Once you are familiar with your budgies’ everyday behaviour, it will be easy to spot when something is amiss. You do not have to be an expert in diagnosing specific disease in budgies, as long as you can spot when the bird is acting out of character.
Budgie Health Check
If you keep lots of budgies in an aviary, it will be harder to spot individual problems, so always be on the lookout. Like many animals, budgies are frustratingly good at hiding illness until it’s far advanced. This makes sense in the wild, where an ill-looking creature will soon be spotted and picked off by a predator.
Once you’ve identified an ill bird, a trip to the vet should always be your priority, and you should never delay in the hope of saving money on vet’s bills. Think of it in terms of the costs of a family trip to the cinema or restaurant – surely not a high price to pay for saving your pet’s life!
The vet you use should be an expert in birds. If they ever try to tell you that small birds such as budgerigars cannot be treated, choose another vet. The assertion is untrue, but in past decades was often offered as cold comfort by vet surgeries more used to treating cats and dogs.
Examining a Budgie
There are a number of ailments that can afflict budgies. The rule of thumb is to keep an eye on your birds, and talk to a vet as soon as you spot any problem, from a broken wing to a dose of mild lethargy.
You can also gently examine budgies yourself, to check problems such as wounds and lice. A finger-trained budgie will be easy enough to coax onto your hand. Once there, grip him gently as described in Holding a Budgie, above. Make your examination as swift as possible to avoid making the budgie too anxious.
Budgie Disease Symptoms
The following signs indicate illness of some kind.
An increase in lethargy. Unless asleep, not even the most timid of budgies will spend a long time silent and motionless. The first signs of lethargy might be when he shows a lack of interest in the things that usually stimulate him – you, new food, his mate, etc.
Sleeping during the day. This could be due to external disturbances during the night. But if you can rule that out, the sleepiness will be a symptom of illness. One possibility is an infestation of feather mites, keeping him awake all night with their blood-sucking attentions.
Fluffed up feathers. This means the bird is too cold, and indicates one of two things – either the cage or aviary is a bit chilly, or the budgie is unwell. A cold budgie may shiver too.
Excessive squawking. If your bird is calling out in alarm constantly, he is in distress. There may be no visible symptom, but if you are sure that there is nothing in the vicinity to cause him great anxiety, you can conclude that he’s in pain.
A change in perching behaviour. A bird who suddenly starts resting on the ground rather than a perch has either hurt a wing or is too weak to perch. Another, less drastic sign of problems is when a budgie who always sleeps while perched on one leg suddenly perches on two.
A dirty vent – always a sign of wet or sticky droppings, which usually indicates health problems.
Droppings. You will be familiar with the ‘burnt popcorn’ look of your budgie’s normal, healthy poo. Anything that deviates from the norm is a sign that something is wrong. The exception to this is a hen bird during nesting: her droppings may change appearance, and that’s not a sign of illness. Note: some budgie pellet food contains colouring that dyes droppings. This is something to avoid, as it makes a healthy poo diagnosis much trickier.
Loose droppings. Sometimes a budgie will acquire a taste for a foodstuff that gives him diarrhoea if eaten in excess, so bear that in mind. If no such culinary culprit can be pinpointed, wet poo is a symptom of disease or parasites.
Liquid in the droppings. This is normal – budgie’s excrete a small amount of liquid urine, but you might not even notice it, as most of the droppings will be falling onto sawdust or paper. Excess urine is a cause for concern, though. It may turn the droppings loose, as mentioned in the previous bullet, but will sometimes be visible as a wet ring around the solid matter. If there is more of this liquid than usual, talk to a vet.
Discoloured droppings – green. Green droppings in a bird whose poo is usually brown or black indicates that the budgie is not eating enough. This may be due to stress, or it may be that a young bird is malnourished due to poor diet. It could also be a symptom of an infection in the bird’s crop.
Discoloured droppings – grey. If the poo is a uniform light grey or grey-brown, your budgie has a problem with his pancreas.
Discoloured droppings – red. A dark red colour in the droppings is probably blood, and results from an intestinal problem (but always ask yourself if the bird has eaten cherries, red berries or beetroots – these will produce red patches in the poo, and that’s absolutely fine).
