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What is Respiratory Tract Infection?

Infections of the respiratory tract can develop from many other infections and conditions that cause problems in the chest, lungs, sinuses, and eyes of your bird. Viruses can severely compromise your bird’s immune system, while parasites and tumors can block breathing passages, cause swellings, and reduce lung function. While situations such as a nutritional deficiency or an allergy can be easily corrected, infectious agents can be more difficult to treat, and can be transmitted to other birds. These infections should be diagnosed as soon as possible for the safety of your avian population.

Wild, companion and poultry birds are all susceptible to a variety of respiratory infections. In some birds, symptoms can be mild, while in others, infections can become more severe, and lead to life threatening conditions. While you may think a bit of sneezing and wheezing may pass, these may be signs of a serious condition that needs to be treated to ensure the health of your bird.

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Symptoms of Respiratory Tract Infection in Birds

The symptoms of a respiratory infection involve the eyes, sinuses, and respiratory tract. Due to the various types of causes that can result in such as infection, you are likely to see other symptoms in your bird that can help lead your veterinarian to a correct diagnosis. Be sure to note all symptoms that you see in your bird, however unrelated as they may seem, as many can be indicative of a certain disease or condition. Signs of respiratory distress include:

  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Nasal discharge
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Gasping for breath
  • Open-mouthed breathing
  • Pneumonia
  • Breathing sounds, such as wheezing or gurgling
  • Hoarse chirps in chicks 
  • Facial swelling
  • Eye infections
  • Eyelids stick together
  • Discharge from eyes
  • Head bobbing
  • Head shaking 
  • Abnormal head or neck postures
  • Depression
  • Appetite loss
  • Decreased thirst
  • Weight loss
  • Listlessness
  • Dehydration 
  • Lethargy

Symptoms that can help lead to a cause of the respiratory complaints include:

  • Creamy deposit seen around mouth 
  • Bloody discharge from nose or coughed up from trachea
  • Nose and eye discharge that is thick, sticky, and foul-smelling
  • Foamy eye discharge
  • Silent gasp 
  • Weakness
  • Dilated pupils 
  • Bright yellow-green diarrhea
  • Drop in egg production
  • Low exercise tolerance
  • Wart-like, raised lesions on head, legs, vent, and other unfeathered areas
  • Canker-like lesions in mouth
  • Breast blisters 
  • Feather plucking
  • Scratching 
  • Rubbing on perches or cage
  • Skin swelling
  • Swollen joints
  • Stilted gait
  • Reluctance to move
  • Trembling
  • Tail bobbing
  • Loss of control over body movements
  • Paralysis, seen in legs or wings
  • Bluish skin
  • Convulsions
  • Failure to grow or gain weight normally in young birds

Causes of Respiratory Tract Infection in Birds

There are many causes of respiratory infections in birds. They include: 

  • Bacterial infections, such as Psittacosis, Infectious Coryza, Mycoplasma gallisepticum, Mycoplasma synoviae, or Mycoplasma meleagridis
  • Viral infections, such as Viscerotropic velogenic Newcastle disease, other paramyxoviruses, Avian influenza, Fowl Pox, Infectious Bronchitis, or Infectious Laryngotracheitis 
  • Fungal infections, such as Aspergillosis  
  • Parasitic infections, such as Syngamus trachea, Trichomoniasis, Sternostoma trachaecolum, Cryptosporidial, and Gapeworms
  • Allergies, such as from an allergen that is touch, inhaled, ingested, or even injected into your bird; birds can have seasonal allergies, or may be affected by lice or mites and asthma also occurs in birds
  • Nutritional deficiencies, specifically of Vitamin A and iodine
  • Cancer, such as tumors or masses within the chest or lungs

Diagnosis of Respiratory Tract Infection in Birds

Since there are such a wide variety of possible causes, your veterinarian will examine your bird, consider all the symptoms present, and perform tests to come to a correct diagnosis. Tests can include blood work, serum analysis, fecal samples, viral isolation tests like the agar gel immunodiffusion test, and the examination and PCR testing of biopsied trachea tissue and various bodily fluids. These tests can detect the presence of bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungal infections. 

