Caged birds – health

Information about disease prevention and signs of illness in caged birds.

Administering treatments

Approved activities Category
topical — spray 3
oral — drench 3

Disease prevention

Disease control methods and internal and external parasite control programs should be developed in consultation with a veterinarian. All activities must be documented in the appropriate records.

Whenever chemicals are used care must be taken about the following:

  • Reading all labels
  • Maintaining appropriate storage
  • Adhering to withholding periods
  • Determining the weight of the animals to be treated
  • Determining the correct dose rate
  • Using protective clothing if required
  • Using the correct equipment for application
  • Disposal of chemical containers
  • Documenting the dose, chemical name, batch number, expiry date, withholding period, identity of animal(s) administered to and date of administration.

Oral medications such as worming compounds and vitamin and mineral supplements may be administered in the feed or water. Check the instructions. Water is generally withdrawn from birds overnight to increase the bird’s thirst prior to administering medications in the water. Avoid water withdrawal during the day particularly in hot weather. Drink containers need to be suitably anchored to prevent tipping. It is possible to control mites and lice by hanging a pest strip in the area where birds roost at night. Only pyrethrin-based insecticides should be used in cages and only in accordance with directions on the labels.

Caged birds can suffer from a variety of bacterial, viral, protozoan and yeast infections and diseases as well as cancers, hormonal disorders and deficiencies. Identification of the first signs and symptoms is essential for successful treatment by a veterinarian.

Image: A healthy caged bird is normally alert with an erect carriage.


Most birds are susceptible to worms and must be wormed regularly to control this. A veterinarian or bird expert will assist in the development of a program, however 3-4 times a year is usually sufficient. If birds are showing signs of weightless, abnormal droppings and lethargy this may be an indication that they have worms. Keeping a high hygiene level in birdcages is essential for preventing worms. Regular cleaning of water and food containers, bedding and base of cage will reduce the risk of worms. Bird wormer can be purchased from a pet shop or veterinarian and is administered orally in their drinking water.

Lice and mites

Birds can be affected by lice and mites. Indications of a lice or mite infestation include loss of feather and scratching. Lice and mite dusts and sprays can be purchased from a pet store or veterinarian. It maybe necessary to treat the birds’ environment e.g. perches, nest boxes to control infestations.

It is a good idea to quarantine new birds from existing birds for a period of time. This should allow time for observation of any signs of illness or parasite infestations.

External parasites

Signs of illness

Birds may show changes in or evidence of:

  • Appearance of droppings
  • Food or water consumption
  • Attitude or behaviour
  • Appearance or posture
  • Bodyweight
  • Rate or depth of respiration
  • Enlargements or swelling
  • Vomiting, injury or bleeding
  • Discharge from nostrils, eyes or beak.

A failure to thrive or grow is another sign of illness. If unable to identify and correct the cause of ill health, assistance from a veterinarian, familiar with caged birds, should be sought. Any signs of illness or injury, and treatment given, should be documented in the appropriate records.

Birds are very fragile animals and their health can decline rapidly if they become sick or diseased. For this reason it is essential that any signs of illness or abnormal behaviour be treated with caution by closely monitoring birds, administering treatments or contacting a veterinarian. Birds that appear sick or diseased should also be isolated from other birds.


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