Revised May 24,2024

Table of Contents

Are you worried that your bird is sick? Birds often hide illness, injuries, and pain until they just can't hide it anymore. This guide will help you recognize sick bird symptoms, calm down, and figure out what body systems are involved and what to do fast.

If you suspect your bird is sick, it’s likely very sick and you need to act fast. Understanding the signs and knowing what to look for can make all the difference. We’ll walk you through the important first steps and when to get your bird to the vet.

Medical Disclaimer: This guide is for educational purposes only. I am not a veterinarian and cannot examine your pet. Always call an avian or exotic vet for professional advice and proper diagnosis.

bird sickness symptoms

Sick Bird Symptoms


Symptoms: Changes in vocalizations, change in eating & drinking habits, change in activity level, droopy wings, fluffed feathers, generalized weakness, distended abdomen.

Possible Causes: Improper diet, improper cleaning & grooming that introduces fungus, bacteria, & toxins into the bird's living area, and trauma are common causes of bird sickness.

What To Do: Stabilize your bird in a hospital cage, make note of the symptoms, and call your avian or exotic vet.

Digestive & Urinary

Symptoms: Watery, mushy, or unformed feces, unexplained yellow, red, tarry black or pale feces, stained feathers around the vent, vent prolapse, decrease in number of droppings, straining to defecate, vomiting or stained, wet feathers around the face.

Possible Causes: Bacterial, viral, or fungal infections, parasites, dietary changes or eating spoiled food, ingesting non-food items that cause blockages, stress.

What To Do: Isolate your bird from other birds and stressors, call your vet, monitor symptoms, ensure that food and water are easily accessible, thoroughly clean the cage and remove any toxins that your bird may have been exposed to.


Symptoms: Ocular discharge, redness in or around the eye, cloudy looking eyes, bulging or swelling around or in the eye.

Possible Causes: Flying into objects or falling, infections, chemical exposure or environmental irritants, aggressive behavior from other pets, nutritional deficits, congenital defects, parasites.

What To Do: Assess the situation, isolate your bird in a hospital cage, immediately call the vet and follow their advice to the letter. Avoid home remedies. The goal is to save your bird's vision.


Symptoms: Sore wings or feet, area is warm to the touch, bird is lame or shifting its weight to minimize pain, inactivity, prolonged periods of sitting on the bottom of the cage (the bird feels too weak to perch or feels unsteady and is afraid of falling).

Possible Causes: Trauma, nutritional deficits, infections, degenerative diseases, genetic disorders, metabolic disorders, tumors, obesity, improper handling & restraint, environmental causes - such as dowel perches.

What To Do: Do not try home remedies, place the bird in a hospital cage with easily accessible food and water and low perches, provide a quiet and stress free location, monitor your bird for ability to perch, move about freely, warm body parts, contact your vet for an evaluation and follow their recommendations.


Symptoms: Tilting head, falling & inability to balance, constant muscle twitching, seizures, unconsciousness, paralysis, generalized weakness.

Possible Causes: Viral, bacterial, or fungal infections, trauma from other pets or flying into objects and sustaining a head injury, nutritional deficiencies, genetic disorders, tumors, metabolic disorders, parasites, inflammatory disease, and environmental factors such as chronic stress, poor living conditions, dirty cages, and extreme temperatures.

What To Do: Observe and make notes, place the bird in a hospital cage in a safe, stress-free, quiet location and monitor it frequently, avoid home remedies and consult a veterinarian as soon as possible, follow the veterinary advise to the letter, remove any environmental toxins, provide supportive care, and improve diet as necessary.


Symptoms: Gasping for breath, open mouth breathing, tail bobs up and down with each breath, nasal discharge, blocked nostrils, change in nostril size, change in the cere (the skin around the nostrils), excessive sneezing, wheezing, coughing, stained feathers around the nostrils.

Possible Causes: Respiratory problems in birds can stem from various factors, including fungal, viral or bacterial infections like avian influenza or psittacosis. Environmental factors such as poor ventilation, dusty or polluted air, and exposure to cigarette smoke can also contribute. Additionally, allergens like feathers or certain foods, as well as underlying health issues such as obesity or heart disease, may lead to respiratory challenges in birds.

What To Do: 
  • If your bird is experiencing breathing difficulties, it's crucial to act swiftly:
  • Isolate and Calm: Move your bird to a quiet, well-ventilated area away from drafts, other pets, and potential irritants. Remove all stressors.
  • Consult a Vet: Contact an exotic avian veterinarian immediately for professional guidance and treatment. Time is of the essence in addressing respiratory issues.
  • Monitor and Support: While awaiting veterinary care, monitor your bird closely. Ensure access to fresh, clean water, maintain optimal temperature and humidity levels, and avoid stressing your bird further.

