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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

Kakariki Species
7 Months
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

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

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
2143 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
2143 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
2143 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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