Discoloured droppings – green and yellow. This is a symptom of liver disease, and the green colouring is caused by bile.
Undigested food in the droppings. This indicates intestinal parasites. If the budgie has just been treated for this condition, his system is simply having a clear-out and the problem should disappear in a few days. If he hasn’t been treated, he needs to be!
Vomiting. Being sick as a result of disease is not to be confused with the common budgie habit of regurgitating seed to a mate/chick or mate/chick substitute. An ill bird’s vomit will be wet, and will usually make a mess down his chin and breast. The causes of vomiting are varied, so you need to get a professional diagnosis quickly.
Gummed up nostrils, or nose discharge. A healthy budgie will never have dry or liquid matter sticking to his cere.
Hot feet – this one requires your familiarity with the usual warmth of a budgie’s foot as he perches on your finger: hot feet is often a symptom of illness (kidney problems usually). Note, however, that an obese bird will have hotter feet too, and that one’s down to you – up his healthy food intake, and reduce the fatty seeds or snacks. A stressed or over-exercised bird will also have hot feet, so wait until he’s calmed down before making a judgement on his health.
Cold feet – this symptom, if it results from illness, will be accompanied by listlessness, ruffled-up feathers and shivering. Note: a budgie fresh from the bath may have cold feet too, but that’s nothing to worry about.
Swollen or sore eyes. If the area around the budgie’s eye is swollen, or if there is any eye discharge, it needs a vet’s intervention. The underlying problem could be one of a number of bacterial, viral or fungal infections.
Sticky feathers on head or face. This may indicate an infection of the budgie’s crop. If this is the case he will be unable to eat and will die very quickly without a vet’s intervention.
Blood on the feathers. This shows that the bird is wounded. He will be feeling weak, and may need antibiotics.
Limping. The budgie has hurt his leg or foot, and will need to be checked to make sure nothing is broken.
Overgrown beak or toenails. This is a sign of disease, often connected with liver problems.
Deformed or misshapen beak. This is the work of burrowing mites, and needs treating if the budgie’s beak – and therefore life – is to be saved.
Rapid breathing. This could be due to overheating; but it is also a symptom of illness. If the budgie has his beak open all the time, if you can hear any rasping or clicking sounds when he breathes, or if his tail twitches up and down with every breath, there are problems.
Budgie Health Care
A sick budgie should always be taken to a vet. Separate him from your other budgies to avoid the disease spreading, and clean out the main cage, using a pet-safe disinfectant, or a mixture of one part vinegar to two parts water.
There are some other things you can do to make him comfortable before his appointment at the vet’s:
Set up the solitary confinement ‘recovery cage’ in a familiar environment to minimise acclimatisation stress.
Make sure the cage is warm – most diseases cause a budgie’s temperature to drop, and a sudden chill can finish him off. You can buy infra-red lamps to provide quick, safe heat; but these should only be used if you have already taken expert advice on where to position them and how to employ them safely and effectively.
Provide plenty of water, and offer the budgie’s favourite food.
Don’t let children and pets fuss around him, and keep him in his cage, to minimise added stress.
Budgerigars are relatively robust creatures, but can still fall victim to a wide range of ailments. You should always rely on a veterinary expert to make the diagnosis. Your task as a budgie owner is to recognise illness in general terms, using the points listed in Budgie Disease Symptoms, above.
Budgies Avian Gastric Yeast (AGY) infection
Also known as macrorhabdiosis, or megabacteriosis, this highly contagious infection is frustratingly difficult to spot in the early stages. The AGY incubates and proliferates in the bird with no outward sign of trouble. The first thing you might notice is that your budgie loses weight, in spite of eating with his usual gusto. This is because the AGY impedes digestion. You may then spot undigested food in his droppings, or the bird may vomit food and mucus. He will also become listless.
Until 2004 the cause of the disease was thought to be a bacteria, but it has now been identified as a yeast, Latin name Macrorhabdus ornithogaster. The misdiagnosis came about due to bacteria, including Streptococcus, taking advantage of the budgie’s hammered immune system and spreading secondary infection. The combination of the yeast and bacteria attack leads to a condition called wasting disease (sometimes called “going light”).