    Swift action and expert veterinary care are vital in addressing respiratory problems and safeguarding your bird's health.

    Skin & Feathers

    Symptoms: Dull or tattered feathers, bleeding from blood feathers or pin feathers, a prolonged molt (longer than a two months), feather changes (color changes, chewed or broken, baldness, feather loss), flaky skin, scabs or sores on the skin, excessive scratching, abnormal beak or nails, lacerations, cuts, & bruises, lumps, bumps, swelling, bulging on the body.

    Possible Causes: The most common causes of skin and feather problems in birds are dietary imbalances, parasites, infections, and environmental factors.

    What To Do:
    • Take your bird to an avian veterinarian for a thorough examination and proper diagnosis. 
    • Ensure your bird is receiving a balanced diet with essential nutrients for skin and feather health.
    • Create a clean, safe, and stress-free environment for your bird, free from potential irritants or contaminants.
    • Administer any medications or treatments prescribed by the vet diligently and follow their advice for ongoing care.
    • Regular veterinary check-ups, a healthy diet, and a suitable living environment are key to addressing and preventing skin and feather problems in birds.

    Stabilizing A Sick Bird

    1. PREPARE A BIRD HOSPITAL CAGE. Make sure it is clean and place your bird in it in a warm, stress free area where you can check i frequently

    2. WARMTH: Turn on a bird safe heat source like a Snuggle Up Cage Warmer and begin warming the cage.

    3. SAFETY: Lower perches, make sure that food and water is easily accessible, line the bottom with a clean, soft, fluffy towel to soften any falls.

    4. MINIMIZE STRESS: Cover the hospital cage both to retain warmth, encourage much needed sleep and reduce noise and stress from household commotion.

    6. DETERMINE HOW FAST TO GET VET CARE: See the chart below to determine if the incident warrants immediate veterinarian care or whether you can buy a little time with general supportive care and observation. If in doubt error on the side of caution and call the clinic.

    Symptom Urgency

    Critical Emergencies

    • BLEEDING, EXTERNAL that won't stop after a few minutes
    • BLEEDING, INTERNAL - in vomit & or diarrhea
    • ANY BURN
    • BODILY COLLAPSE or loss of balance
    • POISON - Chemicals & plants.  (Please retain sample of item for your vet)
    • ANY ANIMAL ATTACK can cause deadly bacterial infections that kill fast
    • SERIOUS INJURY such as puncture wound to eye, chest or abdomen, open laceration, or fracture
    • SEVERE BREATHING PROBLEMS  - gaspy, noisy or rattling sounds, distressed breathing or tail bobbing with each breath.
    • STRAINING to pass droppings

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    • NOT EATING especially when combined with other signs of distress such as labored breathing and diarrhea
    • LABORED BREATHING which looks like shallow, rapid breaths, with or without a cough.
    • EGG BOUND - abdominal distention accompanied by indications of pain, straining and depression
    • EYE ISSUES- eyes partially or completely closed, cloudy, blueish or opaque color in eyes, that indicate infection.
    • SWALLOWED FOREIGN OBJECT - as this may pose life-threatening issues with elimination.
    • HYPOTHERMIA or low body temperature
    • GENERAL INJURIES especially animal bites including other bird bites should receive immediate treatment.
    • SEVERE DIARRHEA that includes frequent, runny poop, indications of abdominal pain and straining to eliminate.
    • SWELLING that feels hard, warm and is painful or has a discharge.

    Give Your Bird Supportive Care and Call Your Vet For Next Steps

    • Loss of appetite 
    • Diarrhea with no sign of blood and no indication of pain or straining.
    • Itching - moderate scratching that isn't tearing skin
    • Thirst that looks like excessive drinking.
    • Vomiting - 1-2 episodes (other than sexual flirtations) with no other medical involvement such as diarrhea, lethargy, perching on cage floor. 

    What To Feed a Sick bird

    Feeding a bird that's unwell is incredibly important because they have a fast metabolism. If they don't get enough food, they can become seriously ill or even pass away within just a few days.

    It's crucial to provide them with foods they enjoy and are familiar with, such as seeds, pellets, or soft fruits and vegetables. Introducing new foods during this time isn't a good idea. Make sure their food and water are easily accessible and offer a variety to encourage them to eat.

    In cases where the bird won't eat by itself, hand-feeding may be necessary. However, it's essential that this is done by a veterinarian or someone experienced in the procedure.

    Feeding a bird incorrectly can lead to them inhaling food, which can cause pneumonia and other complications. So, always seek professional help if your bird needs assistance with feeding during illness.

    What Does Supportive Care Mean?

    Avian supportive care means helping sick or injured birds by making sure they feel comfortable, safe and calm. This way, they can use all their energy to get better.

