What are Ornithosis?

There have been cases where a bird has been infected with ornithosis and has shown no signs of the illness. These birds may then be considered carriers and can shed the organism C. psittaci which causes ornithosis. C. psittaci will manifest as an upper respiratory infection with eye discharge, nasal discharge and/or diarrhea. Ornithosis can cause liver disease and liver failure in your bird.

This condition is a zoonotic disease and can be transmitted from animals to humans. C. psittaci is closely related to Chlamydia trachomatis, which is a common STD in humans. It is also closely related to Chlamydia pneumoniae which is the cause of human pneumonia and is associated with cardiovascular disease in humans.

Ornithosis is also known as psittacosis, chlamydiosis, or parrot fever. This disease is highly contagious. The incubation period for caged or domesticated birds varies from just days to several weeks. The most common incubation period that has been noted is three to ten days.

Book First Walk Free!

Symptoms of Ornithosis in Birds

Since ornithosis, or chlamydiosis, is a zoonotic disease, it is imperative that if you suspect your bird is infected you handle them with great caution. Wear gloves and a mask when handling them. Contact your veterinarian immediately for an emergency appointment. Watch for these symptoms:

  • Lime green diarrhea
  • Lack of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Depression
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Discharge from the eyes or nares
  • Rough plumage
  • Low body temperature
  • Sinusitis
  • Tremors
  • Death

Causes of Ornithosis in Birds

Ornithosis is an airborne disease and will transmit from one organism to another through the air. The bacteria are shed from the infected organism through the nasal or eye secretions, feces and feather dust. 

The bacteria will remain stable outside the host and will dry as dusty substance. This dust then contaminates the air and is inhaled by another potential host, animal or human. The potential host may become ill if there were enough contaminates that were inhaled and dependent on the susceptibility of the potential host. 

The disease will spread more rapidly in overcrowded conditions or where the air is not being properly circulated. Nest boxes and brooders are also at a higher risk of the disease spreading uncontrollably.

Diagnosis of Ornithosis in Birds

When you arrive at your veterinarian, if you suspect that your bird is infected with ornithosis, inform the front desk so precautions can be taken to avoid infecting other animals and humans at the clinic. 

Your veterinarian will perform a physical examination of your bird and will also do a fecal examination, blood analysis and immunofluorescent testing to verify the condition. A cloacal and throat swab may also be ordered. Your veterinarian may also want to run a polymerase chain reaction or PCR, test and a nested PCR test to determine the severity of the infection.

It may be recommended that you conduct environmental testing using swabs to determine if the bacteria C. psittaci is present. You will want to swab your bird’s cage, countertops, air filters and any other surface that your veterinarian recommends.

Treatment of Ornithosis in Birds

Once ornithosis has been diagnosed, your bird needs to be immediately put in quarantine at the veterinary hospital. Supportive care will be provided while your bird undergoes antibiotic treatments.

Your veterinarian will most likely use tetracycline or one of its derivatives, Vibramycin, Doxycycline or Oxytetracycline. Tetracycline is a strong antibiotic that will be given either by intravenous injection or intramuscular injection. In cases where the disease is not as severe, antibiotics can be given orally by mixing with food. 

Your bird will not need to remain hospitalized for the duration of the treatments but will need to stay long enough for your veterinarian to see a marked improvement in their health. When your bird comes home, practice safe hygiene and be sure to handle your bird with care as they can still pass the disease on to you.

Treatments will generally last for 45 days. This timeframe may vary slightly depending on the severity of the disease and how well your bird responds to treatments.

Recovery of Ornithosis in Birds

With quick and aggressive medical treatment, your bird should make a full recovery from ornithosis. Practice safe handling when you are treating an infected bird, wear a mask and thoroughly wash your hands. It is also good practice to wear a smock over your clothing that can be removed once you are finished working with your bird. 

Keep your bird’s cage cleaned of all fecal matter and properly dispose of it. Quarantine any new bird that is brought into your home and ensure that your bird’s area has proper ventilation.