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Recognizing the Signs of Illness in Pet Birds

By Laurie Hess, DVM; Rick Axelson, DVM

Care & Wellness, Emergency Situations, Medical Conditions, Pet Services

How can I tell if my bird is sick?

recognizing_a_sick_bird-1In the wild, a bird will endeavor to uphold a strong appearance when sick. This is called, survival of the fittest. By the time a pet bird actually shows an owner that it is unwell, it has likely been sick for some time. Therefore, bird owners must learn to recognize the subtle signs a bird presents when unhealthy before it is too late.

What can make my pet bird ill?

Many things contribute to ill health in birds. Improper diet is the most common cause of ill health in pet birds. Trauma, poor upkeep, inferior hygiene, stress, and genetics may lead to ill health. Just because the bird's outward appearance is normal does not mean the bird is healthy. Any deviation from normal should be taken as a sign of ill health and you should contact your veterinarian immediately.

Signs your pet bird is sick


  • poor general appearance (feathers look ratty)
  • fluffed feathers (looks fatter)
  • not eating, changes in eating habits, or reduced appetite
  • changes in amount of drinking
  • weakness
  • drooping wings
  • listlessness, inactivity, depression
  • reluctance to move
  • sleeping more
  • trauma or bleeding
  • changes in weight (increased or decreased)


  • any change in regular attitude, behavior, or personality
  • unusually tame behavior
  • irritability, agitation, biting


  • closed eye
  • eye discharge
  • red eye
  • cloudy eyes
  • swelling (around, or of the eyes)


  • labored breathing or open mouth breathing
  • tail bobbing with each breath
  • nasal discharge
  • blocked nostrils
  • increased or decreased nostril size
  • sneezing (excessive)
  • wheezing or wet breathing
  • coughing
  • cere (the skin around the nostrils) irregularity
  • staining of the feathers around the nostrils
  • change in voice or no voice

Skin and Feathers

  • abnormal feathers (dull color, texture, shape, structure, growth)
  • bleeding blood or pin feathers (new feathers)
  • prolonged molt
  • feather changes (color, chewed, plucked, damaged, baldness, or feather loss)
  • skin (flaky or crusty, or sores)
  • excessive scratching
  • abnormal beak (color, growth, overgrown, texture)
  • abnormal nails (color, growth, overgrown, texture)
  • trauma, cuts, bruises
  • lumps, bumps, swellings, or bulges on the body


  • sore feet
  • sore wing
  • lameness or shifting of body weight
  • swollen joints
  • paralysis
  • weakness
  • drooping wings
  • not perching, sitting on bottom of cage

Digestive and urinary

  • wet droppings
  • diarrhea (watery feces)
  • change in the color of the droppings (red, yellow, tarry, pale)
  • staining of the feathers around the vent (anus)
  • decreased droppings
  • straining to defecate
  • wet feathers around face and head
  • vomiting or excessive regurgitation
  • protrusions from the vent (prolapse)


  • balance problems
  • head tilt
  • falling
  • seizures
  • unconsciousness
  • paralysis
  • weakness

If you are concerned about anything, consult your veterinarian immediately. Do not delay as serious illness can develop quickly.

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