    Sick birds can deteriorate rapidly due to their fast metabolism, highlighting the need for immediate supportive care. A carefully prepared hospital cage can literally be a lifesaver for them, offering the optimal environment for recovery.

    Sick birds can deteriorate rapidly due to their fast metabolism, highlighting the need for immediate supportive care. A carefully prepared hospital cage can literally be a lifesaver for them, offering the optimal environment for recovery.

    Diane Burroughs
    May 22, 2024

    Avian Supportive Care Instructions

    • Create a Calm Space:

      • Keep sick or injured birds away from noise and other animals.
      • Make sure they have a warm, quiet area to rest and recover.
    • Use a Hospital Cage:

      • Place the bird in a smaller cage or a cozy glass tank.
      • Remove perches and pad the bottom with a soft towel.
    • Provide Warmth:

      • Use a heating lamp or pad set to 85-90°F.
      • Cover half of the cage for privacy and warmth.
    • Offer Fluids Gently:

      • Use a small syringe or spoon to give fluids like Pedialyte or fruit juice.
      • Don't force them to drink; let them take it at their own pace.
    • Encourage Eating:

      • Offer their favorite foods to entice them to eat.
      • Ensure food and water bowls are easily accessible.
    • Stay in Touch with Your Vet:

      • Keep your veterinarian updated on the bird's progress.
      • Follow any additional instructions or medications they provide.
    • Minimize Stress:

      • Handle the bird gently and limit unnecessary disturbances.
      • Create a peaceful environment to help them recover faster.


    How To Give A Bird Medicine

    Adapted from Merck Veterinary Manual, Pet owner version

    Please ask the vet or vet tech to demonstrate how to give medications

    Needed Supplies:

    1. Medication dosage in an eyedropper or needleless syringe, as instructed by your vet.

    2. Two people if possible.

    3. A quiet and calm environment with soft lighting and soothing sounds.

    4. A comfortable place to sit or stand.

    5. Towel or restraint and optionally gloves.

    Medication Administration Procedure:

    1. Open the cage and gently pick up your bird, following your vet's instructions.

    2. Lay out a towel and quietly talk to your bird to keep it calm.

    3. Restrain your bird gently, being mindful not to restrict breathing.

    4. Place the tip of the dropper or syringe in one side of your bird’s mouth and aim towards the opposite side, ensuring you don't insert it too deeply.

    5. Slowly deliver the medication, watching your bird swallow. Do not force more than it can swallow at once.

    6. Talk gently to your bird throughout the process and offer praise or a treat afterward, if receptive.

    7. Return your bird to its cage and store all medications properly.

    Possible Alternatives:

    • Mix the medication with a favorite soft food if your bird eats well.

    • Mix the medication in hand-feeding formula if your bird is still syringe-fed.

    Ensure all equipment is cleaned and stored correctly after use.

    In conclusion, let's remember how important it is to act quickly when our pet birds are sick or injured.  Calling your vet for instructions and using a comfortable hospital cage can make a big difference, giving them a comfortable place to heal. Make it a priority to make a hospital cage today.  

    Link to this blog: Burroughs, D. (2024, May 24). Stabilizing A Sick Bird and When To See The Vet [Blog post].

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    Gladstar, R. Rosemary Gladstar's Medicinal Herbs. A beginner's guide..Storey Publishing, North Adams, MA. 2012.

    Hawcroft, T. First aid for birds. The essential quick-reference guide. Howell Book House. New York, NY. 1994.

    Manuals Staff. (2011, July). Signs of illness in pet birds. In Merck Veterinary Manual. Retrieved from

    Rach, J. with Gallerstein, G A. An owners guide to a happy, healthy pet.  First aid for birds. Howell Book House. New York, NY. 1999.

    National Bird Day. (n.d.). Supportive Care for Sick or Injured Captive Birds. Retrieved from

    Rich, G., Hess, L., & Axelson, R. (n.d.). Recognizing the signs of illness in pet birds. Retrieved from

    Diane Burroughs, LCSW is a licensed psychotherapist trained in ABA therapy techniques. She specializes in avian anxiety disorders and is certified in Nutrition For Mental Health. Diane has written a number of bird behavior books and she offers behavior consultations. She's developed a range of UnRuffledRx Science-backed Parrot Wellness Supplies.

    Diane's products have been featured in the Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery and at Exoticscon, a conference for exotic pet veterinarians. Her bird collars & supplements are stocked in avian vet clinics and bird stores throughout the US. With over 30 years in the field of behavior, Diane has created thousands of successful individualized behavior plans that help pets thrive.

    TAGS: #StabilizingASickBird #SickBirdSymptoms #BirdSicknessSymptoms