What is psittacosis?

Psittacosis is a very common infectious disease of parrots, including ones we often keep as pets, such as cockatiels and budgerigars. Bacteria known as Chlamydophila psittaci cause the diseaseand it can be contagious to humans.

So how do you know if your bird has psittacosis?

Psittacosis can cause a variety of symptoms in birds. It is quite common birds to have discharge from the nose and or eyes, and they may sneeze, cough or wheeze. Birds can become sick rapidly and may appear fluffed up, lose interest in food, and become thin and weak. Liver damage can make birds feel sick, reduce their appetite and cause diarrhoea. Often the droppings are discoloured with the white part of the dropping becoming a yellow-green color.

In addition to these obvious symptoms, psittacosis can also cause a waxing and waning syndrome in pet birds. These birds are likely to be thin, be weak and fluffed from time to time, have on and off diarrhoea or just seem to ‘not be quite right’. The vague symptoms make it  tricky to diagnose.

Finally, some birds may have psittacosis and show no obvious symptoms at all. This may be early in the infection, or the birds may have a strong immune system. These birds carry the disease and may infect those around them without being the obvious source. They may also develop more serious disease later in life if they become unwell for another reason and their immune system weakens.

Can Psittacosis Cause Disease in People?

Unfortunately, yes.

Most people with psittacosis experience fever and flu-like symptoms. Pneumonia is also quite common and may progress to become serious. The condition can also cause liver and heart disease in people. People with a weaker immune system – such as the elderly, immunosuppressed people, pregnant women or AIDS affected are at greater risk. Asthmatics and people with compromised respiratory systems are also at greater risk. If you feel you may have psittacosis, it is important to seek immediate advice from your doctor.

How is psittacosis diagnosed in birds, and what tests will my veterinarian want to perform?

None of the signs of illness are specific to this disease. In other words, your veterinarian will have to consider psittacosis as well as other diseases as the cause of your bird’s illness before a definitive diagnosis can be reached.

Your veterinarian may suggest performing diagnostic tests such as blood or faeces tests.

Can psittacosis be treated in birds?

Yes. Once diagnosed, psittacosis can be treated with antibiotics. We usually give a long-acting antibiotic injection once a week for 4 weeks. This is considered one of the most reliable ways to treat psittacosis. The condition needs to be treated for at least one month to be effective.

How can psittacosis be prevented?

The best thing you can do is to have your new bird health checked by your veterinarian. In addition to testing new birds, it is also wise to strictly quarantine new additions for up to two months to help make sure they are disease-free before introducing them to other birds in your household. Discuss the logistics if this at the health check.

How can I protect myself against psittacosis?

One of the high-risk ways of catching the disease is inhaling dried dropping while cleaning the cage. Old, dry bird droppings quickly crumble to dust and are very easy to breath in. Spraying the dried droppings with water to prevent this happening is worthwhile.  Regular cleaning of the cage will prevent build-up of the dried droppings and greatly improve the general hygiene. This will lower the risk of you being infected but will also be good for your bird’s health and lower the risk of them becoming sick.

Please call to make an appointment if you with to discuss any aspect of Psittacosis, or if you wish to have your new or pet bird health checked.