Parrot Parrot

Disease & Health Risks

Important Information and Links to Sites on Avian Health, Diseases, and More

Food Poisoning & Bacterial Infections
Wash Your Hands!
Avian Diseases
Toxic Plants


A bacterial infection of particular concern recently (particularly in the U.K.) is Megabacteriosis.  It is thought to be an opportunistic pathogen and it is possible for some birds to be asymptomatic carriers.  Budgerigars, lovebirds, cockatiels, canaries, and finches are susceptible.  There have been increasing problems among exhibition budgerigars in the United Kingdom. It is often a “wasting” disease affecting young birds. They will lose weight and die.  Unfortunately it is usually diagnosed post-mortem by fecal stain or smears from liver or spleen.  Sometimes birds infected with megabacteriosis will show blood in the feces.  This is an example of an infection that is best prevented through proper sanitary practices, quarantine, and closed aviaries.  Exhibition budgerigars are most at risk because they are most exposed to other birds.  Showing birds is a very risky practice in my opinion and it is one of the reasons I do not show my lovebirds.  It would be nice to win, but I wouldn’t want to do it at the expense of my flock. Frankly, quarantine is only partially effective in the case of many diseases since many birds can be silent carriers of disease, easily infecting your flock long after a quarantine is over. Treatment has been successful in birds diagnosed quickly (within 24 hours of signs and symptoms). Symptoms include ruffled appearance, lethargia, weightloss, blood in stools or around mouth, regurgitation.

Outside References (inks open in a new window)

UK Budgerigar Breeder on Megabacteriosis

Veterinary Article on the Increasing Incidence of Megabacterioris in Canaries

Review of the Literature on Megabacteriosis in Budgerigars


Yes, parrots can get food poisoning just like humans.  You should use the same precautions in preparing their food as you would preparing food for human guests.  Obviously, don’t cut up their veggies on a cutting board where you recently cut raw chicken or other meats.  One of the best disinfectants is Oxygene (which has stabilized chlorine dioxide). Use it to clean cutting boards and the like. One of the reasons I particularly like it is that it isn’t toxic to humans or birds if any residue remains.

Use a fruit/vegetable wash like Vegiwash. It not only removes pesticide residues but can help remove any bacteria. Now this doesn’t mean you should take out some smelly sprouted seeds and beans and use the special wash to make them “clean.” Rotten food should be tossed. If you have ANY suspicion that a food is rotten (i.e., it doesn’t smell quite right), trust your instincts and toss it.  Obviously a couple of dollars worth of questionable vegetables are not worth your bird’s health (or life for that matter).   Any of the bacteria that contaminate foods and cause illness in humans can cause illness in parrots.  Remember, vegetables and fruits can harbor Escherichia coli bacteria on the outer skins! You must wash canteloupe and other fruits THOROUGHLY before cutting into them.  You can never know for sure if a neighboring farm’s cow waste has washed into the fields where they grew the fruits and vegetables you just stuck in your fridge.  Some of these bacteria are lethal enough to kill your parrot.

The most common problems documented in parrots are the Enterobacteriacae, such as Salmonellosis (most commonly due to S. typhimurium) and Coli bacillosis (due to E. coli).  Human carriers of Salmonella typhimurium can infect companion birds (I hate to think of the kind of hygiene such humans practice, frankly! Wash your hands!). Other bacterial diseases to worry about are Bordetella avium (contaminated water), Klebsiella pneumoniae and K. oxytoca (resistant to many disinfectants; can be transmitted to humans), Enterococcus faecalis (common problem in canaries, causing respiratory infection), and Listeria monocytogenes (canaries most susceptible; rare but very deadly; recall the terrible, and fatal, outbreak in Switzerland some years ago due to contaminated cheese).


I grew up in a home where a pathologist reigned supreme.  If I learned anything, it was wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands!  I wash my hands between birds, after handling birds, and BEFORE (note emphasis!) handling birds. I wash my hands before preparing food and after preparing food (even vegetables!), before eating and after eating. Sounds a little compulsive, but it is the BEST preventative measure against the spread of disease.  You will not spread bacteria cage to cage, turning a single incident of bacterial infection into a virtual plague if you follow this practice faithfully. You do not want to be the vector for disease in your aviary!

Oxygene body wash is one of the best hand washes around and it is very gentle too.  It is effective even in killing polyomavirus, one of the more stable infectious agents in aviaries.  I also guarantee you that you will get fewer colds and infections yourself if you wash your hands throughout the day. If you raise baby birds and have an aviary, I would be concerned if you wash your hands fewer than 20 times a day. This is an arbitrary number, but it is probably the bottom line for a busy person preparing foods for family or pets, going to the bathroom a number of times, feeding babies three or four times a day, cleaning bowls and cages, feeding fresh foods to birds in an aviary, and generally living life.  It takes two minutes and works wonders. It is so simple and so effective it is ridiculous not to do it! To those who actually don’t even wash their hands after going to the bathroom–disgusting!–you might be too far gone to educate, but I hope you will heed this warning: you are endangering your birds’ and other pets’ health every time you do this, not to mention the health of your human family members. If you even are tempted not to, just imagine tiny bits of poop and bacteria unseen to your eyes crawling on your skin! This is not paranoia, it is documented fact: unwashed hands spread bacteria!!

