What are Giardiasis?

Giardiasis is a protozoan parasite that tends to live in the intestinal tract of your bird after it has gained entry through the drinking water. The damage comes when it makes your bird suffer intensive itching, with the skin becoming very dry. Some birds then start pulling out their feathers in an effort to get to the itchy spot. The Giardia parasite can interfere with fat metabolism and nutrient absorption. Some of the parasite is passed out in droppings from your bird to reinfect others.

Giardiasis is found in water systems and when ingested, causes severe illness your bird. The good news is that it is treatable.

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Symptoms of Giardiasis in Birds

  • Destroying of feathers, plucking them out feverishly to get at the itch
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss 
  • Diarrhea that features mucus and is foul smelling
  • Your bird may itch a lot, scratching and preening
  • Yeast infections that keep reoccurring
  • Depression
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Death 

Types  

  • This is a single-celled intestinal parasite disease of which there are two forms of giardiasis (trophozoite and cysts)
  • Trophozoites is the active form that move around by the way of fine hairlike whips and attach by way of a small sucking appendage, attaching to the surface of the villi in your bird’s small intestine
  • Cysts are a dormant form 
  • Both can be shed from time to time through the feces

Causes of Giardiasis in Birds

  • This water-borne parasite has to be ingested orally; it doesn’t penetrate through the skin
  • Giardia is found in water that has been contaminated by the feces or bird droppings 
  • Chlorine does not kill or contain the parasite, only boiling the water will kill it
  • Most species of birds are drawn to water and wade and bathe in it
  • One contaminated bird in an aviary can infect the whole population 
  • Keeping water systems (especially drinking water) clean will help

Diagnosis of Giardiasis in Birds

Giardiasis is very hard to detect in live birds. New technologies are being developed all the time which is helping expand detection boundaries. Your veterinarian will perform trichrome staining, fecal material examination and floatation tests to be sent to the laboratory to detect this parasite. You will need to have these tests done several times before your bird can be declared free from infection. This is due to the intermittent shedding of the parasite, where one sample is not enough to determine if treatment has been effective. Other advances in technology such as sequence assays have been developed which are very sensitive and very accurate, they can detect giardia at a much lower level than previously. 

The parasite is taken into the body by drinking infected water as it cannot penetrate the skin to infect; it has to be taken in orally. The droppings from bathing birds such as ducks, swans and geese are often blamed for the contamination. Because birds in the wild congregate in groups, this parasite is easily passed from bird to bird, following the birds on their migratory journey. Regular care and preventative measures are preferable to heartbreak and worry over your bird with an advanced disease condition. Routines for cleaning the cage/aviary and water receptacles as well as replacing water with cooled boiled water will help you to keep on top of the parasites that can infest your bird.

Treatment of Giardiasis in Birds

There are two medications that are used to cure the disease; your veterinarian may prescribe the drug ronidazole, or metronidazole. If you switch your bird’s water from a dish to a water bottle it may help prevent reinfestation. The water bottle is a more effective way of preventing fouled water which is where giardia thrives. Your bird will enjoy the challenge of figuring out how to use the bottle, which is good for your bird’s health.

Ensure the bottle is kept clean by regularly scrubbing it out to prevent organism growth and refilling with water that has been boiled and cooled. Boiling can destroy the parasite. Remember to keep the water level topped up especially during the hot summer. A holistic treatment is to dose your bird orally with a combination of lactulose and Echinacea, and put apple cider vinegar into the drinking water.  This natural cure is not a hundred percent guarantee for a cure but excellent results have been had through using it.

Recovery of Giardiasis in Birds

Prevention is the best course of action and can be obtained by a sterile, clean and dry aviary. With giardia, the standard chlorine levels in water are not enough to destroy giardia. But boiling water will destroy the parasite, so using cooled boiled water is definitely a better option for your bird. Overcrowding in an aviary presents the perfect breeding ground for giardia once it takes a hold, so keep the number of birds down and remove any of your infected birds to isolation as soon as you suspect this parasite.

Perhaps a regular dose of the holistic treatment would be advisable as well as meticulous care of the cage or aviary is important. If you have any doubts you need to talk to your veterinarian as many symptoms for disease are similar, so you need to know exactly what is causing your birds distress, and how to deal with it.