Your vet will be able to administer a drug to combat the AGY, and will recommend a healthy diet to aid recovery. This usually involves omitting all yeast-feeding sugary foodstuffs.
You will still need to keep a close eye on your birds, as AGY has the horrible habit of lying fallow and then blooming again a few weeks later.
This is another yeast infection. Candida, the organism responsible, is a form of thrush (the virus, not the bird!), and can bloom anywhere in a budgie’s digestive system from the crop downwards. Some of the symptoms are similar to AGY infection – listlessness, vomiting and loose droppings. The vomit will have a nasty smell, and the bird’s crop may swell up, due to gases produced by the Candida yeast. In advanced cases the budgie will suffer loss of balance and shaking fits.
Candidiasis can only be cured with drugs that kill the bacteria, so a trip to the vet is essential. The cure takes about one week, during which the budgie’s diet should be closely controlled to avoid the ingestion of yeast-feeding sugars.
Budgie Sour Crop
This condition has more than one cause, but all the suspects are members of the yeast family. The symptoms are a swollen crop and sour-smelling vomit. Once again, it will take a targeted drug to kill the infection.
Sneezing, or coughing, is a symptom of a cold or similar virus in the budgie’s upper respiratory tract. There will be an accompanying runny nose, or the cere will be caked in dried nasal discharge. A budgie sneeze is unlike a human’s, but it’s a noise you won’t have heard him make before, and that will alert you to the fact that something is wrong.
The sneezing/coughing will be accompanied by other symptoms such as listlessness, panting, and spending a lot of time on the bottom of the cage. The bird may be short of breath, and may sometimes grip the sides of the cage with his feet and beak, stretching the neck in an effort to get more oxygen in. His breathing may be noisy: it will sound like a finger being rubbed on glass.
Various bacteria are involved in these budgie colds, and unlike a human cold they will not simply disappear after a few days. You can use a tissue on a tamed bird to soak up some of the nasal discharge, but you still need to get the bird to the vet as soon as possible.
Parrot Fever (Psittacosis)
This is the bird-borne disease most people have heard of, due to it being transmittable to humans (see Can Humans Catch Diseases from Budgies?, above). Chlamydophia psittaci is the organism responsible for the condition, and it is estimated that 1% of wild birds harbour the disease, a figure that rises to 30% in captive budgerigars. Most of these are carriers, showing no symptoms themselves, but passing the disease on via their droppings and saliva. Keeping cages clean is therefore the best way of preventing the disease from spreading.
A bird that succumbs to parrot fever will display most of the symptoms described in Budgie Disease Symptoms, above – listlessness, ruffled feathers, breathing problems, loose green droppings, gummed up cere, etc.
The ill bird will need to visit a vet to verify his condition. Isolation is then vital, and the cage the bird came from will have to be disinfected. Monitor your other birds for symptoms, and remove any that you think may have succumbed. The vet will prescribe drugs, or may recommend that it is in everyone’s best interest to have the bird humanely killed.
Budgerigar Fledgling Disease
Also known as Papovavirus, this is caused by the Psittacine polyomavirus virus, which kills the young birds before fledging. It does not affect adult birds, although there is the possibility that they may be carriers of the virus. In a milder form, the virus produces a condition known as French moult
Any wound on a bird can become infected and lead to septicaemia (blood poisoning). This will finish off a small bird like a budgie very quickly. If you see any traces of blood on the birds or in the cage, make a visual examination to spot the wounded party. It could be a case of feather bleeding (see above), but is more likely to be an injury. Any flesh wound should be referred to a vet for antibiotic treatment.
Prevention is the best cure for this problem. Make sure the cage is free of sharp or pointed objects that could lead to wounds.
Budgie Splayed Feet
This is a condition that affects chicks who have been squatting on a flat nesting box floor while their leg bones develop. Setting up your nestbox correctly should prevent the problem from occurring (see Budgie Breeding Boxes, below). If the legs are splayed, the condition can be remedied by taping the legs together between the ankle and the knee for a few days, with enough slack for the bird to move around. Consult an expert before attempting to do this, though.