In birds, allergies can be diagnosed through blood tests that analyze white blood cell counts and skin biopsies, including feather follicles. A detailed history of exposure and a timeline of symptoms can help your veterinarian determine the actual allergen involved. Diagnosis is often confirmed by removal of the allergen from your bird’s environment that results in a resolution of symptoms. If your veterinarian suspects a mass or tumor is involved, imaging techniques such as X-rays, ultrasounds and CT scans can confirm it.

Treatment of Respiratory Tract Infection in Birds

Treatment will vary considerably, and will depend entirely on the diagnosis of the cause of your bird’s respiratory infection. Supportive care, dietary changes, and proper hygiene management are used in many cases to reduce the immunosuppressive effect of many conditions, and give your bird a better chance to recover. 

Vaccines are available for some viruses and bacterial infections, and may be able to prevent a fatality. Some viruses cannot be treated, however, so supportive care is given to make your bird more comfortable. Anthelmintic medications are administered for parasitic infections. Fungal infections are prescribed antifungal medications. For bacterial infections, antibiotics are often given, along with a flush of the nasal and sinus cavities. Vitamin A may also be given as a supplement for this type of infection, or to correct a nutritional deficiency.

Allergies can be treated by removing the allergen, administering antihistamines, and through the use of topical lotions when needed. Asthma can be treated with corticosteroids.

Any cancerous tumors can be treated in a variety of ways, from surgical removal to radiation and chemotherapy. Your veterinarian will discuss the best course of action for your bird’s condition.

Recovery of Respiratory Tract Infection in Birds

Your bird’s recovery from a respiratory infection is highly variable, and depends on the diagnosis made and the severity of your bird’s condition. While some causes can be easily treated, others, such as certain viruses, will be with your bird for life and may cause severe and life threatening complications. While vaccines are available for some infectious agents, they are more likely to help the other birds in the population by preventing them from becoming infected.

Respiratory Tract Infection Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

5 Months
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Breathing Difficulties,quite severe

Hello, My cockatiel was found at the bottom of an avory, a huge outside cage with many other birds flying about in it and he was born at the wrong time of year so no one knew he was there. He got kicked out or fell out and He had fully developed feathers by the time we found him except for the ones all the other birds had pulled out. He was running around the floor eating fallen seeds and his mother mustve been coming down and feeling him or he would have died of dehydration. He is a very happy bird but he's having difficulty breathing to the point he's always exhausted because of it. It sounds like theres ALOT of liquid in his lungs when you listen to the bubbly sound in his breathing. Sometimes if something's bothering him he will very very rarely give a extremely high pitched wheeze and that's about it. He doesnt fly due to his exhaustion although he can. He breathes with his mouth open quite wide 95% of the time. I wouldnt say hes suffering enough to be put down just yet although I wouldnt like this to get any worse. Please help me out. All this little bird wants to do is waddle to me with his broken toes that the birds had bitten and go to sleep. He always wants to be by me and it breaks my heart because he will even jump off the bed to get to me if I leave him on it. He will NOT leave my side and this poor little baby doesn't deserve to die so young. Please help me out, thank you.

Extra info: He had red nostrils when we got him, dirt in them too but just a little. I fear birds faeces have fallen into his nostrils from being on the floor all the time. The only thing the medication has done for him was slightly get rid of the redness around his nostrils. He sneezes not that often but liquid does come out when he does and it doesnt smell that pretty. Also his age is... I don't know about 5 months but he's still very young but he can fly.

