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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.

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
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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
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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.

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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.

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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.

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Respiratory Tract Infection Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Budgies

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One Year

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Unknown severity

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Unknown severity

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Dull, Tail Bobbing When It Is Breathing

Hi doc, my female budgie is not feeling well since past week, I observed tail bobbing and she is being a bit dull, showing its regular activities but not so active, feeling sleepy most of the time, I don't have any access to vet near by my place can you please help me, I recently lost my budgie Wendy can afford to loose this lil one too,plz do help me.

Sept. 28, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your question. Unfortunately, birds don't tend to show signs of illness until they are quite sick, for the most part. If you don't have a veterinarian near you, you may be able to talk to a wild bird rescue group, or a pet store. I hope that your bird is okay.

Oct. 8, 2020

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Budgerigar

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One Year

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Unknown severity

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Unknown severity

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Tail Bobbing Sometimes Grey Poop

I recently lost a budgie yesterday very suddenly the morning I woke up she was dead. I’m waiting on the necropsy but my remaining budgie is the one I’m worried about. The one who had died had been active eating drinking playing and was suddenly dead. My remaining budgie has some tail bobbing some odd poop but otherwise is vocal, flying, eating, and drinking. I have her of her usual chop and on just seeds temporarily so I can monitor better changes in her poop. The photo of her poop was while she was on her chop and her pellets. This was before I put her on just seeds.

Sept. 26, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your question. Without being able to see your budgie, unfortunately it is difficult for me to say if you have anything to worry about. It would be best to call your veterinarian, and see what they think as they know more about your other bird.

Oct. 17, 2020

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Agapornis (Love Bird)

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Four Months

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

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Unknown severity

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Noisy Breathing

Wheezing with constant movement of tail. Can you please advice any medication.

Sept. 26, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your question. . Since I cannot see him, It would be best to have them seen by a veterinarian, as they can examine them, see what might be going on, and get treatment if needed.

Oct. 17, 2020

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Budgie

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About 4 months

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Unknown severity

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Opening And Closing Of Mouth

Hey,my budgie around 3 to 4 months started opening and closing mouth.And His behaviour is changed and not a chirping! Plz help

Sept. 25, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your question. I apologize for the delay, this venue is not set up for urgent emails. I hope that your pet is feeling better. If they are having problems, It would be best to have your pet seen by a veterinarian, as they can examine them, see what might be going on, and get any testing or treatment taken care of that might be needed.

Oct. 21, 2020

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Cockatiel

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One Year

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Unknown severity

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Unknown severity

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Noisy Breathing

My cockatiel is breathing heavy and hasn’t been active or eating or drinking. We consulted with a doctor who said she has a respiratory infection due to cold air from the AC. He prescribed baytril and vitamins for immune boosting. Wanted to know how long does it take for the bird to recover with this prescription because she isn’t eating at all

Aug. 4, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Gina U. DVM

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Hello I'm sorry to see that your pet is not feeling well. It can take up to two weeks for a respiratory infection to clear up. If she is not eating, she may have to be tube fed because it is not ideal for birds to go a long time without eating. Good luck and hope she feels better soon.

Aug. 4, 2020

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Doni

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Budgie

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6 Months

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Mild severity

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Sneezing
Squeaking

I got two budgies just over a month ago. They are both under 6 months and I have noticed one of my budgies appears to be squeezing and sometimes let's out a squeak. The noises are mostly at night but are definitely becoming more common. Should I be concerned?

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Gurby

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cockatiel

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5 Months

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Serious severity

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Serious severity

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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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