Cataracts in Birds

By Greg Rich, DVM; Laurie Hess, DVM; Rick Axelson, DVM

What is a cataract?

The normal lens in the eye of any animal is clear and colorless. A cataract is an increase in the density or opacity of the lens. It is often observed as whiteness within the pupil. The pupil is the space the lens occupies in the center of the eye and is surrounded by the iris, the colored portion of the eye.

What causes cataracts?

Common causes of cataract formation include nutritional problems, traumatic events, metabolic diseases (i.e., diabetes), inflammatory problems, and infections. Cataracts are often seen in canaries and are thought to be inherited. Cataracts occur less commonly in most species of parrots. Cataracts are usually age-related and often involve both eyes.

How are cataracts in birds treated?

Surgical removal is possible depending on the size of your bird and should be discussed with your avian veterinarian or a veterinary ophthalmologist. The procedure is moderately difficult even when performed by a veterinary ophthalmologist.

Will a cataract affect my bird's vision?

It will decrease your bird’s visual acuity and may eventually lead to blindness. Many birds continue to be able to see somewhat, although with blurred vision. Even with cataracts, your bird can still live a happy life.

What should I do if my bird becomes blind?

Many owners are unaware that their bird is blind until a veterinarian points it out. In general, a healthy pet bird that is blind will usually do very well if the owner does not change the cage setup or the bird’s routine. It is essential not to rearrange perches, toys, or food dishes in a blind bird's cage since they know exactly where everything is and may have difficulty finding items in new locations. Birds with cataracts may startle easily if you approach too fast, so you should verbally announce when you are approaching. Consult your veterinarian if you are concerned your bird may have cataracts or have questions about them.

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