Bacterial Infections in Pet Birds
Information Source & Used with Permission: Dr. Lynn Dustin, DVM, ABVP 
 Bay Area Bird Hospital, San Francisco CA
No photos or portion of this text may be, copied, printed or reproduced for redistribution
without permission of Dr. Lynn Dustin.  Photos Copyright© Cockatiel Cottage

Bacterial infections are one of the most common illness in pet birds. Even well cared for birds are at risk  of becoming sick because exotic birds are not well adapted to the different types of bacteria that are commonly found in the home or aviary environment. Pet birds can get sick from a variety of bacteria that is present in the environment, as well as bacteria that is carried by mammals, and bacteria that is a normal part of their digestive system. Poor nutrition, unsanitary cage conditions, stress and other factors can all increase the likelihood of a pet cockatiel getting sick. Birds can also have a sub-clinical infection with no visible symptoms. A carrier-state bacterial infection is a time bomb situation. Left untreated, it can lead to severe illness or death. An avian veterinarian should examine all of your birds at least once a year. The doctor can screen your bird for bacteria, establish a sound nutritional program and offer preventative advice. 

 Risk Factors for Bacterial Infections

  • Seed diets, especially if sprouted
  • Wild rodents in the environment
  • Dirty cage, food and water dishes
  • Water bottles and spray containers not changed daily
  • Unwashed or improperly stored fruits and vegetables
  • Under the sink water filters or dirty filters
  • Perishable food items left out too long
  • Direct contact with another infected bird or cage mate
  • Kitchen sponges, wash cloths and rags
  • Corn cob, walnut shell, wood and litter type cage bedding
  • Emotional stress or lack of sleep
  • Exposure to toxins and heavy metals
  • Other underlying illness
  • Excessive use of disinfectants
  • Kissing people or grooming facial hairs
  • Mouth feeding a bird
  • "Hanging Out" in the bathroom
  • Fish, reptile or amphibian tanks in the same room
  • Dirty hands
  • People who have a cold or the flu
How to Prevent Bacterial Infections
  • Feed a balanced diet of pellets and healthy table foods.
  • Eliminate exposure to rodents.
  • Use paper products on cage bottom (black and white newspaper, white paper towels, paper bags or recycled ground paper products).
  • Change papers on the bottom of the cage daily.
  • Provide a clean and dust free environment for your bird.
  • Disinfect as recommended by your avian vet and not for routine cleaning.
  • Wash fruits and vegetable before serving, not before refrigerating.
  • Store refrigerated fruits and vegetables in air-tight containers like Zip Lock bags or sealed plastic containers.
  • Remove uneaten perishable food items from your bird's cage after a few hours.
  • Avoid using water from "under the sink" water filters.
  • Change water filters regularly as per manufacturer's recommendations.
  • Avoid using water from under the sink water filters
  • Boiling water for 10 minutes will kill bacteria.
  • Water bottles should be changed daily and soaked weekly for 30 minutes in 1 part bleach to 10 parts water solution then rinsed thoroughly.
  • Spray bottles used for misting baths should be emptied after each use and allowed to dry between uses.
  • Avoid using sponges and rags to clean bowls.
  • Wash food and water dishes daily with soap and water and dry with a paper towel, or put in dishwasher.
  • Allow 10-12 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night and some privacy in daytime.
  • Do not allow birds to roam unsupervised or chew on paint and other structural materials.
  • Avoid exposure to birds of unknown health status.
  • Don't let your bird come in contact with dogs, cats or other mammals or with their bowls, food, water and toys. 
  • Keep fish, reptile and amphibian tanks in another room and wash your hands after handling.
  • Prevent birds from kissing people's mouths or grooming face and nostril hairs.
  • Close toilet bowl lid at all times, especially when flushing.
  • Wash you hands after blowing your nose, using the bathroom, handling meats and prior to handling your bird.
  • If you have a cold or the flu, avoid handling your bird
  • All birds should receive a medical exam from an avian vet once a year to rule out infections and other health problems.

Medical Treatment of Bacterial Infections

Even the best care is not enough to prevent occasional bacterial infections in birds. Birds can carry bacteria for a long time without showing symptoms and then suddenly get sick. For this reason it's always better to eliminate infections before your bird shows obvious signs of being sick. Your avian vet may recommend supplements of normal bacteria if the infection is very mild or as a preventative for birds with recurrent problems. More often a course of antibiotics will be prescribed and cage disinfecting may be recommended. An infected bird should be re-checked after treatment to make sure the problem is gone. Treatment failure can result from bacterial mutation resistance to antibiotics, incomplete treatments or from persistent sources of bacteria in the environment. These sources must be found and eliminated in order for treatment to be effective in the long run.



Graphics Courtesy of Sandy's Graphic Workshop
Special thanks to Lisa and her avian vet Dr. Dustin for sharing
this information and to all who have shared pictures of their birds with CC.
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All Graphics Copyrighted by Credited Artists and are Not Public Domain.