Close

What Is Aspergillosis In Bird's And How Does It Affect Your Parrot's Respiratory System

Table of Contents

Aspergillosis in Birds

Getty Images used under PicMonkey license.

What is aspergillus in birds 

 

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.

Bird Air Sacs

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.

What are the symptoms aspergillosis in birds

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.

Early aspergillosis

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:

  • Is your bird moving less and chattering less? This would be an indication of reduced energy levels.

  • Is your bird eating less than usual? This is an indication of a decreased appetite.  
  • Lethargy is when your bird is not enjoying normal activities of daily life. Keep a running, mental log of what your bird's favorite activities are so that you can recognize when your bird is getting lethargic.

  • Is my bird losing weight week-over-week?  It goes without saying that if a bird is not eating, it's going to start losing weight. And,   progressive weight loss is often our first indication that our bird is experiencing a chronic disease.

  • Does your bird get breathless, or easily out of breath, with normal exercise or activity?

  • Does my bird appear to have swelling  and discharge around its nares or eyes?  The eyes may appear cloudy.

Late-stage aspergillosis

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:

    • Acute lethargy.  If your bird is so weak that it is sitting on the bottom of the cage it is experiencing an acute illness and time is of the essence.

    •  Acute respiratory distress. Advanced signs of bird respiratory distress include open mouth breathing and a clicking noise with each breath. You may also notice that your bird’s tell bobs up and down as it struggles to get the oxygen it needs to survive. At this point, your bird is literally gasping for air.

    •  Significant facial swelling and discharge around the nares and the eyes.

    •  In the more advanced stages of the disease, you may also notice
      • Diarrhea
      •  Regurgitation or vomiting
      •  Drooping wings that indicate damage to the air sacs
      •  Neurological signs such as tremors, incoordination, generalized weakness, and seizures.

 

Aspergillosis in birdss

 Getty Images used under PicMonkey license.

Can bird’s die from Aspergillosis?

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:

  1. Your vet will perform a physical examination, looking for specific signs. He'll also want to take a thorough history of any stressful events related to parrot wellness to corroborate his findings.
  2.  Your vet will likely want to do blood work for a more definitive diagnosis.
  3.  Radiographs may be ordered to show lung and air sac damage. Since aspergillosis can affect other organs, your vet will likely want to obtain radiographs of other parts of the body.
  4.  An endoscopy may be suggested, too. This will allow your vet to see the areas in the body where the fungal infection has taken hold.
  5. A fungal culture of the respiratory tract is often needed to confirm the diagnosis.

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.  

Prevention and getting rid ofAspergillosis in your home

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:

  • Moisture
  • Warmth
  • Nutrients

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: 

  1. Manage the level of humidity in your home.  A lot of people think that they need to run a humidifier in their home if their bird is scratching a lot. Sure, humid conditions do support scratching birds and potentially feather pluckers.

    But the downside of running a humidifier to create humidity levels above 35 to 40% is that you're creating a prime breeding ground for  aspergillosis.  Instead of creating rainforest-like humidity levels in your home environment, bathe your bird every day and feed it the nutrients that it needs to support supple, healthy skin.

  2.  Manage the temperature of your home.  Aspergillosis spores are known to survive in temperatures between 54 degrees and 149 degrees. Most of us don't want to keep our house that cold or that hot. So it will be important that you remove the other conditions, moisture and  nutrition. Know that in the summer months it will be especially important to change your bird's page paper more frequently. Potentially, even daily if you live in a very humid environment. and of course you'll also want to remove moist vegetables and chop after just a few hours to avoid ingestion of this nasty fungus.

  3.  Remove Aspergillosis Food Sources.  Aspergillosis are not picky about their food sources. The  spores enjoy  a cocktail of bird droppings and food crumbs that can be found on the bottom of bird cages in as little as a day depending on the moisture and warmth above the surrounding area. 

    Also avoid feeding your bird peanuts.

In many cases you can prevent an Aspergillosis infestation by managing moisture, warmth and nutrition resources that the fungus needs to create spores. 

Treatment for aspergillus in birds 

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. 

Getting rid of aspergillus

Clean Up

Remove your bird from area. Wear gloves and a face mask. Remove affected food. 

  1. Mix a weak bleach solution and wipe down every single surface in your home with the weak bleach. Then re-wipe to remove bleach residue.
  2. Toss anything that may have mold spores on it in a plastic bag.  Seal the bag and remove to an outside trash bin.
  3. Remove all sources of water or dampness in your home.  Your goal is to remove possible breeding grounds for all molds including aspergillosis.
  4. Run high quality a air purifier that can pick up tiny mold spores.

On the outside of your house, rake away all decaying materials and safely toss them away.

Future prevention:

    1. Make sure that you don't keep your birds and crowded conditions, if applicable.
    2. Frequently change soiled tray paper and wipe the cage clean each week. Avoid Walnut and corn cob bedding or change them daily.
    3. Lower your humidifier to below 35%.
    4.  Avoid leaving moist food around.
    5.  Provide for nutritional parrot wellness needs as described in this blog post.  The goal is to increase your bird's nutritional status and immunity. Many of the bird supplements found on BirdSupplies.com support improved bird nutrition. Especially, vitamin A and Omega-rich UnRuffledRx Red Palm Oil.These excellent books and premium pellets will get you started:

 

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:

What Does It Mean If Your Bird Is Panting?
Caring For Your Bird’s Respiratory System In The Wake Of Wildfires
5 Causes Of Bird Breathing Problems

 

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.

Please take a moment to share this blog with your friends and on your social media. If you want to learn more about science back parrot Wellness, check out my social media channels like YouTube and Pinterest.  And request access to my private Facebook group, UnRuffledRx Feather Plucking Help. I can find it by clicking the banner below.

References:

  1. http://blog.parrotessentials.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/Aspergillosis-in-parrots.jpg

  2. https://veterinarypartner.vin.com/default.aspx?pid=19239&catId=102911&id=4953021 -Michael Campagna, DVM - 4/25/2011

  3. Beernaert, Pasmans, Van Waeyenberghe, Haesebrouck & Martel, 2010.

  4. Global College of Natural Medicine (gcmn.com)

  5. Veterinary and Aquatic Services Department, Dr. Fosters & Smith

  6. 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.

Subscribe