11401 NE 195th St. Bothell, WA  98011

(425) 486-9000 PHONE  (425) 486-9002 fax

Birds, like all animals, are susceptible to a variety of bacterial, viral, fungal, metabolic, and neoplastic diseases. Unlike traditional domestic animals (dogs, cats, cows, horses, etc.) that usually act sick when they are not feeling well, birds try very hard to hide their illness. Although they live in our homes, birds are still essentially wild animals, and an ill or injured bird in the wild would attract the attention of predators. This programming cannot be overridden, despite a lack of predator presence. Birds often maintain an “I’m okay” attitude until they are critically ill, weak to the point that they do not have the strength to hide disease any longer. As a result, bird owners need to be aware of small, subtle changes that may signal illness.

So how will you know if your bird is ill? Start by observing and making a mental note of your healthy bird’s normal behavior and habits. Once you know “normal,” it will be easier to spot abnormal.


Behavior: This will probably give you your first hint that something is not right. A normal bird is active, vocal and interested in its surroundings. A sick bird may also act this way when you are present, but not when it is alone. Watch from around the corner or across the room to observe your bird when it doesn’t think its being seen. If your bird sits or stands with its feathers fluffed, appears sleepy for extended periods of time or huddles despite a normal, warm environment, it is likely feeling pain, discomfort or general malaise. Sitting on the cage floor for any prolonged length of time is a reliable indicator that the bird is not feeling well. A sick bird is usually quieter than normal, not talking or screaming, and may have a change in voice tone. Some birds may want more petting than usual; others that are usually cuddly may not want to be touched. Any changes in behavior patterns suggests something is wrong.


Droppings: A normal bird dropping has three components. The dark, solid portion is feces. The white part is urates. The clear liquid portion is urine. The color of the solid portion may change, depending on what it has eaten. However, the volume and firmness should remain the same. Most species of birds should have a “tubular shaped” stool, with a firm, but not dry, consistency. Monitor for changes in color, shape, and texture of the stool. One or two abnormal droppings are usually nothing to worry about, but consistently abnormal droppings over an entire day or two would warrant a call to the vet. Blood in the droppings is always abnormal.

The urates should always be white/cream colored. Changes in urate color may indicate disease or poisoning, and they may change color from white or cream to yellow, green, or red/orange. The amount of clear urine may increase with high fluid intake or as a result of disease. Kidney disease can produce either increased or decreased urine production and can increase or decrease water intake.


Appetite: Many birds will maintain their appetite until the day they die, but even a small decrease in appetite should be taken as a warning sign. Some ill birds will stop eating their regular diet and eat only one food. Gorging on grit or other non-digestible items is another cause for concern. Some birds will stop eating altogether. Occasionally, a bird will drink a lot, but not eat. Any of these symptoms indicates potentially serious disease and warrants prompt medical attention.


Body condition: Many bird owners will routinely measure their birds’ weight on a gram scale, and this is highly recommended as a way to measure trends and monitor for early clues regarding developing illnesses. Weight loss of more than 10% total body weight is a sure sign that something is wrong. Weight loss can be significant in birds in a very short amount of time; as little as a day or two, depending on the disease.

 Body condition scores can also be used to evaluate your bird’s overall health. Pick up your bird and run your finger down the center of the breast. You should be able to feel the keel bone running from the chest to the abdomen. A healthy bird should have even muscle on either side of the bone, forming an “A-frame” with the keel bone at the tip of the “A.” A thin bird will have a very “pointy” sharp keel, or even small depressions immediately to each side of the point of the keel. Feel your healthy bird’s keel so you will know what is normal for him/her and can recognize abnormal when/if it occurs.


March 30, 2015

Content of this Care Sheet Courtesy of:

The Center for Bird and Exotic Animal Medicine 

11401 NE 195th St. Bothell, WA  98011

(425) 486-9000 PHONE  (425) 486-9002 fax