Merck Manual

Please confirm that you are a health care professional

honeypot link
Pet Owner Version

Signs of Illness in Pet Birds


Manuals Staff

Reviewed/Revised Jul 2011 | Modified Oct 2022
Topic Resources

Owners should use special times with their pets to observe their habits and look for subtle changes in behavior, food consumption, water consumption, and feather condition ( see General Signs of Disease in Birds General Signs of Disease in Birds General Signs of Disease in Birds ). In the wild, most birds are instinctively aware that they are the prey of many other animals. Under these conditions, birds will often attempt to hide any weakness or illness. Pet bird owners should be aware of this built-in defense mechanism and be alert to subtle changes in their bird. Any changes in activity, appetite, behavior, or feather condition are a signal that your bird should be examined for possible illness or injury. One of the first signs of illness noted by astute parrot owners may be a decrease in talking or other vocalizing. Owners often overlook these early changes and medical care is delayed until the condition is too far advanced for optimal care. With alertness on your part, care can be provided more promptly and your pet can live a longer and healthier life.

General Signs of Disease in Birds

  • Fluffed feathers

  • Increased sleeping or eyes closed

  • Inactivity or lack of interest in surroundings

  • Decreases or changes in vocalization or singing

  • Sitting low on the perch

  • Sitting on the bottom of the cage

  • Hanging onto the side of the cage by the beak rather than perching

  • Weakness

  • Losing balance, teetering, or falling off of perch

  • Walking in circles

  • Trembling or seizures

  • Changes in breathing, such as breathing with open beak, wheezing or clicking sounds when breathing, sneezing, tail bobbing when taking a breath

  • Discharge or crusts around the nostrils

  • Exercise intolerance (heavy breathing after exercise, or inability to exercise)

  • Eyes dull, sunken, or abnormal color

  • Drooped or elevated wing(s)

  • Lumps or swelling of any portion of the body

  • Picking at the feathers or body

  • Not preening

  • Changes in color, consistency, quantity or frequency of droppings or urine

  • Increased or decreased appetite or thirst

  • Vomiting or regurgitation

  • Weight loss (use a scale) and/or prominent keel (breast bone)

When a bird is ill, the veterinarian will often collect and analyze a sample of the bird’s blood. Blood tests, x-rays, and other diagnostic tests can help in the diagnosis of disease, just as they do in humans and other animals.

quiz link

Test your knowledge

Take a Quiz!