Budgerigars sometimes fall victim internal or external parasites. Some of these, such as ticks, are easy to spot when you handle the bird. Others, like mites, are only obvious once their presence has begun to affect the host bird (by the loss of feathers, for example). Others may be living in the bird’s gut, and you can only identify their presence by watching for accompanying symptoms.
Budgie Red Mites
An infestation of red mites (Dermanyssus gallinae) will cause your budgie great discomfort. The blood-sucking creatures – difficult to spot with the naked eye, reaching just 1mm max – are nocturnal, and therefore only attack the birds at night. In severe outbreaks, the budgie may start to suffer from too much blood loss, weakening his immune system and inviting in all manner of infections.
Red mites, being nocturnal and tiny, are hard to spot. One way of verifying their presence is to put double-sided sticky tape in the nooks, crannies and corners of the aviary. The mites will get stuck on its surface. Once you know they’re there, you need to clean everything in the cage thoroughly with hot water and a scrubbing brush, and keep checking and cleaning over the next few days until they’ve gone.
Budgie Scaly Face Mites
Scaly face is caused by the tiny skin-burrowing mite Knemidokoptes pilae. It mainly affects the bird’s cere and beak, but can also cause problems in the legs and the vent area. The first sign of the problem will be persistent scratching – the budgie will rub itself on whatever object it can find. A crusty growth will then start to appear on the cere, and the beak will become misshapen as the mites burrow inside. Some facial feathers may be lost. If untreated, the affected body parts will actually drop off, leading to severe handicap.
You need to intervene long before the problem reaches this extreme stage. A visit to the vet is necessary, where the bird will be prescribed a suitable swab for treating the infestation.
Budgie Scaly Legs Mites
This is caused by Knemidokoptes mutans, a cousin of the scaly face mite. The budgie’s legs swell and flake, and he will be in a lot of pain. A medical paraffin is the usual treatment, but you should speak with a vet first before administering it.
These feather-eating pests (Mallophaga) are rare on budgies, but aviary birds may catch them from wild birds. The lice are easier to spot than mites, growing up to 3mm long; but they can still conceal themselves easily in the budgie’s feathers. You will probably be first alerted to their presence by the bird’s symptoms – violent scratching, frequent shaking of the feathers, and, eventually, a moth-eaten appearance, as the lice nibble away at their host’s coat.
A vet will be able to treat the lice with a contact chemical. Unfortunately, if one of your birds has them, the whole flock is probably infected.
Budgies can become infected with Ascaris roundworm. These creatures live and breed in animals’ guts, and their eggs are passed on via droppings. The adult worms can grow 3.5cm long, which in a bird as small s a budgie is a major problem. Several of these in a budgie’s gut can leach all the nutrients from the birds’ food, causing severe malnutrition. In extreme cases there can be paralysis, but more often the symptoms will be weight loss and listlessness.
A vet will prescribe a medicine that flushes the worms from the budgie’s system. If successful, you will spot the adult creatures in the bird’s droppings. The treatment will need repeating a few weeks later to catch the worms that survived as larvae in the budgie’s gut.
Ringworm is a particular problem in outdoor aviaries, where droppings fall to the earth – a perfect habitat for the worm eggs.
Budgie Air Sac Mites
Budgies, along with many other birds, have an internal organ called an air sac, part of their respiratory system. This is sometimes invaded by a tiny creature called the air sac mite. It also colonises the bird’s trachea (the breathing pipe between the throat and the lungs). An infestation will affect the budgie’s voice. He will stop chirruping, his whistles will sound hoarse, and he will start to make a clicking, wheezing sound when he breathes. If left untreated the bird will eventually suffocate.
A vet will be able to treat the ill bird, along with the rest of your flock – the air sac mite can spread very quickly, and you have to assume that all the birds are infected. This may not be obvious, as it can take several weeks before the wheezing kicks in.
Budgie Feather Problems
You will be able to spot feather-related ailments far more easily than bacterial or fungal ones. Any permanent untidiness in the budgie’s coat, or feather-loss that results in bald patches, is a very visible sign of trouble.