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6 Months
Fair condition
1 found helpful
Fair condition

Has Symptoms


My new budgie has been making this very random squeaking sound. I can't pin-point exactly why he's making the sound because I thought perhaps it was when he was moving or after he was running around - but he'll just be happy and playing and suddenly make a squeak or he'll squeak while he's sitting and looking around. It's just this small like squeak that's not accompanied by any labored breathing or tail bobbing but I'm worried it might be an upper respiratory infection as we got him from a pet store and I heard those are really common in birds from pet stores. I also believe he might've just sneezed which has me extra worried. Other than the possible sneeze and the random squeaks he's active, happy, curious, plays like no one's business - nothing is out of the ordinary except these two sounds.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3320 Recommendations
Without examining Muffin I cannot say whether or not there is a cause to be concerned, sometimes budgies may have some difficulty adjusting to the air quality of a new environment or may have some respiratory infection. You should monitor Muffin for now, but visit a Veterinarian for a check to be on the safe side. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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African gray
11 Weeks
Fair condition
0 found helpful
Fair condition

Has Symptoms


African gray flew away for 2 days storm and rain,we just got her back today she was 13 week old and still go her weening food I got her back and give her some water and 52cc of food now she is in her cage I hear a lil weezing what should I look for?should I put the heat lamp in the room she was flying around tree to tree for 2 days getting rained on.she has a tiny weezing

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3320 Recommendations
Thankfully Scarlet came back to you and you have her comfortable in her cage, during the past two days we don’t know what Scarlet has eaten or come into contact with; I would be cautious about heating her up too quickly as she will have difficulty regulating her body temperature. You should, to be on the safe side, visit an Avian Veterinarian for a once over to check for any other symptoms and to receive any antibiotics or other treatment if indicated. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Kakariki Species
7 Months
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Sneezing after exercise
Heavy breathing after fly w/ sound
Isn't as active as before

Medication Used


Does my bird have a respiratory infection?
I bought her when she was a baby, when I brought her home I noticed there was a yellowish discharged on her nostrils, and she was really inactive too, so I took her immediately to the vet. He said she had an respiratory infection and prescribed an antibiotic for her during 12 days, and that I should put in each nostrils every morning and evening. She looked so much better after but the sneezing never stopped, I thought it was because of the baths that she took, because she takes probably 4 baths a day, but now, 4 months later she is becoming really inactive again and when she does a little bit of exercise she sneezes and breathes heavily with sounds, she eats and preens her feathers and gets out of cage to play but not as much as before.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3320 Recommendations
Respiratory infections and environmental allergens are the two most common possible causes for the symptoms Kira is presenting with, if Kira improved with antibiotics it is likely there was an infection; however, without examining Kira I cannot say with any certainty that she has a respiratory infection or another condition. The link below is to a world wide directory for Avian Veterinarians, check for one in your area. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Congo African Grey
5 Years
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms


My African Grey (5 years old) is having a lot of sneezing along with a sound of whizzing during sleep for about 10-12 days. There is also lack of appetite. Please reccommend some remedy and oblige.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3320 Recommendations
Common causes for sneezing and respiratory issues in birds are dust especially during moulting, infections (commonly bacterial or fungal), foreign objects or nutritional deficiencies; without an examination I cannot say what the specific cause is and I am unable to prescribe anything without an examination. Ensure you keep the area around Goda clean and free of dust, you should visit your Veterinarian who may flush out the nostrils; also ensure that there is no smoke in the home and try humidifying the air around Goda which may help with breathing. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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4 Years
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Heavy Breathing

Hi, I have a parakeet breathing heavily and doesn't really move like it used to move. I have veterinarian seen her and given antibiotics. I have given her the medication for almost 4 weeks now but she is getting worst. What can I do with her. I can't affort her medical bill anymore

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3320 Recommendations
I would be looking at doing a little bit of testing to help determine the specific underlying cause; breathing difficulties are commonly associated with a bacterial infection with bird, but systemic diseases and issues with the liver, parasites and nutrition may all lead to breathing difficulties. I would do a blood test, bacterial culture and sensitivity as well as a faecal examination for parasites to narrow in on a specific case instead of continually throwing antibiotics at the problem. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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