Dyspnea in Birds

Dyspnea in Birds - Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost
Dyspnea in Birds - Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost

What is Dyspnea?

In many cases, dyspnea is caused by a respiratory disorder, but not always. In fact, dyspnea may be triggered by injury, airway obstructions, toxins, cardiac disease, infections, central nervous system disorder, hereditary disorder, cancer, or compression of the air sacs from fluid or enlarged organs. Birds that are dyspneic are easy to spot because they have to use their mouth to breathe and their whole body moves as they struggle to take a breath.

Dyspnea is a symptom of an underlying disorder, which can be just about anything from heart trouble to cancer. Any type of disorder that decreases the function of the air sacs can cause this illness. For instance, some kinds of abdominal illnesses can put pressure on the air sacs, making it hard to breathe. Also, infections of the kidneys, heart, or liver can cause enough inflammation to crowd the air sacs enough to make it difficult to breathe as well. Basically, anything that goes wrong in the body and puts pressure on the air sacs can cause dyspnea.

Dyspnea in birds is when your pet experiences difficult or troubled breathing and there are many causes for this condition. The breathing problem can be mild or severe, depending on the cause and the overall health of the bird.

Symptoms of Dyspnea in Birds

The signs of dyspnea are all similar, but the condition that causes the dyspnea will also have symptoms that will vary depending on the condition.


  • Breathing with mouth open
  • No appetite
  • Weakness
  • Head shaking
  • Fluffed up feathers
  • Moving the whole body when trying to breathe
  • Lethargy
  • Head tucked in

Respiratory Conditions

  • Sleepiness
  • Nasal discharge
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing

Abdominal Conditions

  • Abdominal pain
  • Swelling of the face or abdomen
  • Depression
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss


  • Partial paralysis
  • Inflammation anywhere in the body
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Lesions
  • Loss of feathers


  • Blood in the stool
  • Weakness
  • Visible wounds
  • Inability to stand


  • Bacterial (pasteurella, chlamydophila, proteus, klebsiella)
  • Fungal (aspergillosis, candida, macrorhabdus)
  • Respiratory (bronchitis, tracheitis, pneumonitis, pneumonia)
  • Nutritional
  • Cancer
  • Toxic (drugs or poisonous food)
  • Traumatic (injury, blockage)


Causes of Dyspnea in Birds

  • Respiratory disease or infection
  • Poor nutrition
  • Toxins such as inhaled fumes or ingested poisons
  • Obstruction of the trachea – inhaled seeds, tumors, abscess, goiter
  • Compression of the air sacs
  • Cardiac illnesses or disease
  • Nervous system disorders
  • Cancer


Diagnosis of Dyspnea in Birds

There are certain tests the veterinarian will suggest depending on what the veterinarian believes may be wrong. It also depends on how severe the illness is and your bird’s general health. Because of the many different illnesses that can cause dyspnea, the number of tests can be extensive. In fact, it usually takes quite a few diagnostic tests to determine the cause and to rule out other causes. However, the first thing your veterinarian will likely need is your bird’s medical history and records of vaccination. If you do not have these, you should be prepared to describe as much information as you know, which includes previous illnesses, symptoms you have noticed, changes in appetite, and any unusual behaviors. Also, a complete physical assessment is needed, which will include vital signs, auscultation, and palpation. Some of the diagnostic tests include radiographs (x-rays) of the abdomen and chest to get an evaluation of the air sacs and lungs as well as the other vital organs such as the kidneys, stomach, and liver.

An endoscopy to get a good look at the upper airway and trachea will be performed with a lighted tube called an endoscope. A biopsy of the lungs, air sacs, or trachea may be retrieved for microscopic testing. Laboratory tests that are needed include blood work such as a chemical analysis, complete blood count, liver and kidney enzymes, blood cultures, choanal samples, and a urinalysis. Tracheal culture and cytology and fecal examination are also common procedures that may be done.



Treatment of Dyspnea in Birds

The treatment plan your veterinarian chooses may include oxygen, fluids, medication, nebulization, and hospitalization if needed. It all depends on the type of illness your horse has.

Oxygen Therapy

To aid in breathing, the veterinarian will provide oxygen to your bird.  An oxygen cage is the best way to do so.  


To administer fluids, an intravenous tube will be inserted into the chest or abdomen. This will help prevent dehydration and keep the circulation going.


The veterinarian will give medication depending on the cause of the dyspnea.

  • Itraconazole
  • Bronchodilator (terbutaline)
  • Dahlhausen
  • Fluconazole
  • Diflucan
  • Terbinafine (lamisil)
  • Amphotericin


Worried about the cost of Dyspnea treatment?

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Recovery of Dyspnea in Birds

No matter what the treatment is, be sure to follow the directions and continue to give your bird all of the drugs prescribed even if the symptoms are dissipating. Keep watch for breathing difficulties that do not get better or if they get worse. If you have any questions or concerns, be sure to call the veterinarian.



Dyspnea Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals




Zebra Finch


1 Year


1 found helpful


1 found helpful

Has Symptoms

Dyspnea Hematoma Swollen Belly
Fluffed Feathers Lethargy

hi please answer me quick my bird fellout of somwhere an had a bad landing for 2 weeks she has a swollen belly close to her butt and a big bruise there the vet said its a hematoma but tonight she was making twitting sounds and was gasping for air and nowi realize that taht sound was happening at nights lately and thought it was another bird just chrirping she is has a very low energy and her feathers are semifluffed up constantly please helpme it looks very serious ill take her again to the vet tommorow but in such a small bird there isnt much they can do

March 16, 2018

zoe's Owner



1 Recommendations

Due to the size of Zebra Finches (about 10cm in length) they are very difficult to examine and determine what the underlying cause is, it is possible that there is a haematoma, air sac issue or other injury; without examining Zoe I cannot offer any assistance unfortunately but would recommend visiting an Avian Specialist. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM www.aav.org/search/custom.asp?id=1803

March 16, 2018

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