(N.B. Obviously if you have an obsessive-compulsive disorder and need to wash your hands 20 times an hour this information is not meant for you and should not be used to rationalize destructive or counterproductive behavior…but that’s a whole different issue altogether.)

One of the biggest health problems today is nosocomial infection. That’s when you go into the hospital for one thing and end up with another: a virulent infection (sometimes due to multiple bacterial entities) that is oftentimes resistant to antibiotics.  The most common mode of transmission is from caregiver to patient.  Hand-washing has been extensively studied in the hospital setting. Any epidemiologist will tell you it is an issue of enormous concern and that they are shocked at the level of noncompliance EVEN BY DOCTORS when the efficacy of hand-washing is so well documented.  Compliance must be absolute. One lapse can be the lapse that spreads infection. Teach your children this simple practice when they are young and they will get sick less often too.

Outside References (links open in new window)

From Avian Web: List of Diseases, Illnesses, and Symptoms

Chlamydia Psittaci (Psittacosis)

From Kids Health – Infections That Pets Carry


Do you realize how many pesticides, some illegal and banned, have been found on your fruits and vegetables by various organizations?  The FDA has barely scratched the surface of violations and sometimes totally misses them. Did you know strawberries are the most toxic food around and that you should only eat organic strawberries? Did you know that even organic foods have traces of pesticides due to what is called “drift?”  Pesticides don’t know to stop when the get to the boundaries of nonorganic farms and pass into organic farms!  Did you know that most pesticides are NOT water soluble and cannot simply be rinsed off with water?  A good vegetable/fruit wash can get off much of the residue, but still it is better to buy organic AND use a special wash.

The most contaminated foods are strawberries, green beans, green peas, pears, HOT PEPPERS, and CARROTS. These are commonly fed to parrots. Wonder why you get dead-in-the-shell chicks? Hmmmm. Food for thought. Literally.  The least contaminated foods are potatoes, cauliflower, and tangerines. Unfortunately the cleanest of all were avocadoes, which doesn’t help us since they are toxic to many species of parrots anyway.  Here is some reading for you:

Parrots, Produce, & Pesticides (from Land of Vos)

Forbidden Fruit – Illegal Pesticides in the US Food Supply (from the Environmental Working Group)


It is imperative that you make an appointment with a qualified avian vet before you purchase a new bird so you can get testing done immediately. It takes up to 5 days to get results on all blood tests.  I suggest you go straight from the store/breeder to the vet if you can.

If you have other birds in the house, you should quarantine the new bird until all test results are back, plus wait another 6-8 weeks for any visual signs of illness as sometimes you will get false-negative results when testing for diseases.

Why Quarantine (From Parrot Parrot)

Below  are some descriptions of the most common diseases and some links to interesting articles on various bird diseases. You can click on the article links  and a new window will pop up so you can stay at our site as you peruse the various articles at different sites.  You can close the new window by clicking on the x in the upper-right-hand corner of the window.


Psittacosis is caused by the pathogen Chlamydia psittaci.  It is found in parrots, other birds, and has even been isolated in cats. It is a zoonotic disease, meaning it can be transmitted from birds to humans. Human-to-human transmission has also been reported, although not absolutely confirmed.  Illness in humans can range from mild, flu-like symptoms to severe diarrhea, cough, and high fever.   If you have purchased a new bird it is suggested that you test the bird for psittacosis within the first 48 hours of obtaining the bird. Make sure that the seller has a health guarantee that will allow you to return a bird with documented disease.   It is possible for a bird to have no clinical signs of disease.  Testing can give false-negatives.  Therefore, quarantine for 8 weeks even if you have a negative result. Immunocompromised persons are at higher risk for devastating effects (HIV, bone marrow or organ transplant, immunosuppressive therapy all are risk factors).


Polyoma can create havoc in an aviary.  It is a virus that kills neonates. It is fatal in 99% of cases.  Infected neonates can appear healthy up until the stress of weaning, when they will rapidly deteriorate and die within 48 hours.  Symptoms include diarrhea, rapid weight loss, depression, incessant crying as if hungry, lethargia, skin tone change, beak color change, drop in body temperature (can’t retain heat).  Frankly, I have not heard any stories of neonates surviving infection.  Adults can survive polyoma infection, but can then become silent carriers.

Disinfectants Against Polyoma Virus (from UpAtSix)


Poisonous plants are a common household hazard.  While you might be aware of the more commonly known poisonous plants such as Deffenbachia, the list of toxic plants is quite extensive. The Birdsnways web site has an excellent list (click below). We also recommend the book Common Poisonous Plants, which you’ll find in our book (main selections).

Toxic Plant List from BirdsnWays

The following link is to a vet site with excellent photos of toxic plants. It is one of the best sites regarding plant toxicity around, and although it focusses on Indiana plant life, it covers plants that grow all over the country.

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