MSD Manual

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Pet Owner Version

Introduction to Disorders and Diseases of Pet Birds


Teresa L. Lightfoot

, DVM, DABVP (Avian), Avian and Exotics Department, Florida Veterinary Specialists

Reviewed/Revised Jan 2020 | Modified Oct 2022
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Many of the most common causes of illness or death in birds are due to poor husbandry practices that result in nutritional deficiencies, trauma or poisoning due to household hazards, and unsanitary housing conditions. All of these can be prevented or minimized by providing proper care. Other causes of illness include parasites and bacterial, viral, or fungal infections that can be spread by exposure to sick birds or lack of good sanitation.

It is important to recognize signs of illness promptly in sick birds so that appropriate care can be given. Signs may be subtle, so it is important to notice even slight changes in appetite, behavior, posture, etc. Due to their relatively small size and rapid metabolism, birds can become severely ill very quickly, and delays in treatment can lessen the chance of recovery.

Supportive Care of Sick Birds

There are 5 important elements to consider in supportive care of a sick (or injured) bird. These are supportive measures and do not address the cause of illness or its treatment. Your veterinarian must diagnose and prescribe specific treatment for your bird.

  • Heat: Keeping your sick bird in a slightly warmer environment than usual may help it conserve the energy it usually uses to keep its body temperature normal. However, be careful not to overheat the bird. (Panting and spreading the wings are signs of overheating.)

  • Humidity: Raising the level of humidity can be helpful for birds with respiratory disease or signs of illness. Higher humidity eases the breathing and helps the bird keep the air passages clear and moist. A vaporizer or humidifier can be used to provide extra humidity.

  • Fluids: A sick bird can become dehydrated easily, because it may not drink as much as it normally does. In many cases a veterinarian may administer fluids under the skin, and follow-up oral fluids can be helpful. Favorite foods high in moisture content (leafy greens, fruit) will add to water intake, but check with your veterinarian first to make sure they will not worsen your bird’s illness. Adding a bit of juice (of your bird’s favorite fruit, like apple or grape) to the water will often encourage drinking.

  • Nutrition: Inadequate nutrition will severely impact the bird’s ability to recover from the illness. The best foods to give a sick bird are high in simple carbohydrates and easy to digest. Ask your veterinarian for appropriate suggestions.

  • Quiet/Level of Activity: Keep an ill or injured bird quiet and inactive. Remove toys from the cage and limit noisy activities or move the bird to a quiet part of the house. Make sure that your bird gets adequate (10 to 12 hours) uninterrupted sleep.

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