Budgie Feather Cyst
Cysts occur when a feather fails to break through the skin. It will continue to grow beneath the surface, producing a lump on the budgie’s skin. The primary wing feathers are the most commonly affected ones. Cysts won’t disappear without surgical intervention.
Budgie Feathers Falling Out
Feather loss could be due to one of five things: moulting, parasites, self-plucking, French moult virus, or Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease. These are all dealt with elsewhere in this guide.
Budgie Feather Plucking
If a budgie starts plucking his own feathers, there’s an underlying health problem. Unfortunately, it’s not obvious which of the many possible ailments is to blame. It could be parasites, an allergy, low air humidity, lack of fresh air, stress, boredom, mating hormones, liver disease, cancer, bacterial or fungal infection, malnutrition, heavy metal poisoning, or simply a bad habit.
A trip to the vet’s is necessary to see if the underlying problem can be diagnosed, and if it turns out to be an environmental problem rather than disease, there are a few things you can do to get to the bottom of the plucking mystery:
Watch your budgie closely, and see if you can spot a pattern or trigger. Is he plucking when angry, bored or stressed? Is another bird or object involved in the incident that leads up to a bout of plucking? Does it happen after he’s eaten? Is he fine when you’re around – i.e. does he only pluck when he’s lonely?
Assess the light, air and humidity situation. Is the budgie getting a 50/50 balance of light and dark through the 24 hour day? Can you do something about his centrally-heated, moisture-free environment to dampen things down a bit? Does moving the cage to a different location help?
Swap the budgie’s toys around, if you don’t do so already. Make another stick perch to give him something novel to perch and nibble on.
Is the bird in need of a bath? A simple case of itchy, dry, grubby skin could be the issue. Like a reluctant male teenager, if he’s not in the habit of bathing, he may not realise that he needs one. A wide-nozzled spray (not a fine mist one) will get him wet and washing. The shower should induce the budgie’s natural preening instincts, rather than his plucking ones. Don’t overdo it, though, if the dousing is making the budgie panic.
Check your food offerings against the list of good foods given in this guide. Try some new ones, to see if you can plug a difficult-to-pinpoint nutritional gap.
Do you often stroke the budgie on the back or belly? This can stimulate mating hormones in the birds, which sometimes inspire feather-plucking.
Sadly, diagnosis is not the same as cure. Many budgies keep on plucking when the original stimulation has been identified and removed.
If all angles have been covered and the budgie still plucks himself, you’ll have to resign yourself to a semi-bald bird. Some contrary individuals simply get into the habit, and nothing you can do will persuade them to desist.
Budgies Plucking Each Other
This is a variation on the plucking problem. A budgie who is plucked by his cage mates will become very stressed, and can even die as a result. Isolating the perpetrator is the best short-term solution; but you will also have to assess the problem and see if you can resolve it in the long term. The guilty bird may have been frustrated – these issues are often sex-related. Providing a nest-box or a choice of potential mates may divert the bird’s frustrations away from plucking. Making sure there is more than one feeding station might help, too.
Budgie Feather Bleeding
When a budgie is growing new feathers during the moulting season, or when young birds are producing their adult plumage, feather bleeding can occur. A new ‘pin’ feather contains blood vessels, without which the full feather would not be able to grow. If these are damaged during the early days, they will bleed like any other wound.
A patch of blood on an adult bird’s coat is most likely to be one of these pin feathers. In extreme situations, the damage can result in the loss of so much blood that the budgie can actually die. The larger pin feathers – those associated with primary wing and tail feathers – bleed the most if damaged.
Once spotted, the bleeding must be addressed at once. The budgie must be caught, and the broken end of the feather must be held tightly for ten minutes. (Note: the pressure should be exerted on the feather itself, not the bird’s body – squeezing the budgie can cause suffocation.) Once the bleeding has stopped, arrange a trip to the vet to have the broken pin feather removed.
Pin feathers above the cere and nostrils can easily break, but the bleeding involved here is minimal and soon stops. Budgies often damage these pins in a violent ‘kissing’ bout. A lone budgie will often bash himself against his ‘friend’ in the cage mirror and damage the new feathers. Once the blood has dried, it will leave a small stain above the cere which may remain until the next moult.
