okay. If you notice any signs of lethargy, vomiting, or strange behavior, it would be best to have her seen by your veterinarian, but she will likely be okay.

Aug. 4, 2020

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Common Myna

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2 weeks

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Closing Only One Eye

I found 2 birds on my apartment street, one of 2 weeks and the other is a month old... I took them home.. everything was normal till I noticed that the bird is keeping one of it's eyes shut... But the other is open... Also, it is showing a bit weakness...

July 29, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Sara O. DVM

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Hello, It would be best to find a rehabber to take these birds. They are equipped to handling wildlife and getting them the treatment that they need.

July 30, 2020

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European Goldfinch

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3 years

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Unknown severity

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2 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Eye Clouding

It look like something is wrong with the birds eye. It shots half way and looks like it’s in pain.

July 17, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. Birds commonly get infections, from dirty bird feeders, viral diseases, or trauma. It would be best to have the bird seen by either a veterinarian, or a wildlife rescue in your area, to see if treatment is an option . I hope that all goes well for the bird.

July 17, 2020

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Whitey

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Quail

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5 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Crusty Red Eyes

My Quail (Whitey) has post traumatic conjunctivitis on just one eye. Initially I treated him with chloramphenicol eyedrops, enrofloxacin and meloxicam orally. I also kept the eye clean with saline solution 0.9%. Whiteys eye has worsened, so clearly the treatment is off. I plan to switch to gentamicin & betamethasone eyedrops, is this safe? I must clarify I live in Honduras and I'm currently without a vet in the area, no access to cultures and limited meds because of the current political crisis in my country. Please help with any advice, my beloved Whiteys life depends on it. Thanks Carol

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Bluey

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Blue Quaker

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9 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Shock
Watery Eye
Swolen Eyelid

after hearing some irrregular flapping i found my bird on the floor in shock, i then noticed one of his eyes was swolen and seemingly filled with a fluid. It was very aimmilar to a time he flew into a fan and he recovered in a gradual maner. After taking him to the vet i was told it was conjunctivitus, likeky caused by rubbing of the eye. This confused me as it did not explain why he was in shock or why he was completely fine moments before. Regardless, there is no other damage, he is talking and wistling like normal and after eating some food he climbed into his cage and went to sleep himself. He did however take some time to adjust to eating with one eye closed as his eye had closed by the time we got home, possibly due to the eye drop the vet gave him. He's usually a pain to put to bed bud it isn't too rare for him to put himself to bed on occasion. He does seem to have this condition and is making an excellent start towards recovery but just don't see how an eye infection (which the vet described it as) could be so sudden and associated with shock. The best i can come up with is that he bumped his eye into something. The corner of his eyelid did also appear slightly red.

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