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What is Sneezing and Nasal Discharge?

Under normal circumstances, your bird may sneeze once or twice a day to clear its airways of dust and other debris.  However, when the sneezing becomes more frequent and persistent and the nasal discharge, which is normally thin and clear, takes on thickness and color and is accompanied by other abnormal respiratory symptoms, these may be signals that your bird is sick.

Sneezing is defined in birds, as it is in humans, as the body’s way of clearing dust and other debris from the airways while nasal discharge is defined as a fluid, usually thin and clear unless disease is present, which accompanies the occasional sneeze.

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Symptoms of Sneezing and Nasal Discharge in Birds

Sneezing and nasal discharge in bird can be quite normal under certain circumstances but increases or frequency of these symptoms may also signal an infection or other respiratory disease.  Here are some symptoms you might notice if respiratory disease or infection are present:

  • Sneezing - Usually a signal to something deeper if it is continual and persistent
  • Nasal discharge - Usually normal if it is thin and clear but not if it is thicker or has a color to it
  • Fluffing of feathers
  • Apathy
  • Bird makes sounds similar to coughing (but birds can’t cough since they don’t have a diaphragm)
  • Voice changes
  • Watery eyes
  • Difficulty breathing - Can be demonstrated by a “bob” tail with each breath taken (shows increasing breathing difficulty)
  • Wheezing
  • Failure to perch
  • Keeps eye closed


There are four types of respiratory diseases which can have sneezing and nasal discharge as symptoms commonly found in birds.  These diseases affect the trachea, lungs and air sacs:

  • Viral - Includes avian influenza, pox, new castle disease and two that affect chickens: infectious bronchitis and laryngotracheitis   
  • Bacterial - Pasteurella, E coli, bordetella (affects turkeys) and infectious coryza (affects chickens)
  • Fungal - Aspergillosis or candida 
  • Other - Mycoplasmas and nutritional

Causes of Sneezing and Nasal Discharge in Birds

The causes of the sneezing and nasal discharge that accompanies respiratory disease would be based on the type of respiratory disease which has infected your bird.  

  • Viruses - There are hundreds of them known or thought to cause avian respiratory disease, and because they are so contagious, they can spread through your flock or aviary very quickly; some can cause serious respiratory issues as well as other neurological and systemic issues
  • Bacterial - Again hundreds if not thousands exist which are known to cause infectious respiratory diseases in avians; some can be passed by direct contact (horizontal) while others are passed from hen or mother to egg (vertical) (can be quite devastating to aviary population)
  • Fungal - There are primarily two which are found in birds: aspergillosis (passed from hatchery to litter) and candida (individual to each bird - not communicable)
  • Parasitic - Primarily blackhead, coccidia and worms; primary mode of transmission is via oral / fecal route
  • Nutrition based - Specifically cage layer fatigue (mostly found in chickens) and rickets

Any of these causes can cause a variety of symptoms and clinical signs which can be utilized in obtaining the diagnosis by your veterinary professional.

Diagnosis of Sneezing and Nasal Discharge in Birds

The diagnostic process will include a complete and detailed history from you which will likely encompass feeding regimen, types of feed given, enclosure hygiene, enclosure description, exercise and behavior exhibited by your birds especially as they apply to feces and appetite.  Your veterinary professional will do a physical examination and note the clinical signs being presented by your bird, observing both from a distance as well as up close.  He will be assessing changes, some of which may be subtle, in posture, wing position, respiration patterns and respiratory rate as some clinical information can potentially be gained from abnormalities found.  There is quite a list of clinical signs which the vet will be looking for to obtain for information for his diagnosis  

Your vet will likely order some diagnostic testing to be done.  You should expect him to take samples of blood for a comprehensive blood count, blood serology testing for chlamydiosis and aspergillosis and other infectious causes and samples of the choanal (slit in the roof of the mouth) or nasal cavity to check for bacteria or cancer. Radiography (x-rays) and / or CT imaging may be utilized; in addition endoscopic direct viewing of the respiratory system may be suggested as well.

Treatment of Sneezing and Nasal Discharge in Birds

Once the above information has been gathered, an appropriate treatment plan will be developed and initiated.  That treatment plan will be, of course, commensurate with the offending entity and the condition of your bird at the time of diagnosis.  Here are some things which could be recommended by your vet:

  • Keep in mind that, if the bird is displaying lethargy, breathing difficulties or loss of appetite, it will likely need to be hospitalized and perhaps some long-term care
  • Cleaning of any dry secretions and removal of any foreign objects from airways (potentially requiring anesthesia)
  • Administration of antibiotics or antifungal medications orally or via injection or application directly into nostrils or sinuses
  • Flushing of the nostrils or sinuses with antibiotics and antifungal medications
  • Surgical removal of any tumors which may be present

Once your bird is released from the hospital, you will likely have a care regimen that you will have to maintain while the bird continues to recuperate.

Recovery of Sneezing and Nasal Discharge in Birds

It is important to note that some birds may not survive regardless of treatment. The prognosis will be dependent upon the cause of the infection and the damage which has been caused by it.  At home, attention will need to be focused on keeping up with the regimen given by your vet, making changes to the bird’s enclosure environment to eliminate some of the factors which may have contributed to the bird’s condition, and adjusting the bird’s diet to achieve maximum nutritional benefit.  

Humidifying and purifying the air in the aviary may also benefit the health of your flock.  Getting appropriate medical care at the earliest possible point when changes in condition and behavior is noted is vital to the survival of your bird.  Attention to prevention measures to protect the rest of the flock will go a long way toward the success of the aviary.

Sneezing and Nasal Discharge Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Green-Cheeked Conure
6 Weeks
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Hello the morning my bird looked very sick. He ruffles all his feathers will not open his eyes. His eyelids are blue-ish and he keeps sneezing and he is sleepy.

Callum Turner
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1816 Recommendations
There is most likely some upper respiratory infection going here which would require veterinary attention; depending on the severity, the nasal cavity or sinus may need to be flushed out. You should visit your Veterinarian (preferably an Avian Veterinarian) for an examination to determine the cause and to direct treatment. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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