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Aspergillosis is an opportunistic respiratory disease caused by fungal spores Apergillosis strain (genus). In birds the most common species is Aspergillus fumigatus.
The organism is commonly found in the natural environment and it's in the lungs and air sacs of many pet birds
Problems arise when an immunocompromised bird inhales or ingests the spores.
Aspergillosis usually affects a bird's respiratory systems. Bird's have a very extensive respiratory system with 7 - 9 lungs and air sacs distributed throughout their body cavity. So, an infection can get out of hand very quickly.
It can also invade other parts of the body. According to, Beernaert, Pasmans, Van Waeyenberghe, Haesebrouck & Martel, 2010, there are both acute (when a large amount of spores are ingested or inhaled at once) and chronic forms (usually associated with a compromised immune system.
Any domestic bird can contract aspergillosis. But there is some evidence that African greys, Amazon, Pionus are more susceptible to the disease.
In this blog post for BirdSupplies.com, I will try to answer all of your questions regarding aspergillosis in birds. Read on to find out what the symptoms of this disease are, what causes it, how it's treated, and how to rid your home of this nasty fungus.
Aspergillosis tends to develop gradually in your birds lungs and air sacs. The early signs are pretty subtle to the uninformed eye. The symptoms progress gradually making it really easy to miss until the bird is at an advanced stage.
This is why it is so important to develop a few routine processes for your parrot husbandry care checklist. I'll get deeper into that below. For now, let's explore the symptoms of aspergillosis in birds.
Just know that aspergillosis mainly affects the respiratory system in its early stages. If you don't catch the disease in its early form however, it takes on a chronic form that can invade other organs and body systems. So let's talk about the early signs of the disease as well as the chronic forms of the disease.
In the early phases, aspergillosis usually develops in the lungs and the air sacs because the spores are breathed in. Be on the lookout for a range of very subtle signs that your bird is not acting normal.
Now, we all know that birds have a strong need to hide their injuries, pain, and illness. But, catching this disease process early offers the best hope for a full resolution.
So it will be very important to develop a routine where you check on your bird each day. If you start noticing these symptoms get in touch with your avian vet as soon as possible.
Here's exactly what to ask yourself each day to catch aspergillosis early:
In the advanced stages of the disease the symptoms are hard to ignore. If you start noticing the following symptoms, your bird is in acute medical distress. Bird’s with these symptoms rapidly deteriorate or experience sudden death.
Call your avian vet immediately letting them know that you are transporting a critically ill patient. If it's after hours, contact an emergency animal hospital that has an exotic pet specialist on duty and transport your pet for emergency care immediately.
Here's what to look for:
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Bird’s can and do die from aspergillosis. It may be one of the most prevalent, deadly respiratory infections that our bird’s are susceptible to.
That is why it is critical to seek veterinary support early on in the disease process. However, aspergillosis is hard to diagnose. It usually involves several tests so that your vet wants to know which strain he's dealing with.
Remember, that at this stage of the game your vet is working against time. Birds in this condition deteriorate rapidly and often experience sudden death. Sadly, if your bird is this critical, you also have to consider whether or not to use a Do Not Resuscitate request (DNR).
Here is how a proper diagnosis will progress:
A more recent test allows your vet to look for antibodies or the actual organism in the blood.
At the end of the day, one of the best ways to diagnose the disease is for a pathologist to look at affected tissue under a microscope. This is called a biopsy. It's when the vet takes a tissue sample, under anesthesia, with an instrument called an endoscope. The sample is sent to a lab to be analyzed. The downside of this approach is that you're working against limited time. It may take too long to get the results.
I'm sure that by now, you've come to realize the seriousness of aspergillosis. This is a preventable disease. In other words, with good parrot wellness routines, your bird Is less likely to experience malnutrition that adversely affects its immunity. Also, it won't be exposed to deadly levels of the fungus.
Now, keep in mind that aspergillosis is common in the natural environment but you can keep it at bay by developing a few parrot wellness routines. Aspergillosis grows when the spore lands on a favorable environment.
Aspergillosis spores thrive in these conditions:
One of the best ways to prevent aspergillosis from growing in your home and around your bird's cage is to manage the moisture. This nasty fungus requires a humid environment to grow.
Here's what to do:
In many cases you can prevent an Aspergillosis infestation by managing moisture, warmth and nutrition resources that the fungus needs to create spores.
Aspergillosis can be treated with a combination of antifungal medication and supportive care. The above testing that your vet did to diagnose the disorder will allow him to develop a prognosis and a treatment plan.
Keep in mind that the sicker your bird is at the time of diagnosis, the longer and more intensive the treatment will need to be.
One of the most widely accepted and bird safe antifungal medications is Itraconazole.
Another antifungal is called amphotericin B. This medication is used for birds that have more advanced stages of aspergillosis. Keep in mind that all medications have their pros and cons.
There are several other antifungals that have varying success. Nebulation of certain drugs is gaining ground in the field of avian medicine. Depending on the severity of the fungal infection treatment can last anywhere from 6 weeks to 6 months in order to be fully effective.
Most likely your bird will need other forms of supportive care during its recovery. It may need some supplemental nutrition. Taking a good look at your bird's diet to remedy the nutritional deficiencies that predisposed your bird to get aspergillosis in the first place will be critical.
You'll have to be on the lookout for dehydration. It will be important to keep your bird warm. Finally, you'll want to take a good look at your parent husbandry setup and make changes to curb the growth aspergillosis that your bird has been exposed to.
Remove your bird from area. Wear gloves and a face mask. Remove affected food.
On the outside of your house, rake away all decaying materials and safely toss them away.
In conclusion, aspergillosis is one of the most common respiratory infections the avian vets see. It's dangerous and deadly. And, in most cases it is preventable.
I've developed a series of blog posts to help you support your pets respiratory health. Here are links to my other writings:
Hey there! Because of conscientious parrot caretakers like you we are able to continue to offer valuable, science-backed parrot wellness support that will help your feathered friend to thrive so that you can enjoy it for years to come.
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Beernaert, Pasmans, Van Waeyenberghe, Haesebrouck & Martel, 2010.
Global College of Natural Medicine (gcmn.com)
Veterinary and Aquatic Services Department, Dr. Fosters & Smith
Dr. Thomas Caceci, VetMed.vt.edu
Diane Burroughs, LCSW is a licensed psychotherapist trained in ABA therapy techniques. She specializes in anxiety disorders and nutrition for mental health. With over 30 years experience, in a range of settings, she’s created thousands of successful behavior plans to help turn around challenging behavior. She’s authored a number of books on supporting challenging behavior in birds.