Budgie Feather Duster
Feather Duster Syndrome is a genetic condition, often a sign of inbreeding. The unfortunate afflicted birds – sometimes called Mops – have feathers that grow in random directions, and keep on growing. This gives them a ‘feather duster’ or mop-like appearance. Sometimes the beak and toenails grow abnormally long too. The budgies cannot fly or walk, and there are no plus sides to this genetic defect – the unhappy bird is unable to fend for itself, and has a weak immune system, with so much of the bodys energy going towards endless feather growth. Such a bird will need a fortified diet. Even so, most of them do not make it beyond one year, and euthanasia is the humane option.
Budgie feathers French Moult
French moult is a virus that affects some juvenile birds, a mild form of the fatal Budgerigar Fledgling Disease. It causes secondary wing feathers and tail feathers to fall out, rendering the budgie incapable of flight. In severe cases feathers fall out across much of the bird’s body. There is no surefire cure, but a trip to the vet for formal diagnosis and advice is recommended.
Budgie Beak and Feather Disease
Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD), or Psittacine Circovirus Disease (PCD), is a virus that causes feathers to fall out and beaks and toenails to become misshapen. There is no single pattern to the symptoms, which can range from a bedraggled-looking bird to a completely naked one. Skin sores and blemishes may appear too. The virus is passed on through drippings, and there is no cure. This makes it vital that you isolate the affected birds, and get a proper diagnosis from a vet.
Budgies are very capable of cleaning themselves on a daily basis, and if you provide a bath for them, their personal hygiene will be impeccable. However, there are occasions when your bird might need assistance – during an illness, perhaps, or if he has managed to dip himself in something sticky or greasy.
Cleaning a Budgie’s Vent or Bottom
A fruit-heavy diet, or a bout of illness, may result in “pasting of the vent” – a dirty bottom, in layman’s terms! The feathers around this area of the budgie’s anatomy usually kept clean as part of the bird’s toilet routine, and the dry nature of the healthy droppings helps to keep it that way. An ill bird may have feathers stained by diarrhoea; and because all the liquid is being vented in this way, there may be other, hard droppings that cling to his vent and feathers. Poo will also cling in this way if the budgie is dehydrated.
If you have to intervene, you will need to grip the bird as described in Holding your budgie, above. Use wet cotton wool balls to wash the area, wiping down the feathers from root to tip. Soap can cause irritation, so don’t add anything to the water.
Cleaning Baby Budgies
Baby budgies are normally kept clean by their mothers. Sometimes, however, an outbreak of diarrhoea may require your intervention. Babies must be handled very carefully, as they are fragile. Use cotton wool balls soaked in warm water to wipe the budgie’s soiled parts, and dry immediately with a very soft cloth or more cotton wool. Don’t do this on a routine basis – only handle the babies in this way if absolutely necessary.
Cleaning Budgies’ Feet
Adult birds will keep their own feet and toenails and good condition; but babies sometimes need extra help. If the nest is caked with droppings, the feet can become very dirty, and the poo sets like plaster. This will need to be moistened with warm water and then picked off very gently with tweezers or your fingernails. Wipe the feet with warm, wet cotton wool balls afterwards, and dry them afterwards.
Budgie Feathers Dirty
A budgie will clean itself, as long as you provide a bath or wet foliage. Sometimes, however, a free-flying budgie may encounter something that clogs up his feathers, and if the substance is fatty, sugary, or toxic in some other way, you don’t want him to ingest any of while bathing and preening.
Hold the bird as described in Holding your budgie, above. You will be able to access his underside this way, but will need to perform the hold ‘upside down’ to get at his back. Remove what you can using a soft wet cloth. If grease or oil is involved, you will need to use a bird-friendly soap. This will only be available through vet, usually, so it’s a good idea to have some ready in the cupboard. Rinse the bird-soap off thoroughly, ensuring that none of it goes near the budgie’s eyes, cere or mouth.
Normal detergents, as found in hand-soaps, shampoos, etc, can cause irritation to a budgie’s skin, and should never be used. Clean the bird as well as you can using warm water, provide a bath, and stock up on the bird-friendly soap as soon as possible.