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Bird Care Facts - Understanding Psittacosis



Psittacosis, also known as chlamydiosis or parrot fever, is a bird disease caused by the organism Chlamydophila psittaci. Bird owners need to be informed about this disease because it has the potential to be transmitted from a sick bird to humans and make them sick (zoonotic disease). Some of the signs in humans include persistent flu-like symptoms, respiratory distress, fever, chills, headache, weakness or fatigue. Untreated, it can lead to death. Persons with questions should consult their physician.

Transmission is primarily through inhalation of contaminated dust from feathers or from droppings.  Risk of infection is increased by close contact with infected birds that are shedding the organism. This disease is more common in birds stressed from transport, overcrowding and malnutrition. Infected birds do not have to show signs of the illness to transmit psittacosis.

The signs of psittacosis are typically respiratory (upper respiratory or lower respiratory symptom, such as difficulty breathing) and/or gastrointestinal (such as diarrhea) in companion birds.  Parakeets and cockatiels may often have signs of a respiratory tract infection or gastrointestinal problem, but not both. However, the larger birds often have both respiratory and gastrointestinal signs. Some birds may show general signs of illness: lack of appetite, weight loss, diarrhea, lime-green feces, depression or sudden death. However, these same signs may also present with a number of other diseases.  Some birds that are actively infected may not show signs of illness.

A confirmed diagnosis in a live bird is sometimes difficult, depending on the species, length of exposure, and general condition of the bird. There are multiple tests available to detect the disease and multiple factors are involved in making a diagnosis. Several tests may be needed to help determine a diagnosis and these should be discussed with your avian veterinarian.

If the disease has been confirmed in a bird or if treatment is recommended, all birds in the household should be treated. Isolation and sanitary measures during treatment are most important in achieving success. Treatment is continued for a minimum of 45 days with doxycycline, an antibiotic. Since the organism is intracellular, it takes that long to kill it. However, treatment may not always be effective.

Since this disease can be transmitted to people, precautions must be taken while treating the bird(s) to not infect those providing care. Birds and people do not appear to develop an immunity to the organism so they can become infected again and have symptoms of the disease. Currently, there is no vaccine to protect birds from this disease.  As a result, it is important not to touch birds at pet stores or buy bird food from bulk bins. Limit exposure of your bird to other birds to reduce the risk of infection.

There are other diseases that birds can give to humans or they can get from humans.  Psittacosis is the most common disease, however. Other diseases should be discussed with your avian veterinarian. People who are most at risk to contract a zoonotic disease are the elderly, young children and those with a compromised immune system.


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Bird Care Facts - Gram Stains - Enrichment for Birds - Health Concerns for Birds - Understanding Psittacosis - Formulated Diets - All Pages